St. Joseph County Small Claims Court Jurisdiction
A plaintiff should file the small claims court case in the district court where the defendant lives, where the defendant’s business is located, or where the transactions (that are at issue) occurred. Where the case is filed is called venue. Filing in the wrong district court can postpone your case being heard, force you to pay additional filing and service fees, and/or have your case be dismissed. While court staff cannot provide legal advice, it is recommended you contact the court clerk of the District Court to confirm that the court’s jurisdiction covers the geographic area needed for your case.
Who Listens to a Small Claims Court Case in St. Joseph County?
Juries are not available for a small claims court case. Cases in small claims court are heard by either a district judge or an attorney magistrate. Attorney magistrates are attorneys who have been appointed by the court to handle certain legal matters. In most instances, an attorney magistrate will hear your case.
Removing the Case to District Court
Removal is the legal name for transferring the case from small claims court to regular district court (which allows either side to be represented by an attorney and removes the $6,000 limit of small claims court). Removal to district court means the normal rules and procedures apply including specifically procedures related to the presentation of evidence and discovery process. Either the plaintiff or defendant can decide to remove the case from the small claims court division to the regular district court. In order to do this, a party needs to complete and file a Demand and Order for Removal, Small Claims with the court clerk. This document needs to be filed prior to the small claims court trial or hearing and can actually be filed the same day (so long as it is before the hearing starts). The Demand and Order for Removal is available on a website.
St. Joseph County Small Claims Court Hearings
The plaintiff will have the opportunity to present evidence first. The defendant presents their side of the case after the plaintiff. The court may dismiss the case if the plaintiff fails to appear. If the defendant fails to appear at the hearing, the court can issue what is called a default judgment based on the case the plaintiff present.
Filing a Small Claims Court Case in St. Joseph County
The plaintiff needs to fill out a form to file a case in small claims court which can be found online. Once filled out, the plaintiff needs to file the form with the 3B District Court clerk. When submitting the filing, the plaintiff will need to pay a filing fee. Filings fees for small claims court cases are:
- $30 – for claims up to $600
- $50 – for claims between $600 and $1,750
- $70 – for claims between $1,750 and up to $6,000
If the plaintiff prevails in the case, the court may allow the plaintiff to request the cost of the filing fee be added to the damages in the case (and ultimately paid by the defendant). Once the case has been filed, the clerk should provide you with the case number. It is important to keep this case number with you to use each time you contact the court clerk or any court staff as it will help them identify your case. The clerk should also provide you with the date, time, and location of the hearing.
What is the maximum amount of money that a Small Claims Court can Award in St. Joseph County?
A small claims court in St. Joseph County cannot award a party more than $6,000 (not including court costs and other fees). If a party chooses to file their case in small claims court which is worth more than six thousand dollars, the party can still choose to file the case in small claims court. However, if you do, the plaintiff loses the right to any amount over $6,000. Additionally, the plaintiff is precluded from filing another case to ask for the amount above the threshold.
Are Attorneys Allowed in Small Claims Court in St. Joseph County?
Parties are not allowed to be represented by attorneys in small claims court. Neither side is allowed to have an attorney represent them. Both parties are required to represent themselves at the hearing. Either side can request that the case be removed to regular district court (which means either side could then be represented by an attorney). However, regular district court follows the normal rules of evidence and procedures which mean the dispute will likely take significantly longer to resolve.
St. Joseph County Small Claims Court Cases
3B District Court handles Small Claims court cases in St. Joseph County. A special branch of 3B District Court handles small claims court cases whose purpose is to settle and decide disputes concerning money without the use of attorneys or lawyers. A party does not need to know anything about the law to file a small claims court case. Attorneys are not allowed to appear in court or argue on behalf of clients in small claims court. Because of this, a party does not need an attorney. In small claims court, a party need only present their own side of their case in their own words. Although it is called small claims court, it is a division of the 3B District Court. District courts also handle other criminal and civil cases, in addition to small claims court.
St. Joseph County Small Claims Court Location
St. Joseph County Small Claims Court cases are handled in the 3B District Court. 3B District Court
The phone number for St. Joseph County District Court is: (269) 467-5500. The District Court can be found online here.
Preparing for a Small Claims Court Hearing
You should gather all evidence well before the date of the hearing. Evidence could include a contract, a purchase order, a receipt, pictures, or videos related to the case. Both the plaintiff and the defendant will have a chance to present their side of the case to the court. It is strongly recommended you write out what you plan on saying before the hearing (at least an outline or bullet points). You should also try and arrange for any witnesses which support your position to be present in court at the hearing to present testimony.
Settling a Case Without a Small Claims Court Trial
Frequently, a court may attempt to resolve a case without an actual hearing. Mediation is the tool that a court may try to use to settle a case. A mediator will meet with both parties and attempt to find some common ground for resolving the claim without a trial.
Service of a Defendant in Small Claims Court
Once the case is filed, the court will attempt to provide the defendant with proper notice of the case by giving the defendant a copy of the Affidavit and Claim form initially filled out by the plaintiff. In addition to the filing fee, the plaintiff is also responsible for paying the cost of service of the defendant. Service is how the defendant learns of the lawsuit and when the case will be heard. The court uses personal service or certified mail to provide proper notice to the defendant.
Types of Cases in Small Claims Court
Small claims court only handles civil cases where the amount in dispute is $6,000 or less. Money is the only remedy a party can ask for in small claims court. If a party is seeking property or specific performance, the case should not be filed in small claims court. Usually, these are the most common types of cases filed and heard in small claims court:
- landlord and tenant dispute about the return of a security deposit
- Contractual dispute including performance or payment
- automobile accident where insurance isn’t available or does not cover the damages
Small claims court does not handle the following types of cases:
- Assault and Battery
- Any Intentional Harm or Damage
Court’s Ruling in a Small Claims Court Case
The magistrate or judge could make a decision at the hearing after the presentation of evidence. The court may also take the case under submission (and rule at a later time). If a matter is taken under submission, the court will notify both parties of the ruling (likely through mail).
Defendant’s Options in Small Claims Court Cases
After being served with an Affidavit and Claim of a small claims court case, the defendant has the following options:
- Settling the case outside of court
- Removing or Transferring the Case to Regular District Court
- Appearing at the Small Claims Court Hearing
- Ignoring the case (and having the court issue a default at the hearing)