Montgomery County Small Claims Court
Jury Trials in Small Claims Court
Only a defendant can make the request for a jury trial. The demand must be made prior to the hearing. (The reason a plaintiff cannot demand a jury trial is because if the plaintiff files the case in small claims court the court deems the plaintiff consenting to have factual issues determined by the judge and not a jury, otherwise the case would be filed in the regular civil part). The defendant must file an affidavit stating the issues of fact the jury is to decide. The judge can either transfer the case to the regular civil part of the court (where regular evidentiary rules apply) or remain in small claims court. If it remains in small claims court, a jury will be used, but it will consist of only six members.
How do I find the correct name for the Defendant?
For people, you will want the person’s first and last name (their real name, and not a nickname they go by). The court will also ask for the address of the defendant (to send the notice of the small claims court case and hearing). Businesses can be slightly more difficult because you may not know the structure of the business. The staff at the Montgomery County Clerk’s Office can help provide you with the proper business name (we recommend contacting them before you go to court so you do not worry about it once you are there).
How do I get a continuance?
The court may call a continuance an adjournment. These are discouraged in small claims court cases because the purpose of small claims court is a quick, inexpensive resolution of disputes. The only person with the power to move the hearing date is the court (even if both parties agree). You can ask for an adjournment by sending a letter to the court before your hearing date. You should also send a copy of the letter to the other party. A party may also request a continuance on the actual hearing date, but a judge may be inclined to deny this request (and you should be prepared to go forward if the judge does not grant one).
What happens on day of the hearing?
We recommend arriving to court at least fifteen minutes before your hearing. Upon arriving, you should look for the small claims court calendar (or a clerk if there is no calendar). Cases are listed on the calendar by the last name of the plaintiff and the last name of the defendant (or full name of the business or other entity). If you cannot find your case, you should contact the clerk (or judge if there is no clerk). In some courtrooms, the clerk may check people in as they arrive. In others, you must wait until your case is called.
When your case is called, be ready to tell the judge if you are ready for the case to go forward (and the judge to hear your evidence) or if you need to make a request (like a request for a continuance). If both sides are ready, the court will proceed to hear the case.
What happens if I don’t show up for the hearing?
If the plaintiff fails to appear at the hearing, the case is dismissed. If the defendant fails to appear at the hearing, the court may grant a default judgment based on the evidence that the plaintiff presented. Court rules require that the judge not enter a default judgment until one hour after the time set for the hearing.
Montgomery County Small Claims Court
In Montgomery County, small claims court cases are heard in the local town or village court. One can sue for $3,000.00 or less in a town or village court in Montgomery County. Small claims court cases are designed to be relatively informal (compared to normal civil cases). If you do have a claim for more than $3,000.00, you cannot file two separate actions to bring it under the limit. The only relief available in small claims court cases is monetary. You cannot sue someone to force a person or business to perform a task (like fix a car) or return a personal item. Money is the only remedy available (on claims and counterclaims). You are also able to sue a municipality (city, village, town, or county) and other public agencies, but the law requires you to give notice before you sue them. Notice must be given within 90 days of the incident which gives rise to your case. If you do not provide notice within this window, your case will be dismissed.
What are the fancy terms used in these cases?
A party is a person (or entity) on either side of the “v.” (plaintiff and defendant are each parties to the case). A “plaintiff” or “claimant” is the party who brings or initiates the action in Small Claims Court. The defendant is the party who is being sued. Sometimes, a third party (not the plaintiff or defendant) is brought into the case where a defendant files a third party claim asserting that another party is responsible for plaintiff’s damages. If you are the defendant and are interested in bringing in a third party, contact the court involved with your action about beginning a third party action.
Beginning a Small Claims Court Case
You must file your case in the correct location (where the defendant lives or if the defendant is a business than where the business has an open office). Visit the court for that town or village, and the court will provide you with the paperwork to begin the action. The forms will ask for a statement of your case. This is the term the court uses to ask what your case is about. Your statement of the case should be concise but still include all the important facts. If your claim arises under property damage or a contract, you may claim interest on top of your damages. Most courts have a clerk who can assist you to ensure you follow the procedures (and answer questions). In the few courts that do not have clerks, the judge can assist you.
The date and time of the hearing will be provided to you by the clerk. The clerk provides the defendant with the statement of the claim and the date and time of the hearing (this is called “service”). The clerk will provide ths notice through mail–both certified and first-class. Once 21 days have passed, the defendant is deemed “served” unless the first-class item was returned undeliverable. If a defendant cannot be served by mail, then the clerk will provide you with instructions on how the defendant can be personally served. The court (via the clerk or judge) will likely give you a new hearing date and time. For purposes of due process (which is a fancy way of saying fairness), the hearing cannot occur until after the defendant has been properly served with notice of the plaintiff’s claim. If service has not been completed within four months of filing, the claim will be dismissed. The case will be dismissed without prejudice which means you can refile with the same court if you learn the defendant is still residing in that location (otherwise, if the defendant moved, you would file it in the court of the new town or village).
What is mediation?
Mediation is an attempt to settle your case without a trial. It is a consifential way to resolve the case. Mediation involved a person acting as a mediator who will try and bring opposing parties to an agreement that all the parties can agree to. In Montgomery County, mediation services are provided by:
Tri-County Mediation Center
Catholic Charities of Fulton and Montgomery Counties