St. Lawrence County Small Claims Court
Can I hire an attorney to represent me in small claims court?
You are not required to hire an attorney for a small claims court case. Small claims court rules and procedures are designed so that an attorney is not needed in order for a party to be adequately represented. A party does have a right to retain an attorney if he, she, or it wishes. If there are attorneys representing both parties, the case may be transferred to the regular civil part of the court.
What happens on day of the hearing?
We recommend arriving to court at least fifteen minutes before your hearing. When you arrive, you should look for the small claims court calendar or for a clerk to assist you. On the calendar, cases are listed by the last name of the plaintiff and then the defendant (or name of the business). If you cannot find your case, you should contact the clerk (or judge if there is no clerk). Some courtrooms have the parties check in as they arrive. In others, the parties only check in when their case is called.
When the judge or clerk calls your case, you should be prepared to tell the judge if you are ready for the case to proceed, ask for a continuance if you want one (and be ready to state a good reason for one), or any other request you may need to make. If both parties are ready, the case will proceed.
How do I begin a Small Claims Court case?
The case has to be filed at the court location. Visit the court for that town or village, and the court will provide you with the paperwork to begin the action. One section of the form will ask for a statement of the 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. A court will generally have a clerk who is available to assist with questions regarding the forms (and answer other questions). If a court does not have a clerk, generally the judge is available to help you with these questions.
The logistics (date and time) of the hearing will be provided to you by the court (the small claims court may not hear cases every day). The clerk provides the defendant with the statement of the claim and the date and time of the hearing (this is called “service”). The notice is sent by certified mail and first-class mail. If the notice sent by first-class mail is not returned as undeliverable, the defendant is deemed to be “served,” even if the notice sent by certified mail has not been delivered (otherwise a defendant could simply refuse to sign for the certified mail). 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. Pursuant to due process, a hearing cannot occur until the defendant has been served. 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 arbitration?
Abitration is a type of dispute resolution that is less-formal than a trial, but more formal than mediation. In arbitration, an arbitrator, who is often an experienced attorney, hears arguments, weighs evidence, and issues a final judgment on the merits of a claim. Arbitration can only be used when all parties agree (as the outcome is binding on all parties). If you do choose arbitration, your case can be heard far quicker than waiting for a judge to hear it (which is something to keep in mind if you want a quick resolution to your case). Arbitrators use the same law as the small claims court judge. When an arbitrator decides your case, the decision is final. There is no appeal-by either party.
Am I able to sue in small claims court?
The small claims court is available to any person who has reached the age of majority (18 years or older). If someone is younger than 18, a parent or legal guardian is able to bring an action on behalf of the minor. Corporations, partnerships, and other corporate entities must bring their action in Commercial Claims Court and are not able to act as plaintiffs in small claims court. These entities can be sued in this court. When a corporate entity is sued, it can authorize an employee, director, or attorney to appear and defend it in court.
Can I ask for a continuance?
In small claims court cases, a continuance can also be called an adjournment. These are discouraged in small claims court cases because the purpose of small claims court is a quick, inexpensive resolution of disputes. Only the court can give you a continuance (even if you have talked to the other party and agreed to a later date). 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. You can also ask for a continuance on the actual day of the hearng, but the court may be inclined to deny it (because you waited so long to ask for one). Always be prepared to go forward on that date in case the court denies your request.
Should I use mediation for my small claims case?
Mediation is one way the court offers to try and settle your case without a trial. Mediation is a confidential way to try and resolve the case. It involves a mediator who will try and bring the plaintiff and defendant together to agree on a result that is fair to all (or, more likely, somewhat fair to each party). In St. Lawrence County, the mediation provider is:
North Country Conflict Resolution Services
Rural Law Center of New York, Inc.
256 East Orvis Street
Massena, NY 13662
If mediation does not resolve the issue, the case continues in small claims court. Note: If parties agree, they can enter mediation even before a case is filed. Some jurisdictions may charge a small filing fee.
How much does it cost to file a case in St. Lawrence County?
In St. Lawrence County, the filing fee is $10, if you are asking for $1,000 or less, and $15, if the amount is more than that.
What about a jury trial for a small claims court case in St. Lawrence County?
Only the defendant can demand a jury trial in small claims court cases. This demand can be made at any time prior to the hearing date. An affidavit (sworn statement) has to be filed which identifies the factual issues a jury is needed to hear. The judge will then determine if the case should remain in small claims court or be transferred to the regular civil part. If it remains in small claims court, a jury will be used, but it will consist of only six members.
Is St. Lawrence County the right place to file my action?
The action must be brought in the town or village where the defendant resides (or has an open business office).
What happens if I don’t show up for the hearing?
If you are the plaintiff, your case is dismissed. If you are the defendant, the court may grant a default judgment in your absence. Note: Court rules require that the judge wait at least one hour before holding a hearing or entering a judgment in favor of the plaintiff.
What is 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 are more tricky because sometimes you do not know how the business is structured. The staff at the St. Lawrence 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).
St. Lawrence County Small Claims Court
In St. Lawrence County, small claims court cases are heard in the local town or village court. In small claims court, individuals can sue for up to $3,000. Small claims court cases are designed to be relatively informal (compared to normal civil cases). If your claim exceeds $3,000, you may not split them into two separate claims 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). A plaintiff or claimant can also sue a public entity like a city or other agency. However, you have to file a claim with that agency before filing your small claims court action. The claim must be filed within ninety days of the incident. If you fail to follow this rule, your case will be dismissed.
Where are the Small Claims Courts located in St. Lawrence County?
Every town and village of St. Lawrence County has its own small claims court to handle cases arising in that location. St. Lawrence County Small Claims Cases are handled in 35 locations for the following towns and villages: Brasher Town, Canton Town, Canton Village, Clare Town, Clifton Town, Colton Town, Dekalb Town, Depeyster Town, Edwards Town, Fine Town, Fowler Town, Gouverneur Town, Hammond Town, Hermon Town, Hopkinton Town, Lawrence Town, Lisbon Town, Louisville Town, Macomb Town, Madrid Town, Massena Town, Massena Village, Morristown Town, Norfolk Town, Oswegatchie Town, Parishville Town, Piercefield Town, Pierrepont Town, Pitcairn Town, Potsdam Town, Potsdam Village, Rossie Town, Russell Town, Stockholm Town, and Waddington Town.
Here are the court locations:
Brasher Town CourtMain Street P.O. Box 358 Brasher Falls, NY 13613
Canton Town Court60 Main Street Municipal Building Canton, NY 13617
Canton Village Court60 Main Street Municipal Building Canton, NY 13617
Clare Town Court2396 County Route 27 Russell, NY 13684
Clifton Town Court7171 State Highway 3 P.O. Box 679 Cranberry Lake, NY 12927
Colton Town Court9 Sugar Bush Lane P.O. Box 475 South Colton, NY 13687
Dekalb Town CourtPO Box 133 Town Hall Dekalb Junction, NY 13630
Depeyster Town Court3999 County Route 10 Depeyster, NY 13633
Edwards Town Court161 Main Street PO Box 24 Edwards, NY 13635
Fine Town Court4078 State Highway 3 P.O. Box 455 Star Lake, NY 13690
Fowler Town Court87 Little York Road Gouverneur, NY 13642
Gouverneur Town Court33 Clinton Street Gouveneur, NY 13642
Hammond Town CourtPO Box 219 Hammond, NY 13646
Hermon Town Court103 Maple Street Town Hall P.O. Box 28 Hermon, NY 13652
Hopkinton Town Court7 Church Street Town Office Hopkinton, NY 12965
Lawrence Town Court11403 US Highway 11 North Lawrence, NY 12967
Lisbon Town CourtPO Box 8 Lisbon, NY 13658
Louisville Town Court14810 St Hwy 37 Massena, NY 13662
Macomb Town Court6663 State Highway 58 Hammond, NY 13646
Madrid Town Court3529 County Road 14 Madrid, NY 13660
Massena Town CourtMain Street Town Hall Massena, NY 13662
Massena Village Court60 Main Street Town Hall Room 8 Massena, NY 13662
Morristown Town Court604 Main Street PO Box 240, Town Hall Morristown, NY 13664
Norfolk Town Court5 Main Street PO Box 481 Norfolk, NY 13667
Oswegatchie Town Court51 State Street Heuvelton, NY 13654
Parishville Town CourtPO Box 155 Parishville, NY 13672
Piercefield Town CourtTown Hall, 48 Waller Street Piercefield, NY 12973
Pierrepont Town Court864 State Highway 68 Canton, NY 13617
Pitcairn Town CourtTown Hall Harrisville, NY 13648
Potsdam Town Court35 Market Street Potsdam, NY 13676
Potsdam Village CourtPark Street Civic Center P.O. Box 5168 Potsdam, NY 13676
Rossie Town Court908 County Route 3 Redwood, NY 13679
Russell Town Court4 Pestle Street P.O. Box 628 Russell, NY 13684
Stockholm Town CourtPO Box 206 Municipal Building Winthrop, NY 13697
Waddington Town CourtPO Box 338 Waddington, NY 13694
How do I counterclaim against the plaintiff?
A defendant can file a counterclaim against a plaintiff. The counterclaim must be filed within five days of receiving the notice of claim. The cost to file a counterclaim is $3. The counterclaim must be for money and cannot be for more than $3,000. Note: you can still file your claim after the five day window, but the judge then has the option of pushing back the hearing date (but no longer than twenty days). As the plaintiff, you have a right to ask for a continuance in this case.
Small Claims Court Lingo
The party is a person, business, or other entity involved in a court case (on either side of the “v.” in the case name). A plaintiff (sometimes called claimant) is the person who initiates or begins the lawsuit. A “defendant” is the party that is being sued. A third party is also sometimes brought into a case by a defendant if the defendant feels that the third party may be wholly or partly responsible for plaintiff’s claims. 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.
Are there appeals in small claims court cases?
A party has 30 days from the date of the judgment to file a notice of appeal (or 35 days if you were mailed the court’s judgment). There are fees for filing a notice of appeal as well as additional costs for purchasing a transcript (if a court reporter was present). Consult with an attorney when you are deciding if you should file an appeal. An appellate court will only reverse a small claims court judgment if the ruling meets the “clearly erroneous” standard. Some people find it useful to consult with an attorney before deciding whether to file an appeal.