Tompkins County Small Claims Court
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. Contact the Tompkins County Clerk’s Office. They will be able to provide you with the business’s correct legal name.
What happens if I don’t show up for the hearing?
If you are the plaintiff and fail to show up to court on the date of your case, the court will dismiss the case. If you are the defendant, the court may grant a default judgment in your absence. The Court will wait approximately one hour (in case you are simply running late) before granting a default judgment.
Can I file a counterclaim against the Plaintiff?
As a defendant, you can file a counterclaim against the plaintiff (in which you assert that plaintiff owes you money). The counterclaim needs to be filed within five days of your notice of the case, or the court may continue the hearing to a later date. The filing fee for a counterclaim is $3.00. If the counterclaim is filed after the five days, the plaintiff can ask for a later hearing date (and sometimes the court may continue the hearing out even without the plaintiff asking).
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. In fact, the rules and procedures are designed to be informal so that you should not have to retain an attorney. A plaintiff or defendant can choose to hire an attorney if he or she chooses. Sometimes, when a plaintiff and a defendant have both retained attorneys, the court can transfer the case from small claims to the regular civil part.
Where are the Small Claims Courts located in Tompkins County?
Every town and village of Tompkins County has its own small claims court to handle cases arising in that location. Tompkins County Small Claims Cases are handled in 11 locations for the following towns and villages: Caroline Town, Cayuga Heights Village, Danby Town, Dryden Town, Enfield Town, Freeville Village, Groton Town, Ithaca Town, Lansing Town, Newfield Town, and Ulysses Town.
The small claims court locations are:
Caroline Town Court2670 Slaterville Rd P.O. Box 121 Slaterville Springs, NY 14881
Cayuga Heights Village Court836 Hanshaw Road Ithaca, NY 14850
Danby Town Court1830 Danby Road Ithaca, NY 14850
Dryden Town Court93 East Main Street Dryden, NY 13053
Enfield Town Court168 Enfield Main Road Ithaca, NY 14850
Freeville Village CourtPO Box 288 Freeville, NY 13068
Groton Town Court101 Conger Boulevard PO Box 5 Groton, NY 13073
Ithaca Town Court215 North Tioga Street Ithaca, NY 14850
Lansing Town Court29 Auburn Road P.O..Box 186 Lansing, NY 14882
Newfield Town Court166 Main Street Newfield, NY 14867
Ulysses Town Court10 Elm Street Trumansburg, NY 14886
Small Claims Court Cases in Tompkins County
The local town or village court hears small claims court cases in Tompkins County. The limit a plaintiff can ask for is $3,000. The purpose of small claims court and the motivation behind the relaxed evidentiary rules and procedures is to allow these cases to be resolved informally and without making a party hire an attorney. If you do have a claim for more than $3,000.00, you cannot file two separate actions to bring it under the limit. A claimant or plantiff can only seek monetary relief in small claims court. A party cannot sue to ask the court to order a defendant to take action (ie. fulfill the terms of an advertisement). A party can only sue for monetary relief. 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.
Can I 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 business, corporation, or other entity is sued, the entity is able to authorize a person (usually an employee, director, or attorney) to appear on its behalf.
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). The plaintiff (sometimes referred to as a claimant) is the person (or entity) that begins the lawsuit (by a filing at the courthouse). A “defendant” is the party that 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. A defendant who is interested in filing a third party action should contact the clerk of the local court for the property procedures and filing fees.
What do I do on the hearing date?
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 your case is not listed on the calendar, speak with the court clerk (or judge if there is no clerk present). Courtrooms have different procedures. In some courtrooms, the clerk checks in parties as they arrive. Some courts simply have you wait until your 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.
Mediation of Small Claims Court Cases in Tompkins County
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 Tompkins County, mediation services are provided by:
Community Dispute Resolution Center, Inc.
120 West State Street
Ithaca, NY 14850
If mediation is not successful, the case remains in small claims court (with a trial). There is usually no charge for mediation (but there may be a small filing fee).
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 the case remains in small claims court, only six jurors are used.
Small Claims Court Appeals for Tompkins County Cases
The deadline for appealing a small claims court judgment is 30 days (if you receive the judgment in court or have been personally delivered the judgment) or 35 days after the court or other party mails you the 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). If you are interested in filing an appeal, check with the clerk of your specific court for the procedures and filing fees. Remember, an appellate court will only overturn a judgment if the ruling is “clearly erroneous.” Some parties benefit from consulting with an attorney prior to filing an appeal (to determine if it is even worthwhile).
Is Tompkins County the right place to file my action?
You must bring your action in the municipality (location – village or town) in which the person or business you are suing resides (lives) or has an office open for business.
Can I ask for a continuance?
How much does it cost to file a case in Tompkins County?
In this County, the filing see is $10 (if the amount asked for is $1,000 or less) and $15 (if the claim exceeds $1,000).
How do I begin a Small Claims Court case?
You must go to the Small Claims Court to file your case. The court will provide you with the necessary forms to be filled out. These forms will ask for a statement of the case. The statement is a fancy way of asking what your case is about. This should be brief and include all 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 date and time of the hearing will be provided to you by the clerk. The clerk will “give notice” to the defendant of the case which includes the statement of the case as you wrote it and the date and time of the hearing. This is called serving the defendant. The clerk sends the notice via certified 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 the post office cannot deliver notice of the claim and you believe the person still resides in that village or town, the court (clerk) will give you a new hearing date and will instruct you on how to personally serve the defendant. Due Process (a fancy way of saying fairness) requires that the defendant be served prior to a hearing on your case. 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?
Arbitration is a dispute resolution process that is binding. 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. If both parties agree to arbitration, an arbitrator will often be able to hear a claim before a judge would (because there are more arbitrators than judges). Arbitrators use the same law as the small claims court judge. The final judgment issued by the arbitrator cannot be appealed by any party.