What does a Magisterial District Judge Handle?
Magisterial District Judges are judges elected by the people of their district to handle criminal preliminary arraignments and preliminary hearings, summary criminal offenses, traffic offenses, municipal code violations, landlord / tenant actions, and civil actions where the damages do not exceed $12,000 (commonly known as small claims court).
Lawrence County Magisterial District Court Hearing
Once the claim has been filed, the clerk will set a hearing between 12 and 60 days from the date of the filing of the claim. Each party should gather all documents and papers related to the case before the hearing. You should also arrange to have any witnesses that may support your position present on the date of the hearing so they can testify. The hearing is open to the public and usually includes the following: judge, clerk, plaintiff, defendant, and any witnesses for either party. Courtrooms are open to the public so there may be additional persons in the gallery (who may include additional parties if there is more than one case set for a hearing that day). At the beginning of the hearing, the Magisterial District Judge will explain the procedures. The plaintiff and defendant will both be sworn in to present testimony to the judge. At the hearing, the judge will give the plaintiff an opportunity to testify about the circumstances surrounding the case. The plaintiff can present papers, bills, records, receipts, photographs, or video to the judge. The plaintiff will probably also be asked questions by the defendant. After the plaintiff is finished, the court will give the plaintiff a chance to present testimony from any other witnesses brought to testify. The defendant will have the chance to ask questions for these witnesses too. After the plaintiff is done presenting his or her case, the judge will give the defendant an opportunity to testify (and the plaintiff will be given the chance to ask questions as well). The defendant can also bring witnesses to provide testimony to the judge as well. After all the evidence has been presented, the judge will make a decision (either at the hearing or within five days).
Lawrence County Small Claims Court Case Types
Two types of civil cases are generally heard in Magisterial District Court in Lawrence County: negligence and contract actions. A contract is where two parties enter into an agreement (either written or oral). Contracts are used frequently and arise in many contexts including:
- homeowners and contractors to make repairs
- insurance companies to provide insurance services
- credit card companies and credit card holders to provide credit services
Breach of contract is where a party to a contract either doesn’t pay or doesn’t perform what they are supposed to under the contract. Negligence is where a party that is supposed to act with reasonable care fails to do so and someone else is injured from that. Negligence actions generally include traffic accidents on the road and can include an actions for personal injuries (pain and suffering to a person) and property damage (generally to a car or other property).
Magisterial District Court in Lawrence County
Lawrence County has 4 Magisterial Districts which are:
The Magisterial District Judge for 53-1-01 is Melissa A. Amodie . The 53-1-01 Magisterial District courthouse is located at:Lawrence County Government Center 430 Court Street New Castle, PA 16101
The phone number for 53-1-01 Magisterial District is: 724-652-8555. The fax number for 53-1-01 Magisterial District is: 724-652-8576.
The Magisterial District Judge for 53-3-01 is Jerry G. Cartwright . The 53-3-01 Magisterial District courthouse is located at:607 Lawrence Avenue Ellwood City, PA 16117
The phone number for 53-3-01 Magisterial District is: 724-752-1185. The fax number for 53-3-01 Magisterial District is: 724-752-2155.
The Magisterial District Judge for 53-3-02 is Jennifer L. Nicholson . The 53-3-02 Magisterial District courthouse is located at:4834 State Route 18 New Castle, PA 16102
The phone number for 53-3-02 Magisterial District is: 724-667-8010. The fax number for 53-3-02 Magisterial District is: 724-667-0377.
The Magisterial District Judge for 53-3-04 is Scott A. McGrath . The 53-3-04 Magisterial District courthouse is located at:3455 Wilmington Road New Castle, PA 16105
The phone number for 53-3-04 Magisterial District is: 724-652-9615. The fax number for 53-3-04 Magisterial District is: 724-652-3762.
Lawrence County Small Claims Court
Magisterial District Courts in Pennsylvania handle a wide variety of cases including what are commonly known as small claims court cases. A party is not required to have an attorney for a small claims court case in a Magisterial District Court. The claim, or amount in controversy, cannot exceed $12,000.00. The plaintiff is required to file a filing fee when filing the complaint. There is also an additional cost for serving the defendant with the claim. If the plaintiff prevails in the case, these costs can be recovered from the defendant.
Lawrence County Magisterial District Court Appeal
If the plaintiff wins at the hearing, the judge may set up a twelve month installment plan for payments from the Defendant. The defendant has thirty days to appeal the Magisterial District Judge’s decision to Common Pleas Court. A Notice of Appeal needs to be filed with the prothonotary at the county courthouse. A copy of the Notice of Appeal will be served on the judge (who made the decision) and the plaintiff in the case. The Notice of Appeal will prevent the plaintiff from taking any steps to collect money from the defendant until the appeal is decided. If the judge rules for the defendant, the plaintiff can appeal this decision as well.
Advantages of Filing in Magisterial District Court in Lawrence County
Claims for $12,000 or less can also be filed in a court called common pleas court. However, the Magisterial District Court is not as formal and is cheaper than a case in common pleas court. Additionally, you need an attorney to file your case in the court of common pleas. An attorney is not required at the Magisterial District Court.
Where Can a Small Claims Court Case Be Filed?
Each county in Pennsylvania (except for Philadelphia) is divided into districts. Each district has an elected Magisterial District Judge. A case should be filed in the Magisterial District where:
- the business is located or where the defendant lives
- the contract for the case was signed or where work was to be performed
- the damage or accident involved happened
- the property from the case is kept
The plaintiff should contact the Magisterial District Court clerk to ensure it is the proper court for the case. The plaintiff can also inquire what the filing fee for the case will be. The filing fee can be paid by the plaintiff when the case is actually filed. The complaint form can be found under “Civil Complaint” here. If the plaintiff intends to place confidential information on the “Civil Complaint,” the plaintiff also needs to complete the “Confidential Information Form” which is located on the same page.
Steps Before Filing a Case in Lawrence County Small Claims Court
Prior to filing a claim, it is recommended that you send a demand letter to the defendant asking for payment. A demand letter can be the cheapest and quickest way of resolving your situation. In addition to the amount you are requesting, you should also set a reasonable deadline for the defendant to respond by. If the defendant does not agree to your demands, then you may consider filing your case once the deadline has passed. Prior to filing your claim, you need to ascertain the name and physical address of the party you intend to sue. The Magisterial Court cannot accept a post office box. If the party you intend on suing is not an individual, it is important to learn what corporate form the business is using. The Pennsylvania Corporation Bureau (717-787-1057) can assist with learning this information. Before going to the Magisterial District Court to file your claim, you should know the following information:
- plaintiff’s name and address
- defendant’s name and address
- the amount of money you are filing your claim for (including all expenses)
- short statement of facts surrounding the circumstances of the case (including dates and locations)
While it is possible to file your claim through the mail, the plaintiff should file it in person at the courthouse with the clerk, so the clerk can let the plaintiff know if there are any problems with the claim. While at the courthouse, the plaintiff can pay the filing fees. In addition to the filing fee, the plaintiff will have to pay a fee to have the Defendant served. A Defendant can be served by certified mail or in person by a deputy sheriff or constable. Service by certified mail is cheaper but might not be as quick as personal service by a sheriff or constable.