24th District Court     


 

Small Claims

If you believe an individual or business has treated you unfairly and you believe you are owed money or satisfaction, suing in small claims court may be an option for you.  Acting on your own behalf, without the expense of an attorney, you can sue in small claims for damages of up to $3,000.  This page outlines the procedures you will need to know.

Note: This information is based on the A Practical Guide for Tenants and Landlords, a publication of the State of Michigan and is for informational purposes only.  It is not to be considered legal advise.  For more information on the terms and conditions governing this material, click here.


Table of Contents

 

What is Small Claims Court?
What Actions May Be Brought to Small Claims Court?
How to Start Your Lawsuit
Before the Hearing
The Hearing
Collecting Your Money
Points to Remember


What is Small Claims Court?

The small claims court was established in 1968 as a division of the district court system.  It was designed to resolve disputes quickly and inexpensively.  However, in using small claims court, you will forfeit the right to a jury trial, the right to appeal a decision by the court, and the right to an attorney.   A judge or magistrate will hear both sides and make a final, binding decision.

Back to Top


What Actions May Be Brought to Small Claims Court?

Most non-criminal matters involving damages under $3,000 may be brought to small claims court.  The following are only a few examples of small claims lawsuits: an auto repair service unsatisfactorily repairs your vehicle; a dry cleaner damages your clothing; a landlord refuses to return a security deposit or if you seek to recover up to $500 in damages not paid for by an insurance company in an automobile accident where the other driver was more than 50% at fault.

Back to Top


How to Start Your Lawsuit

Before you consider going to small claims court, you should be clear as to why you are suing and how much money you are requesting.  Start by calling the district court where the business or person is located or where the transaction / incident in dispute took place and ask the amount of the filing fee, if there are any additional fees and how many copies of your evidence documents you should bring. 

If you are filing a small claims lawsuit at the 24th District Court, the fee is $25 for a claim up to $600, $45 for a claim from $601 - $1750, and $65 for a claim from $1751 - $3000.  There are additional fees for certified mailing of the summons and complaint, and you should bring two extra copies of your evidentiary documents to the court on the day of your trial.   A process server will cost more than certified mail, but is generally more effective than certified mail.  If you win the case, you will be entitled to be reimbursed for the costs of filing your suit.

To file a claim against a person or business, you must appear in person at the district court or have the appropriate forms mailed to you by the civil division.   The 24th District Court accepts the following methods of payment: cash, check, money order or credit card (Visa or MasterCard).  You will be given an affidavit of claim form at this time.  You will need to know the exact name and address of the person you are suing.  If you are filing suit against a business, you should know its legal name, since some businesses operate under an assumed name.  You can call the county clerk's office in the county where the business is located, or the Michigan Corporation and Securities Bureau at (900) 555-0031 (which charges a fee) for assistance.

Back to Top


Before the Hearing

The hearing is usually within 30 days from the time you filed your suit.   During this time, the court will notify the defendant that you have filed a claim.   This is known as serving the defendant with a summons.  At that time, the person or business you are suing has two options.  The first is to ask that the case be removed from small claims court to the general civil, as is their right.  You will be notified if the defendant makes such a request.  In a general civil case, both parties have the right to be represented by an attorney.  It is also possible that the defendant will offer to settle the dispute before the hearing.  If you reach such a settlement, make sure that all of the terms of the agreement are put into writing and signed by both you and the other party.  A copy of the consent judgment must then be filed with the court.  Once it is accepted by the court, the agreement becomes the official judgment and is enforceable by law.

If the case is not resolved outside of court, you and the defendant will be notified of your court date.  After you file your case, you should carefully organize your presentation and evidence.  It is a good idea to outline the major points you wish to make as you will want to present all of the important points clearly.  Evidence can include such items as bills of sale, receipts, leases, accident reports, photographs, repair bills / estimates, promissory notes or contracts.  Evidence may also include witness statements.  If you do not have access to some of the evidence, you may ask the court to issue a subpoena to produce the evidence.  Additionally, if it is necessary to ensure a witness attends the hearing, a subpoena can be requested for that purpose.  These subpoena requests should be made early in the 30-day period.  The court may help in filing a subpoena request, but you will need to ask for assistance.  If it is impossible for you to attend the hearing, notify the court clerk immediately.  The court may be able to set up an alternative hearing date.

Back to Top


The Hearing

Unless another location is specified by the court, the hearing will take place at the court where you filed your claim. When arriving for the hearing, be prompt and bring all of your evidence and witnesses with you.   It is important that you explain your position to the judge or magistrate in a clear manner, including why you think the defendant is responsible and what kind of legal relief you are requesting.  Keep all testimony focused on the facts of the case and show the judge the evidence you have prepared.  The witnesses will be allowed to tell the judge in their own words what they know about the case.

After you have finished, the defendant will have the opportunity for rebuttal.  Listen carefully, as it is up to you to make sure all the facts are presented to the judge fairly and completely.  If you feel the defendant is being untruthful or leaving something out, be sure to inform the judge, but only after being told that it is your turn to speak.  The judge will want to receive all of the facts in a case before making a decision.  Remember, the courtroom is a forum for structured debate and not a place to simply express anger.

If your case is heard by a magistrate and you or the defendant is dissatisfied with the court's decision with the court's decision, either party may request that the case be reheard by a judge.  A judge's decision, however, is final and cannot be appealed.  If the plaintiff fails to attend the hearing, without having it rescheduled in advance by the court, your claim will be dismissed.   Likewise, if the defendant does not appear, the court will usually enter a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff.  This means that the court decides in favor of the plaintiff even though the other side of the case has not been presented.

Back to Top


Collecting Your Money

If the judge decides in your favor, the defendant is required to pay you the amount ordered.  If the defendant refuses to abide by the court's decision, there are various options available to you.

For a small fee, the court may be able to issue a writ of garnishment or attachment.  This would mean that your payments would be taken out of the defendant's wages or bank account.  It is a good idea to try to learn the defendant's social security number, place of employment and employment identification number at your hearing.  If you were unable to obtain this information at the first hearing, you might consider bring the defendant back into court to do this.   You would request that the court issue a discovery subpoena, which would require the defendant come into court and disclose this information.  At this time, it would be possible to find out about the defendant's accounts and assets.  Again, this is a simple process and the court clerk will have the form for you to fill out.  Court rules do not authorize this discovery process until a monetary judgment has been entered. If the defendant does not have a job or bank account, you could choose to request a writ of execution.  In this case, some of the defendant's property could be seized and sold in order to pay your judgment.

If these avenues are not effective, you may be permitted to use these devices at a later time, when the defendant has the ability to pay the judgment.  Once the defendant has carried out the judge's decision, you will be required to complete a Satisfaction of Judgment form, acknowledging that the losing party has complied with the court's order.  The state has imposed a six-year time limit for collecting small claims judgments.  If the money is not collected within six years, the judgment expires.

Back to Top


Points to Remember

 Back to Top


Back to Civil Division