Small Claims Court
What is Small Claims Court?
Small Claims Court is a division of the Wadsworth Municipal Court (each county in Ohio has one). Small Claims was created by the Ohio Legislature to permit easy access to court for persons with the disputes involving relatively small amounts of money. Cases are heard by the judge but the procedure used by the court is less formal.
Is a Lawyer Required?
No. You may use an attorney if you want, but one is not required. One object of Small Claims is to make it possible for individuals to argue their own cases without the added expense, since procedures are not as strict as those in regular court. A corporation should be represented by an attorney. While the statute allows for an officer of the corporation, or a salaried employee to present its claim or defense, they may not engage in cross-examination, argument or other acts of advocacy. Any act of advocacy by a non-attorney constitutes the unauthorized practice of law. The practice of law includes the preparation of pleadings and other papers incident to actions and the management of such actions and proceedings on behalf of clients before judges and courts. (Refer to section 1925.17 of Ohio Revised Code.)
How big is small?
The most you can sue for in Small Claims is $3,000.
Note, however, that a defendant (person sued) may file a counterclaim against you. The limit for a counterclaim is also $3,000.
How is a Small Claim case filed?
The person filing the case (called the plaintiff) must fill out a form which shall state the nature of the claim and the amount allegedly owed. the claim must be filed under oath. The plaintiff must provide the court with the address of both parties, the plaintiff and the person being sued (called the defendant). The court notifies both parties of the trial date, and sends the defendant a copy of the claim.
What does it cost and where can I file?
The cost for filing a Small Claim case is usually $54.00. Plus $5.00 for each additional defendant. You must pay the cost when you file your case. You may file a claim in the court having jurisdiction over the area in which the defendant lives, or where the claim arose, or, if the defendant lives out of state, where you live.
What kinds of cases are heard?
Small Claims can only decide claims for money. The Small Claims judge cannot order a defendant to do anything other than pay a specific sum of money. Thus, you must be able to put a price tag on any damages you have suffered as a result of the defendant's actions.
Small Claims does NOT have jurisdiction in such actions as libel, slander, repossession or any other kinds of cases which do not involve actual monetary damages. If you have a dispute with your mechanic, for example you can base an action on you bills or the estimate cost of redoing his work. However, you cannot ask the court to make the mechanic fix your car or release it before payment of a bill. Typical cases involve contact disputes, rental security deposits claims, accident damages, etc. Small Claims is also used by many merchants to sue consumers who have defaulted on loan agreements.
What happens on the day of the trial?
When both parties appear, the judge listens to both sides of the story and renders a decision. If the defendant does not appear, the court may grant a default judgment. If the plaintiff does not appear and the defendant does, the court may dismiss the case or grant judgment to the defendant.
What do I need to bring as evidence to prove my case?
Your own testimony and the testimony of your witnesses, given under oath, will be taken as evidence. Written statements may also be given to the court. It is usually better, however, to have a live witness if possible. If your claim is for nonpayment for services rendered, it is important to bring invoices to show what work was done and what is owed.