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  Small Claims Information  

This Guide to Small Claims Court is designed to help you understand the Small Claims Court procedures. This information is not intended to constitute legal advice or take the place of an attorney should you feel one is necessary.

The Small Claims Court can decide claims for MONEY ONLY. The Small Claims Referee cannot order a defendant to do anything other than pay a specific sum of money. So you must be able to put a price tag on any damages you have suffered as a result of the defendant's actions. You must have evidence to offer to prove the damages. Small Claims Court does not have jurisdiction in such actions as libel, slander, repossession or cases which do not involve actual monetary damages.

There is a $64.00 filing fee to initiate a small claims Complaint that names one defendant and $10.00 filing fee for each additional defendant (residing at a separate address). This fee is due at the time the Complaint is filed. You may obtain the Complaint form from the Clerk's office.

The amount claimed cannot exceed $3,000.00.

You must know the address of the party you file suit against. Before you file, make sure you know the true, legal name of the person or business you intend to sue. If you sue the wrong party, the case may be dismissed or you could wind up with an uncollectible judgment. An unincorporated business (sole owner or proprietorship) must be sued in the personal name of the owner or partner, i.e., John Doe dba John's Repair Shop. (dba means "doing business as".) Only a corporation can actually be sued in the company name. If you are unsure whether the business is incorporated, call the Ohio Secretary of State at (614) 466-3910.

As a general rule, you should seek to sue a person or business in the county in which he or she resides or where the transaction at issue took place.

If you are a minor, under 18, you must have your parent or guardian file the suit for you. You may not sue a minor. You may sue a minor through his parent or legal guardian.

Ohio Revised Code 1925.17 Corporations; presentation of claim or defense provides that:
A corporation which is a real party in interest in any action in a small claims division may commence such an action and appear therein through an attorney at law. Such a corporation may, through any bona fide officer or salaried employee, file and present its claim or defense in any action in a small claims division arising from a claim based on a contract to which the corporation is an original party or any other claim to which the corporation is an original claimant, provided such corporation does not, in the absence of representation by an attorney at law, engage in cross-examination, argument, or other acts of Advocacy.

The Clerk will process your Complaint by assigning a case number and issuing a summons setting the case for trial on a specific day and time. You will be mailed a copy of the Summons and Complaint along with a receipt for the filing fee. A copy of the Summons and Complaint will be served upon the defendant by certified mail, restricted delivery. If service cannot be obtained on the defendant at the address provided you will be mailed a Notice of Failure of Service. The trial cannot proceed until the defendant is served with the summons notifying them of the trial date. There is an additional $10.00 charge to attempt service on the defendant at another address.

Alternatively, you may request that the Sheriff attempt to serve the defendant personally with the Summons and Complaint. You must supply an address where the defendant may be served. There is an additional $20.00 fee for service by the Sheriff.

If you have a witness that is necessary to prove your case, you have the right to subpoena that witness to guarantee his or her appearance at your trial. You may obtain the subpoena forms from the Clerk's Office. The Court requests that the completed subpoena be turned into the Clerk's office at least five (5) days prior to the hearing. You must provide the witness being subpoenaed with a $6.00 witness fee and mileage at 10 cents per mile. Out-of-state witnesses cannot be compelled to attend.

Proceedings in the Small Claims Division are conducted before a Referee appointed by the Court. The Referee is an attorney, admitted to practice law in the State of Ohio.

Court starts promptly at the time written on the Summons. BE ON TIME. If you are late you may automatically lose.

The trial affords both parties the opportunity to offer evidence and to present and cross-examine witnesses. Bear in mind that you will have to convince the Small Claims Referee not only that you are in the right, but also that you are entitled to a specific sum of money from the defendant. Collect all documents related to your case; receipts, canceled checks, estimates, bills, contracts, photos, etc.

At the time scheduled for the hearing, the Referee will call all the cases set for that day. If the plaintiff does not appear, the case will be dismissed. If the defendant does not appear, the Referee may recommend that a default judgment be entered in the plaintiff's favor. A copy of the default judgment entry will be sent to the plaintiff by the court. If the defendant appears and admits that the money is owed plaintiff, but desires time to pay, the referee may set up a payment schedule. If such payment schedule is established, judgment for plaintiff against defendant shall be stayed as long as defendant makes the required payments.

After trial the Referee will then file a written Recommendation to the Court. The clerk will mail copies of the Referee's Recommendation to the parties. After the Recommendation has been filed, either party has fourteen days to file an " objection" detailing the errors they believe the Referee has made. Objections should be specific and state with particularity the grounds of the objection. A copy of the objection should be mailed to your opponent (or his/her attorney) when you file them with the Court.

Upon consideration of the objections, the Court may adopt, reject, or modify the recommendation; hear additional evidence; return the recommendation to the Referee with instructions; or hear the matter itself. On appeal, a party may not assign as error the Court's adoption of a Referee's finding of fact unless an objection to that finding is contained in that party's written objections to the Referee's Recommendation. The court may adopt any finding of fact in the Referee's Recommendation without further consideration unless the party who objects to that finding supports that objection with a copy of all relevant portions of the transcript from the Referee's hearing or an affidavit about evidence submitted to the Referee if no transcript is available. In deciding whether to adopt a Referee's finding of fact, the Court may disregard any evidence that was not submitted to the Referee unless the complaining party demonstrates that with reasonable diligence he or she could not have discovered and produced that evidence for the Referee's consideration. If you want the Court to make a different factual finding than that found by the Referee you must order and pay for a transcript of the hearing before the Referee.

The Municipal Court Judge will review the record and rule on the objections. The parties will be notified of the Decision of the Court.

If no timely Objections are made, the Referee's recommendation will be adopted as the final order of the Court.

The Judge's ruling may be appealed to the Fourth District Court of Appeals. At this point, however, the matter gets more complex and costly, requiring a transcript of the original hearing (you pay for it), and, possibly the services of an attorney. Before taking this step you should consult with an attorney as to the merits of your arguments.

If the defendant agrees to settle before the trial, do not sign a release dismissing the suit until you have received the agreed-upon settlement.

No court automatically forces a debtor to pay. The court has confirmed that the debtor has a legal, enforceable obligation to pay, but then it becomes the creditor's job to collect that debt. If the judgment debtor fails to pay within thirty (30) days of the judgment, the judgment creditor has three options to collect:

  1. Lien on Real Estate (cost $5.00) - a lien can be placed on real estate owned by the judgment debtor, if the real estate is in Lawrence County and was owned at the time the case was originally filed. The lien must be renewed every five years. The lien holder/Judgment Creditor will recover the amount of the judgment when the property is sold.
  2. Execution of a vehicle (cost $75.00) - the vehicle must be titled and licensed in the name of the judgment debtor. The vehicle will be seized by the sheriff's department and sold at an auction. The laws on execution are complicated and unless you are familiar with the laws will require the assistance of an attorney .
  3. Garnishment of Wages - the laws relating to garnishment are complicated and unless you are familiar with this process you will need the assistance of an attorney.

Once a judgment has been satisfied in full, the Court requests the judgment creditor to file a document with the Court stating that the judgment has been paid in full.