If you feel that a
business or individual owes you money, you can bring a lawsuit
against that person or business in the Small Claims division of
the District Court. Each district court in the State of
Michigan has a Small Claims Division which is designed to allow
a person a quick, inexpensive and fair determination of most
claims not exceeding $5,000.00. If your claim is more
than $5,000.00, and you still elect to file in Small Claims
Court, you waive your right to collect more than that amount.
Some laws set their own limit on the
amount a person may collect. For instance, you may sue to
recover for damage to your motor vehicle arising out of an auto
accident if the other driver is at fault. However, you
are limited to that amount not otherwise covered by your
insurance up to $1,000.00 if the defendant had insurance at the
time of the accident.
When you file in Small Claims Court,
you give up or waive the following rights:
- The right to be represented by an
- The right to have a jury trial;
- The right to appeal the final
decision of the court
(unless the case is heard by an
Because a person cannot be forced to
give up these rights, a lawsuit started in Small Claims Court
may be removed to the general Civil Division by request of
either party. Should the lawsuit be removed to General
Civil, you will then have the right to have an attorney
Before you can file a Small Claims
lawsuit, you must determine who to sue. If it is an
individual, his/her name and complete address must be written
on the small claims form. If you are suing a business,
you must indicate whether it is a partnership or a corporation.
To file a Small Claims in the 71A
District Court, the DEFENDANT (the person you are suing) must
either live in Lapeer County, or the action arose in Lapeer
County. We call this determining venue. You must
file your Small Claims in the court which has the venue for the
particular area where the defendant lives or where the action
Again, please note that you must sue
where the person lives, or where the action arose.
The filing fees for Small Claims are
based on the amount of damages you are seeking and are as
- For claims up to $600.00
$25.00 filing fee
- For claims from $600.01 - $1,750.00
$45.00 filing fee
- For claims from $1,750.01 -
$3,000.00 $65.00 filing fee
When you file your Small Claims, the
clerk will give you a hearing date approximately 30-45 days
from the date of filing, depending on the docket. You are
responsible for obtaining the proper service of the lawsuit
upon the defendant. This may be done by one of two
methods. The first and most common service is by a
process server. You may speak to the clerk about
obtaining a process server. You may also have the Court
serve claim by certified mail, restricted delivery.
In order to save an extra trip to the
court, it is advisable to call the court the day before your
hearing to ensure that proper service on the defendant was
obtained. If the papers have not been served, ask for a
new trial date. It is your responsibility to make sure
that all paperwork in your possession is changed to reflect the
new court date and time. PARTIES TO A LAWSUIT MAY NOT
SERVE THE PAPERS THEMSELVES.
Your case will be heard by a Judge or
Attorney/Magistrate. You will be placed under oath and
asked you state your claim. Tell what happened and why
you think the person or business you are suing owes you money.
Witnesses will be allowed to state what they know about the
case in their own words. The defendant (the person you
are suing) will also be placed under oath and have an
opportunity to explain their side of the case. Listen
carefully, because it is up to you to make sure all the facts
are presented fairly and completely.
At the conclusion of the trial, the
Judge or Attorney/Magistrate will explain his/her decision and
enter a judgment. If the judgment is issued on behalf of
the plaintiff, it will include the amount the Judge feels is
fair based on the testimony as well as court costs (filing fees
and service fees). The defendant then has 30 days to pay
the judgment directly to the plaintiff. THE COURT DOES
NOT COLLECT THE JUDGMENT FOR YOU. If the judge finds
there is not a basis for the plaintiff's claim, then he will
dismiss the case. Once the Judge makes a decision, it is
final and you have no right to appeal. However, if your
case is heard by an Attorney/Magistrate, either you or the
defendant may appeal the decision within seven (7) days.
If you (the plaintiff) fail to appear
for your hearing, the case will be dismissed. If the
defendant fails to appear, a default judgment will be entered
in your favor. However the defendant does have the right
to file a motion within 14 days to have the default set aside.
If the Judge grants the motion, a new trial date will be held.
You may also try to settle the matter
out of court - even up to the day of the trial. Before
filing the small claims, consider whether you will be able to
collect a judgment from the person you are suing.
Sometimes collecting the judgment can be the most difficult
part of the lawsuit. Again, the court does not collect
the money for you.
This information attempts to explain
only the highlights of Small Claims cases. It is not a
complete statement of the law. Clerks at the courts will
be happy to assist you in the processing of your claim, BUT
THEY ARE NOT ATTORNEYS, AND CANNOT GIVE OUT LEGAL ADVICE.
If you have a question regarding the merit of your claim, or
whether you have a claim, you may wish to consult with an
If you require special accommodations
to use the court because of disabilities, please contact the
court immediately to make arrangements.