Small Claims Court
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SMALL CLAIMS COURT
You do not need a lawyer to sue someone in small claims court, where you can sue someone for up to $10,000 in a quick and informal trial. Small claims court is part of the Justice of the Peace Court (J.P. court). In a suit involving a landlord-tenant dispute, you should file your suit in the J.P. court where the rental property is located. In other cases, you could file your suit in the J.P. court near where the person you are suing lives. In a case involving injuries to people or damage to property, you must file your suit within two years. For a case involving a contract, which might be an oral agreement, you must file your suit within four years.
To file and pursue your lawsuit:
1. You must first file a request, called a petition or complaint, with the Justice of the Peace. You can use a form provided by the court clerk. You will also have to pay the clerk a fee when you file. If you cannot afford to pay the filing fee, you may file your lawsuit with an Affidavit of Inability to Pay, sometimes called a Pauper's Oath. You will need to complete the Affidavit of Inability to Pay with information about your income, your property, monthly expenses, dependents, and debts.
2. Once you have filed your petition, a constable will deliver a copy of it and a notice, called a citation, to the person you sued, or the defendant. The citation will tell the defendant that you have sued them and will give a deadline to the defendant to respond and request trial. Some courts will automatically set the date of the trial, but you should check with the clerk to find out if and when it will be scheduled. If the court does not automatically schedule the trial, it will be up to you to request a trial on a particular date.
3. At the trial, it is important to show up on time. You should arrive at least fifteen minutes early. Be sure to bring any evidence you have to support your side, such as receipts, invoices, cancelled checks, letters, or witnesses who can testify for you. Since you are the person who filed the lawsuit, you will speak first. You have to prove your case to the judge or you will lose. Explain your side of the dispute directly to the judge and be sure you present the judge with all the proof and witnesses that you have brought with you. After you finish, the defendant will have a chance to speak and present witnesses and papers. You can cross-examine the defendant and any of the witnesses.
4. Even if the judge rules in your favor, it can still be very difficult sometimes to collect the Judgment from the defendant. Following are some things you can do to try to get the money the judge awarded to you.
--Ten days after the judge rules in your favor, you should ask the court clerk to prepare for you a copy of the judge's decision in a document called an Abstract of Judgment. File a copy of this document with the County Clerk for the deed records in every county where you know the defendant either owns property or may try to buy property. Once you do this, the defendant will not be able to buy or sell any real estate in those counties until you are paid the amount of the judgment. After ten years, the Abstract of Judgment will expire and you will have to file a new Abstract. If reported, the unpaid debt will also stay on the defendant's credit report for seven years after the date of the judgment.
--If the defendant does not appeal within ten days of the date of the judgment, and if the defendant has not paid you the amount of the judgment, you can get a court order, called a writ of execution, ordering the constable to take certain kinds of property, usually from a business that owes you money, and sell it to pay for the judgment.
--You may have to hire a lawyer to get you a court order, called a writ of garnishment, ordering a bank to pay from the defendant's accounts. You cannot use a writ of garnishment to take money from the defendant's paycheck.
If you would like more detailed information about small claims court lawsuits, you can visit the following website: http://www.law.uh.edu/peopleslawyer/legal-topics/small-claims-court.html