Small Claims Division
Small Claims Court is designed to handle small matters in the simplest forum possible. You may only file an action for money (not for the return of property or for any other remedy). The maximum claim is $6,000. You may not bring an action for libel, slander, malicious prosecution or abuse of process. You may not sue for exemplary or punitive damages. There are no jury trials. (See Ohio Revised Code Chapter 1925).
Any individual, company or corporation may file a claim against another individual, company or corporation. You may file a claim in the Erie County Municipal Court if:
- The individual, company or corporation you are suing lives or has its principal place of business within the jurisdiction of the court.
- The actions giving rise to the complaint occurred within the jurisdiction of the court.
- The property that is the subject of the claim is located within the jurisdiction of the court.
In all cases, the jurisdiction of the court includes Berlin Township, Berlin Heights Village, Milan Township, Milan Village (Erie County side), Oxford Township, Groton Township, Margaretta Township (but NOT the villages of Castalia or Bay View) and Kelleys Island.
- Individuals may represent themselves or be represented by an attorney. If you need or want aan attorney to represent you, you may call the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service at 419-627-2009 for more information about obtaining an attorney.
- Partnerships may be represented by a general partner or an attorney.
- Corporations may be represented by an attorney or a non-lawyer officer, however, the following limitations apply to non-lawyer representatives; the officer may testify only about the facts that he or she has personal knowledge of, and may present documentary evidence in support of the claim or defense. He or she may not examine or cross-examine any witness, present legal arguments or engage in other acts of advocacy. The officer may not file or present motions, affidavits, or file collections in proceedings.
- Limited Liability Companies may be represented by an attorney or a non-lawyer officer of a limited liability company (LLC). A non-lawyer representative may complete and file documents on behalf of the company in small claims court, appear on behalf of the company at small claims court hearings, but may not engage in cross examination, argument or other acts of advocacy. A non-lawyer representative of an LLC may not file motions, affidavits or file collections proceedings.
The case begins with a complaint. Small claims complaint forms are also available at the court.Small Claims Complaint Form
Your complaint must contain the following information:
- Correctly identify the parties. The name and address of the plaintiff and the name and address of the defendant. You must have the correct name of the defendant otherwise any judgment you get may not be enforceable.
- A brief but clear statement of the reason the suit is being brought. In other words, you need to tell the court why you believe the defendant owes you money. You should include the date, time and place of the transaction or incident on which you base your complaint.
- The amount of money you believe the defendant owes you.
- A copy of any relevant contract, cancelled or NSF check, promissory note or account should be attached to the complaint. If you wish to provide any documents at the time the complaint is filed, you must provide one copy of all documents for the court and one copy for each defendant named in the complaint.
- You must sign your complaint in the presence of a clerk at the court or in the presence of a notary public if you intend to mail the complaint to the court.
- Your complaint must be accompanied by a filing fee of $75.00 for one defendant and $10.00 for each additional defendant named on the complaint.
After the complaint has been filed, the court does two things: 1) schedules a hearing on the claim 30 to 40 days from the date of filing with notice to the plaintiff and 2) notifies the defendant by certified mail at the address supplied by the plaintiff that they have been sued and of the hearing date.
The defendant does not have to file an answer or any other paperwork. However, if the defendant wishes to contest the action, he must simply appear at the scheduled hearing with the evidence (documents, witnesses, etc.) needed to defend the lawsuit.
Whenever you file a document of any kind with the court (with the exception of the complaint) you must also serve a copy of that document upon the opposing party. You accomplish this by mailing or hand delivering a copy to the opposing party at the last known address.
You must prove to the court that you served the opposing party by adding a statement to the document informing the court of the date and manner of service. For example:
"A copy of the foregoing document was mailed on the 1st day of May, 2011 to John Smith at 12345 West Mason Road, Milan, Ohio 44846."
It is important to keep in mind that you will receive only one opportunity to prove your case, and you must prepare in advance for your hearing. If you are the plaintiff, it is your job to prove that the defendant owes you money. You must also have evidence to prove how much you believe the defendant owes you. If you are a defendant and you filed a counterclaim you must prove that the plaintiff owes you money on your counterclaim and you must have evidence to prove how much you believe the plaintiff owes you.
Make sure you have all of the documents that you need. Bring all papers that you believe will assist you in your claim, like contracts, cancelled checks, bills, receipts, photographs and letters. Remember: it is your responsibility to prove that you are entitled to recover and you must also prove the amount that you are entitled to recover.
Make sure you bring any physical evidence that you need. If you need photographs, or wish to show the court an object to help prove your claim, make sure you bring them with you to court.
Make sure you bring any witnesses you wish to testify on your behalf and prepare your questions before coming to court. Letters and affidavits stating what your witnesses would say if they were present, though considered by the court, normally do not carry as much weight as if you had the witness present.
You should check in with the clerk shortly before your case is scheduled.
Your case will be heard before the Judge and uncontested cases will be called first. Those cases which are contested are called last due to the necessity of testimony and argument. The plaintiff will have the first opportunity to tell their side of the story. The defendant will then be given an opportunity to tell their side of the story.
Small claims hearings can take anywhere from ten to forty-five minutes. You should, however, be prepared to stay longer if necessary. Be sure your documents are organized before you come to court. Also, it is important that you have your thoughts organized so you can explain the situation as clearly and concisely as possible.
All of your statements should be brief and to the point. Follow the instructions given to you by the Judge. Do not interrupt when the other side is testifying. Both sides will be given an opportunity to speak.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the Judge will either announce his decision or take the matter under consideration. In either case, both parties will receive a copy of the Judge's decision.
|Small Claims Complaint
plus $10.00 for each additional defendant
plus $150.00 to Erie County Common Pleas clerk of courts
|Garnishment (personal earnings)||$100.00|
|Garnishment (other than personal earnings)
(plus $1.00 fee for garnishee)
(plus $100.00 deposit for personal service fee)
|Other Aids in Execution||$20.00|
|Certificate of Judgment||$10.00|
- Can any kind of case be resolved in small claims court?
- No. Small claims court may only award a judgment for money. The small claims court cannot order the return of property.
- Can I bring a lawyer to small claims court?
- Attorneys are allowed, but not required. One objective of small claims is to make it possible for individuals to argue their case without the added expense of hiring a lawyer. For this reason, small claims rules and procedures are not as strict as those in the regular court. See "Do I Need an Attorney" above.
- When will my case be heard?
- Small claims hearings are held every Wednesday. Hearings are set approximately 30 - 40 days from the date of filing.
- Will I get paid if I win the lawsuit?
- Not necessarily. The court may decide in your favor but cannot force the defendant to pay you. The role of the court is to determine whether or not you are entitled to the money for which you sued. There are additional fees for each type of collection. The extra costs are added to the judgment.