Small claims court is for the recovery of money only; Not the return of property.
The purpose of the Small Claims Court is to help individuals recover small amounts of money quickly, informally and relatively inexpensively and without having to hire an attorney. The Court deals with claims of up to $6,000.00. In Small Claims Court, the individual acts as his/her own attorney with the court staff only assisting. Note: Corporations are required to have an attorney-at-law to represent them in accordance with ORC 1925.17.
The filing fee must be paid at the time the complaint is filed with the court. If you win your claim, the filing fee (costs) is made part of your award.
Small Claims Complaint forms are available at the court office or by downloading from this website. If you download the form be sure to have a minimum of 3 copies when filing with the court.
The Plaintiff is the party who is suing and the Defendant is the party being sued. You must have the complete name and address of the party you are suing. You must state a brief reason as to why you are suing and provide copies of documentation relative to the complaint being filed for both the court and each person you are bringing to court.
The small claims law provides that court personnel can assist you in reducing your claim, counterclaim or cross-claim to a short and plain statement in writing. Other than that, we are prohibited by law in advising you whom to sue, how to set forth the facts of your claim, the legal procedure to follow or which legal procedures are available to you or “What do I do next?” as this would constitute the unlawful practice of law. See ORC 4705.01.
A hearing date will be scheduled by the court when you file your complaint. Hearings are held within 40 days from the date of filing of the complaint.
Who Can Use Small Claims Court
If you are eighteen (18) years of age or older, you can sue in Small Claims Court. You can only sue for specific amounts of money not to exceed $6,000.00. You cannot sue for property or merchandise. For instance, if a dry cleaner loses your suit, the Small Claims Court might grant you a judgment for the value of the suit. The Court would not order the cleaners to return or replace your suit because its jurisdiction is for monetary damages only. If your claim is for more than $6,000.00 you may use Small Claims Court only if you agree to give up your rights to any amount due in excess of $6,000.00.
Where to File a Claim
A small claims suit must be filed in the Small Claims Division of the Municipal Court having jurisdiction. A court has jurisdiction if the transaction or incident took place in that court's territory. Findlay Municipal court has jurisdiction within the City of Findlay and Hancock County (with the exception of Washington Township).
Service: A copy of the complaint and notice of hearing date is mailed by certified mail to the defendant. If service is not made, the Plaintiff is notified and Plaintiff must request and pay the costs for additional service.
No defendant is required to file an answer or statement of defense. However a default judgment may be entered against said defendant if they fail to appear for the hearing after being duly served.
What Happens at a Small Claims Hearing?
If both parties appear for the initial hearing and the matter is still disputed then the case will be referred to mandatory mediation pursuant to Local Court Rule 3.12.
- If mediation is successful then the agreement can be converted to a Judgment Entry and the case is concluded.
- If mediation is unsuccessful then the matter will be scheduled for a Contested Small Claims hearing at a later date.
If the defendant(s) fail to appear for the initial hearing then the Plaintiff will still need to present their case and any evidence to support it.
The magistrate will make his recommendation based on the testimony and evidence submitted.
Presenting Your Case at a Contested Small Claims Hearing:
A contested hearing generally takes place in the following manner.
- The plaintiff has the burden of proof and the burden of persuasion, therefore they get to begin the hearing by presenting their case, along with any evidence or witnesses.The defendant, if present, will have an opportunity to view the evidence and cross examine any of the plaintiff’s witnesses.
- Once the plaintiff concludes their case the defendant will have the opportunity to testify and present their side of the case along with any evidence or witnesses.The plaintiff will also have an opportunity to view the evidence and cross exam any witnesses called.
- Once the defendant rests their case the plaintiff has the opportunity to present rebuttal testimony.
After all the testimony and evidence is submitted the Magistrate will take the case under advisement and make a recommendation on how judgment should be rendered.
Witnesses: Both parties may subpoena witnesses to support their claim. Subpoenas must be filed with the clerk’s office at least seven (7) days prior to the hearing. You must have the name and address of the witness and pay for postage if you request service by U.S. mail. If a subpoenaed witness fails to appear you may be entitled to a continuance to have them present. If no subpoenas have been issued and your witnesses do not appear, no continuance of your case will be granted. Notarized affidavits are not acceptable.
Evidence: Both parties must have all their papers, bills and whatever evidence they need to help in winning or defending their case. If your claim is due to an auto accident, be sure to bring your title. Bring the “original” documents plus a copy for each party to view at the hearing. The Magistrate will not continue the hearing because you “forgot” to bring along some evidence. Keep in mind, the court must retain any evidence that you submit for a period of time. For example if your evidence is presented as a photograph then the court will retain the original photograph; if your evidence is presented on a cell phone then the court will need to retain the cell phone. Parties may request to have their exhibits returned after the appeal period has passed, generally 30 days after final judgment is rendered by the Judge.
What Happens After the Magistrate Issues a Decision?
The Magistrate will file his decision with the court. If either party disagrees with his recommendation for any reason they may file an Objection to the Magistrate’s decision. This must be done in writing and accompanied by a transcript of the hearing. The objection and transcript must be filed with the Court within fourteen (14) days of the filing of the Magistrate’s Decision. If any party timely files objections, the other party may file a response to those objections not later than ten (10) days after the first objections are filed.
The Objections must be in writing and shall be specific and state with particularity the grounds of objection. A copy of the objection must be sent to the other party by the person filing the objection and indicate that you have done this on your objection above your signature.
The Judge of the Findlay Municipal Court will thoroughly review the case file, magistrate’s decision, the objections, if any, and enter final judgment, which may be the exact magistrate’s decision or a modification of it.
I Won; What Happens Now.
Please refer to the section titled Collecting Your Judgment
It is important to remember that you are responsible for following through on any collection procedures. Don't forget, you are acting as your own attorney and it is your job, not the court's, to check on the outcome of any garnishments you may file.