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Small Claims...

The Process

How to File

Before the Hearing

At the Hearing

Continuances & Requests

Disagreement with the Judgement

Dismissal

Payment

Garnishments

Judgement Lien

Affidavit and Motion for Debtor's Exam

Affidavit of Financial Status (Small Claims Only)

Satisfaction of Judgement

The Process

Small Claims actions are like other civil lawsuits, except that they are handled in a somewhat less formal manner than regular civil cases on the court’s docket.   The statutes and court rules are more liberally construed to allow a layman to present his or her case, or defense, without the assistance of an attorney.

The maximum amount of a Small Claims judgment may not exceed $6,000.00 (excluding interest and court costs).

You are not required to have an attorney in a Small Claims action.  However, anyone may be represented by an attorney in Small Claims, and the court encourages all parties to consider legal representation. 

Judgments in Small Claims are in the form of money only.  For instance, a judge cannot order the return of specific property in a Small Claims action.

Certain types of cases may not proceed as Small Claims actions, including: those based on libel, slander, malicious prosecution, those seeking punitive or exemplary damages, those brought by an assignee or agent, and claims against agencies of the State of Ohio or against the United States government or its agencies.

You can file a Small Claims action in the Trumbull County Central Court District against another individual, company, or other entity, if:

To find the jurisdiction that your claim may be filed; if not able to file with Central Courts; CLICK HERE.

The Ohio Judicial Conference in cooperation with the Ohio State Bar Foundation has published “A Citizen's Guide to Small Claims” that presents an overview of the rules and procedures in small claims.  You can find this guide from your computer with internet access at www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/JCS/interpreterSvcs/forms/english/5.pdf.

How to File a Small Claims Action

You begin a Small Claims action by filing a formal statement of the claim with the Court.  You can obtain a copy of the complaint form at the Court, or can download a complaint form by clicking on: Small Claims Complaint Form and the Small Claim Information Sheet.   

To initiate a Small Claims action you must provide the following:

  1. The full name and address of each defendant;
  2. The address where the defendant is to be served; and
  3. A short statement of the nature and details of the claim;
  4. The names and addresses of all of your witnesses;
  5. A statement of the amount of your claim, plus any interest claims;
  6. Filing fees of $41.00 for one defendant, plus $10.00 for each additional
  7. defendant;
  8. Whether the defendant is on active military duty;
  9. You must sign the complaint in the presence of the clerk or notary
    public.

Once the Small Claims complaint is filed, the information is entered into the Court’s Case Management System, a case number is assigned, and the Court: 

  1.  Schedules a hearing on the claim approximately within 30 days (Small Claims are generally heard on Fridays); and
  2. Notifies the Defendant of the claim, and the hearing date and time by certified mail at the address supplied by the plaintiff.

Unlike regular Civil Actions, the defendant in Small Claims is not required to file a written response to the complaint.  Whether or not the defendant files a written answer, the defendant should appear at the scheduled hearing prepared to offer arguments, evidence and/or witnesses to defend against the claim.  If the defendant does not appear, it is likely that the court will issue a judgment against the defendant.

If the certified mail containing Defendant's copy of the complaint is returned as “unclaimed” or “refused,” then the court will re-send complaint by ordinary mail. If the ordinary mail is also returned, then the court will not be able to proceed with the Small Claims trial, and will request that the plaintiff provide a better address for the defendant.

Before the Hearing:

Both parties must be prepared to present their case at the Small Claims hearing or trial.  Parties should collect their evidence (contracts, cancelled checks, bills, receipts, photographs, letters, etc.), contact their witnesses, and make a written outlines of their cases to assist them in presenting their case or defense.

At the Hearing:

Both parties will have the opportunity to present their claims and defenses, and any evidence which supports their arguments.  Please bring enough copies of your evidence (documents, pictures, etc.) to provide copies for yourself, the witnesses, the court, and opposing parties.

Make sure that your witnesses appear in person. With some very limited exceptions, written statements from persons not personally appearing in court cannot be accepted as evidence. 

As in all civil cases, a Small Claims plaintiff will be expected to present evidence of:

At the hearing, the Plaintiff presents his or her case first, then the Defendant. After hearing both sides, the Judge will issue a decision, or may state that the claim is "heard and submitted" and issue a written decision at a later date.

Continuances & Requests for Different Hearing Dates:

For significant reasons, a party may request a continuance (rescheduling) of a scheduled hearing or trial date. Mere inconvenience standing alone is not normally sufficient cause for a continuance. 

A party requesting a continuance should do so well before the scheduled date, and should first attempt to secure the opposing party’s consent to the proposed continuance. 

Except in extraordinary circumstances, requests for continuances should be made in writing, and a copy should be sent to the other party.

Motion of Continuance

Disagreement with the Judgment - Appeal

Appeals Process

If you feel the court has made a legal or factual error in arriving at its decision, you may appeal to the Ohio 11th District Court of Appeals.  Appeals must be filed within 30 days after the judgment which is being appealed was rendered. 

Representation by an attorney is very much recommended in an appeal, as much more strict compliance with all statutes and court rules will be required.  Furthermore, court employees are prohibited by law from offering legal advice or assistance. 

Cost for the appeal is $190.00.  Two checks are required. Make one check payable to Trumbull Central Court in the amount of $40.00. Make another check payable to Trumbull County Clerk of Courts in the amount of $150.00.  This is required when you are filing the appeal. 

Dismissal

If the Plaintiff decides to dismiss the action before the hearing, the following form should be filed with the court and a copy should be sent to the defendant:  Voluntary Dismissal.

Payment

After a decision is made awarding a monetary judgment, the issue of collecting or paying the judgment typically arises.  Absent a voluntary payment of the judgment, the successful party may wish to pursue other avenues to collect on the judgment, including:  Garnishment of wages or accounts; filing of a Judgment Lien; Debtor’s Examination; and/or Affidavit of Financial Status.

Garnishment

Garnishment is a common form of forcing payment of a judgment.  The court orders the judgment debtor's (defendant’s) employer, bank, or other third party holding money belonging to the judgment debtor, to satisfy the judgment by paying from the judgment debtor's earnings or bank account to the court.  The court then pays the judgment creditor. 

There are limitations in garnishments, including:  (1) If the funds in an account can be traced to certain types of exempt sources, such as social security payments or certain pensions, the garnishment may be disallowed; and (2) You may not garnish more than 25% of the net wages of the judgment debtor.

As is the case in the initial filing, the Plaintiff/Judgment Creditor is responsible to provide the names and addresses of Defendant/Judgment Debtor and the Garnishee (the third party holding the Judgment Debtor’s funds).  The court cannot, and will not do this for you.

The forms for wages garnishment can be found at:  Personal Earnings Garnishment.  BEFORE a wage garnishment can be filed, plaintiff is required to file a 15 Day Notice of Court Proceedings to Collect Debt form with the defendant(s). How to Serve This Form and the 15 Day Notice Form are provided.

The fee for a Wage Garnishment is $40.00.

The forms for non-wage garnishments (such as banks) can be found at:   Garnishment Non-wages.

The fee for Garnishment of Personal Earnings is $40.00.
The fee for Non-wage Garnishment is $30.00, plus a $1.00 check payable to the Bank, Credit Union, etc. which is being served.

Judgment Lien

A successful plaintiff (Judgment Creditor) who has received a judgment may wish to record a judgment lien against the defendant’s real estate.  A judgment lien imposes a lien on the judgment debtor’s (the defendant’s) real estate much like a mortgage.  However, a judgment lien will expire after five (5) years unless it is renewed.

The first step in recording a judgment lien is the securing of a Certificate of Judgment from the trial court.  The request to obtain a certificate of judgment can be found at: Certificate of Judgment.   This court’s fee for issuing a Certificate of Judgment is $15.00. 

The judgment creditor then must transfer the Certificate of Judgment to the Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas.  Thereafter, the plaintiff may record the Common Pleas Court’s Certificate of Judgment with the County Recorder of the county wherein the real estate is located.  The Clerk of the Common Pleas Court and the County Recorder will each assess their own fees.

Affidavit and Motion for Debtor's Exam

A Debtor’s Exam is an opportunity to force the judgment debtor (defendant) to appear in court and give statements under oath providing information on their assets and income, including:  insurance policies, bank accounts, credit cards, wages, real estate or other assets.

The judgment creditor (plaintiff) may request a Debtor’s Exam by completing an Affidavit for Debtors Exam and filing it with the court.  The fee for a Debtor's Exam is $30.00. 

The judgment creditor is responsible for providing the address where a judgment debtor can be served.  The court cannot do this for you.

The court will schedule a Debtor Exam and will send an order to the judgment debtor(s) to appear in court to fill out a Judgment Debtor's Information Form and answer questions regarding his or her assets and income under oath.

If the judgment debtor fails to appear at the Debtor’s Exam the judgment creditor may file a motion for Contempt for Failing to Appear to Debtor's Exam.   Once the motion is received a contempt summons will issue requiring the judgment debtor to appear.

Affidavit of Financial Status (Small Claims Only)

A judgment creditor (plaintiff) may also file a Motion for Affidavit of Financial Status.  This motion is ONLY available for Small Claims judgments, and may not be filed in conjunction with a Motion for Debtor’s Exam. 

The motion requests that the Court submit orders to the judgment debtor (defendant) to complete, under oath, an Affidavit of Financial Status. The following is the request form for the motion to order an Affidavit of Financial Status.  The fee for filing the Motion for an Affidavit of Financial Status is $20.00. 

This motion must be completed and filed with the court.  The court will send an order to the judgment debtor(s) to complete the Financial Status Form. The judgment debtor will be ordered to provide information on their insurance policies, bank statements, credit card statements, paycheck stubs, anything that might show their assets, including real estate owned by him or her.  The judgment debtor must return completed form within one (1) week of receipt. The form must be notarized.

The judgment creditor is responsible for providing the address where judgment debtor can be served.  The court cannot do this for you.

If the judgment debtor fails to complete and return the Affidavit of Financial Status, the judgment creditor can file the motion for Contempt for Failing to File Affidavit of Financial Status.   Once the motion is received a contempt summons to appear at a hearing is issued to the judgment debtor.

Satisfaction of Judgment

Once a judgment has been paid in full, the Plaintiff should file a “Notice of Satisfaction” with the Court stating that the judgment was paid in full.  Satisfaction of Judgment Form

Satisfaction of Judgment