PARTIES AND REPRESENTATION
An action in
the Small Claims Division is commenced upon the filing of a complaint
with the court. The party who files the complaint is the plaintiff.
The party against whom the action is filed is the defendant. NOTE:
The clerks at the Small Claims counter may not give you legal advice, so
please don't ask.
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 a lawyer. But, if you don't use a lawyer, you still
must be able to prove your case.
may present his or her own case or may be represented by an attorney.
Individuals under the age of 18, or those declared legally incompetent, may
appear in court through a parent, legal guardian, or attorney.
may be represented by a general partner or an attorney.
may be represented by an attorney. A bona fide officer or salaried
employee may file and present a claim or defense in any action, but may
not, in the absence of an attorney, engage in any cross-examination,
argument, or other acts of advocacy.
refers to the Court's authority to hear a case as to the subject matter and
the parties. The Small Claims Division has a jurisdiction for the
recovery of money only up to $3,000.00,
exclusive of interest and costs. If your claim is for more than
$3,000.00, you may use small claims only if you agree to give up your
rights to any amount in excess of $3,000.00. Otherwise, you may file
your case in the Civil Division.
Claims Division does not have jurisdiction over action for libel, slander,
malicious prosecution, abuse of process, or replevin (i.e., recovery of
property); or in any claim for punitive damages (except those specifically
brought under the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act, R.C. §§ 1345.09 and
1345.48). Further, assignees (persons who are not the original
claimants) may not file in Small Claims. The court also does not have
jurisdiction to hear a claim brought against either the State of Ohio or
the United States of America or their respective agencies.
TYPES OF CLAIMS
Most claims for
money can be brought in Small Claims. Typical cases involve suits for
the return of security deposits, payment of back rent, repayment of loans,
recovery of amounts paid for services never rendered or not rendered to
You must, at
the time of filing, provide the following information in the following
types of claims:
ACCIDENT DAMAGES - The person whose name appears on the title is the
person who must sign the complaint. You must provide two copies of
the car title and two estimates for repair or copies of a paid bill.
If you are using estimates, the lower of the two will be the amount of your
claim. You may file against the owner of the other car and also
against the driver if they are not the same person.
DEPOSITS (R.C. § 5321.16) - It must be at least 30 days since the
termination of your lease. You must leave your forwarding address in
writing with your landlord. You may also claim double damages if your
deposit has not been returned in 30 days, or for amounts that were
wrongfully withheld. You must supply two copies of both your lease
and any letter from the landlord listing reasons for withholding of the
PAST DUE - You must provide two copies of the statements showing actual
charges made and the current running balance.
- You must provide the dates worked, number of hours, and the rate of pay.
5. BACK RENT
AND DAMAGES - You must list the address of the property, the term of
the lease, the months owed in rent, and the amount of rent per month.
Damages and cleaning expenses for the property in question must be
itemized. If there was a written lease, two copies are required,
along with two copies of any receipts for expenses.
CROSS-CLAIMS AND THIRD-PARTY COMPLAINTS
is a claim brought by a defendant against a plaintiff. A cross-claim
is a claim brought by one defendant against another defendant. A third-party
complaint is a claim brought by a defendant against a party not
named in the original complaint. Each of these types of action may be
brought in Small Claims Court for money only, up to the $3,000.00
limitation. Forms and instructions are available at the Small Claims
clerk's counter. These claims must be filed at least seven (7) days
prior to trial.
claims cases will first be referred to mediation, a process
in which a neutral third-party (a "mediator") promotes and facilitates
communication between the parties to help them resolve their
differences. Most disputes which reach the court could have been
settled more quickly and easily through better communication.
Mediation provides for an informal communication in a relaxed
atmosphere. The mediator is not a court officer, but rather a citizen
like yourself who has volunteered his or her time to be trained and gain
experience as a mediator. The mediator does not decide who is
"right" or "wrong" and will not force any party into
accepting a settlement that is not agreeable.
Unlike a small
claims trial, which can only result in a money award, an agreement reached
at mediation can include any payment or performance or compromise that the
parties can reach to satisfy the problem. This is based upon the
agreement of the parties, unlike the results of a trial at which a judge or
magistrate must make a decision, often with little room for
compromise. In addition, a mediator is not constrained by "Rules"
so that he or she can listen to anything the parties have to say (as
opposed to a judge or magistrate, who will listen only to information that
is considered relevant.)
agreement not only saves valuable court time and resources, but also and
just as importantly results in a disposition which the parties have made
themselves and are more likely to comply with.
There are no
additional fees or charges for mediation. If the dispute is not
settled in this manner, the claimant has lost nothing, and the case will
proceed immediately to trial.
sessions are confidential. There is no record made or kept, and
anything said or discussed will not be used at any subsequent trial.
The mediator does not "make" the parties reach an agreement, but
simply helps them to forge their own agreement.
A party may
obtain one (1) continuance, not to exceed thirty (30) days, by delivering a
written request to the Small Claims office at least seven (7) days prior to
the scheduled date of the trial. A second continuance, or a
continuance for more than thirty days, or a continuance requested less than
seven days in advance, may be had by either a.) obtaining the consent of
all other parties involved, or b.) obtaining a special order for such from
the magistrate or judge. A special continuance will be granted only
in exceptional circumstances.
TRIAL, EVIDENCE AND SUBPOENAS
A magistrate will conduct the small claims
trial. The plaintiff will first
present evidence. The defendant may
then ask questions of the plaintiff’s witnesses (“cross-examination”). The defendant will then present evidence
and the plaintiff may likewise cross-examine those witnesses (a person
representing a corporation who is not an attorney, however, may not ask
questions of any witnesses).
The “burden of proof” rests with
the complaining party, who will be required to prove the case by “the
preponderance of the evidence” presented. If the evidence presented by the
complaining party is merely equal to or less than that presented by the
responding party, the claim will fail.
Evidence may include the
relevant testimony of sworn witnesses, original documents (or acceptable
duplicates) including motor vehicle certificates of title, contracts,
receipts, public records, photographs, actual objects, etc. Copies attached to and part of the
original complaint are NOT EVIDENCE. The originals or other copies must be
presented at trial to be considered as evidence. Hearsay evidence (including
written statements from witnesses who are not present at trial) is not
admissible. Written estimates,
however, may be offered as a measure of monetary loss.
THIS IS THE ONLY OPPORTUNITY YOU WILL
HAVE TO PRESENT EVIDENCE. MAKE SURE
YOU BRING EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE YOU NEED TO PRESENT YOUR CASE. YOU MUST PROVE YOUR CASE.
Subpoenas may be issued to compel
the appearance at trial of a witness or to obtain documents. Requests for subpoenas should be made at
least one week prior to trial at the small claims counter. The requesting party prior to the
issuance of the subpoena must pay witness fees.
8. MAGISTRATE’S DECISION AND FINAL JUDGMENT
Based on the evidence and testimony presented,
the magistrate will file a decision either immediately at the hearing or
after researching the law. A copy of
the decision is mailed to each party.
Either party has the right to object to the
magistrate’s decision. Objections
must be IN WRITING and filed within fourteen (14) days after receiving the
magistrate’s decision. A copy of the
objections must be mailed to the opposing party.
Upon objection, the judge thoroughly reviews the
case file, the audio tape of the hearing, the magistrate’s decision, the
objections, and enters a final judgment which may be the same
as the magistrate’s decision or a modification of it.
The judgment entered by the judge can be
appealed to the Sixth District Court of Appeals in Toledo, Ohio. This is a very technical procedure that
must be done within a relatively short period of time (usually thirty days)
after the final judgment and will probably require the services of an
COLLECTION OF JUDGMENT
It is the responsibility of the winning party to initiate any steps to
collect judgment. The clerk’s office
has the necessary paperwork available for collecting judgment. Please refer to the civil division for
details on collecting judgment.