Going to Court

Filing in small claims court

If you have a legal dispute over a small amount of money (like if your landlord keeps your security deposit or a neighbor dents your car), you may consider going to small claims court. Learn more about filing a claim in small claims court.

If you are sued by someone else in small claims court, you may need to respond in writing and go to a hearing. Learn more about being sued in small claims court.

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Understanding the Basics

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Small claims court is for legal disputes over small amounts of money (less than $6,000). Cases in small claims court may be simpler, faster and cheaper than other court cases. 

Can I take my case to small claims court?

To use small claims court, your claim must be for:

  • $6,000 or less. The claim must be for $6,000 or less. If your claim is for more than $6,000, your case is not eligible for small claims court and you should consider speaking with an attorney to discuss your options. 
  • Money only. Small claims court can only award you money. It cannot give divorces, restraining orders or decisions about physical property. The completion of services cannot be requested in a small claims case. For example, if you paid a painter to paint your house, the court can’t order that the painter complete the job. However, you could sue for the money it cost you to hire another painter to finish the job.
  • Yourself. You cannot file a small claims case to collect money for someone else.

Types of cases not allowed in small claims court

Some types of lawsuits are never allowed in small claims court. Small claims court can’t consider:

  • Lawsuits based on libel, slander or malicious prosecution.
  • Lawsuits seeking “punitive damages” or money for emotional distress or pain and suffering. 
  • Claims against the State of Ohio or the United States government.

Before you file in small claims court

Small claims court cases can be simpler than other court cases. Still, all court cases take time and money. So, it’s a good idea to avoid going to court, if possible.

Before you file a claim in small claims court, you should try to settle the dispute outside of court. For example, send the potential defendant a letter summarizing the facts and asking for the money you are owed.

How to file in small claims court

You can file in the small claims court in the municipal or county court where the defendant lives or conducts business, or where the event that prompted the lawsuit happened. The process can be a little bit different in each court. 

To file in Franklin County, use this interview to complete the filing paperwork. 

To file in another county, check the court’s website for:

  • Filing requirements.  Look for a “Small Claims Complaint,” which is the form you will need to start your small claims case. Read the forms and any instructions provided carefully. On the court’s website, you can also look for the “Local Rules,” which may include specific rules for the small claims process. Check the local rules to see if the court requires that you file copies of your evidence with your complaint. 
  • Filing fees. Check the court’s website to find the filing fee for a small claims case. If you cannot afford to pay the fee, you can submit a poverty affidavit to avoid paying filing costs upfront.

You must fill out the forms completely. If you fill out the forms by hand, be sure to write neatly. 

Make sure you have the other party’s information, including:

  • Full name, address and telephone number.
  • Military status. You can visit the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act website to perform a search to determine if the defendant is currently in the United States Military Service. You will need to create an account to use the service.
  • If the defendant is a business, you need their full business name and business structure (sole proprietorship, a partnership or a corporation). To find the business structure, go to the Ohio Secretary of State’s website.

At your hearing

After you file, the court sets a hearing date within 40 days of your filing date.

Before your hearing date, the court may provide a mediator to help resolve your dispute. It is a good idea to use the mediator to see if you can resolve the dispute quickly.

It is important that you go to the hearing that the court sets. If you miss the hearing, you may lose automatically. Learn more about what to expect at a hearing.

Before your hearing, prepare your evidence and any witnesses: 

When are lawyers required in small claims court?

If you are filing a small claims court complaint for a corporation or an LLC, you may file the complaint without a lawyer, but you must have a lawyer to represent the company at the hearing. If a non-lawyer represents a corporation in court, it could be considered illegal unauthorized practice of law. To file a motion to enforce a small claims court order, a corporation must use a lawyer.

Individuals may go to small claims court without a lawyer. General partners in a partnership may also represent the partnership in court without a lawyer.

After the judgment

After the court makes a judgment, you do not automatically get your money. You must take action to get the money. 

Your options to get the money include:

  • Voluntary payment. Voluntary payment is the ideal way to collect money. The defendant agrees to pay you (either all at once, or in installments.)
  • Garnishment. Garnishment is the most common way that a debtor is forced to pay. The debtor’s employer or bank give money directly from the debtor’s earnings or bank account to the creditor. There are limits on the amount of money that can be garnished. If the debtor owes someone else money, you may have to wait to receive yours. For information about garnishment, see your court’s website.
  • Judgment lien. A judgment lien does not give you money. It gives you a security interest in the debtor’s real property. 
  • Attachment. The court orders some of the debtor’s personal property (like a car or television) seized and sold to pay the judgment. Attachment is more complicated, time-consuming, and costly than garnishment. If you are considering this option, you should speak with a lawyer. 

Your court may have rules and forms to help you enforce your judgment and get your money. To find the rules and forms, visit your court’s website under "Local Government and Community Resources."

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