Small Claims Court
Sometimes people overlook small claims court as an option when a legal dispute arises. Small claims court has its limitations, but, depending on the particular situation, small claims court may be an option to consider.
Small claims court is governed by North Carolina statutory law. For reference, see N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-210, et. seq. What follows is only a brief overview of small claims court. Below, I've provided a link to the North Carolina magistrate's web site, which is a good resource regarding small claims court.
Here's some quick information about small claims court in North Carolina.
What kind of relief can you get in small claims court?
You can't get more than $5,000 in small claims court if you win your case. That is the jurisdictional dollar amount limit. In small claims court, you can sue for money, personal property, or for summary ejectment. Summary ejectment concerns landlord and tenant relations and isn't discussed here.
What's the procedure for suing in small claims court.
- The Plaintiff files a complaint in the office of the clerk of the superior court of the county where the Defendant lives.
- The clerk issues a summons, which begins the action. A summons is basically a document notifying the Defendant that he has been sued.
- After service of the summons on the Defendant, the clerk gives written notice to the Plaintiff. The notice identifies the action, designates the magistrate (judge) who will hear the case, and specifies the time, date and place of trial.
- The time for trial is set not later than 30 days after the action begins. By consent of all parties the time for trial may be changed. The magistrate may grant continuances from time to time.
The Plaintiff's complaint must be in writing. Also, the complaint must be signed by the party or the attorney, if the Plaintiff has one. Having an attorney isn't required to sue in small claims court. Small claims court forms are available from the administrative office of the courts web site.
Getting the Defendant to court.
A Plaintiff must obtain jurisdiction on the Defendant. This is done by delivering a copy of the summons and complaint to the Defendant or by leaving copies where the Defendant lives with someone of suitable age and discretion living with the Defendant. A Defendant also can be served by registered or certified mail, with proof of service. Also, a Defendant can give written acceptance of service, or voluntarily appear.
What happens after the Defendant is served with the complaint?
The Defendant can answer the complaint at any time before trial by filing a written answer admitting or denying all or any of the allegations in the complaint. An answer isn’t required for the action to go forward.
Is there a jury trial?
There is no jury trial. The case is tried before a magistrate. At the trial, the rules of evidence apply. Both the Plaintiff and Defendant may introduce evidence. Also, both parties will have the opportunity to question the other party's witnesses. After the trial, the magistrate has 10 days to render a decision.
For more information on small claims court, see the North Carolina magistrate's web site. The magistrate's web site has a booklet that describes small claims court in detail.