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Alabama Small Claims Courts

People or businesses can file civil cases in small claims court. In Alabama, the Small Claims Division of the District Court hears claims limited to $6,000.00 or less, as specified in Code of Alabama, Section 12-12-31.

The district court will set a small claims docket. Small claims cases follow simplified rules of civil procedure as set by the Supreme Court of Alabama.

How to File a Small Claims Case

The person or business who files a lawsuit is called the plaintiff. The party or business the plaintiff sues is the defendant.

A plaintiff must complete a Statement of Claim form to file a small claims case. A Statement of Claim is also known as a complaint. The form is available online or at a district court clerk's office.

The plaintiff must then fill out a summons. The summons identifies the person or business you are suing. It must specify a name, address, and how much money the plaintiff believes the defendant owes. The court may require you to fill out additional documents.

Many courts have self-help resources for parties filing a small claims case. Consider calling the court clerk to determine what other documents you may need to complete. Note the court clerk cannot provide legal advice.

Courts charge a filing fee to file a small claims case. When you complete the documents, you can bring them to the court to file. You may have to fill out additional documentation if you need help paying the filing fee. This may include an Affidavit of Substantial Hardship form.

What Happens After You File a Small Claims Case

After the plaintiff files their case, the court will serve the defendant with a copy of the Statement of Claim. The court may send a sheriff to serve the defendant personally. Alternatively, the court may send the State of the Claim by certified mail.

Once the defendant is served the Statement of Claim, they have 14 days to respond. The defendant's response is known as an answer.

If the defendant does not answer the complaint, the court will enter a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor. The plaintiff may still have to go to court to prove they are entitled to the requested money.

The court will set a trial date if the defendant answers the complaint.

If the defendant has claims against the plaintiff, they may file a counterclaim in the same case. The court will likely resolve the defendant's counterclaim in the same trial. The defendant can get a counterclaim form from the court clerk. The counterclaim form is separate from the defendant's answer form.

What Happens at a Small Claims Trial?

A small claims trial is relatively informal compared to a civil jury trial. The judge will hear evidence from both parties. The judge will decide which party prevails because there is no jury at a small claims trial.

The plaintiff will present their case to the judge. The defendant will then present their case. Both parties can present evidence to the judge, and they may both call witnesses to testify. The party who did not call a witness to testify will have the opportunity to cross-examine the witness.

If a witness is unwilling to testify, a party can subpoena the witness. The court may issue the subpoena and compel the witness to testify. The court may require a witness subpoena fee.

After the trial concludes, the judge will draft their opinion. The clerk will then send both parties a written judgment. If a party disagrees with the judge's decision, they can appeal. To do so, the party must fill out a notice of appeal form. If you decide to appeal the result of a small claims case, a circuit court will hear the appeal.

How to Collect On a Money Judgment

If the plaintiff prevails in their case, the defendant has 14 days from the date of the judgment to pay the money judgment.

If the defendant cannot pay the judgment, the plaintiff may have to file a form to execute the judgment. The plaintiff may also fill out a garnishment form. The garnishment form requests a court order to garnish the defendant's wages to pay the judgment.

Hiring an Attorney

Parties typically do not need to hire an attorney for their small claims case. If you hire an attorney, the attorney may be entitled to attorney's fees. If you assign your claim to another person, an attorney must represent the assignee.

Small claims court is a useful tool for parties attempting to resolve a legal dispute quickly. Although you do not need to hire an attorney to file a small claims case, an attorney can provide expert legal help in your case. For example, an attorney can provide you with information regarding the following:

  • Defense and legal strategies regarding your case
  • Enforcing a court judgment
  • Alabama small claims rules
  • What to expect regarding court costs
  • How to appeal the court's judgment

Attorneys can provide valuable legal help to your case, whether you are the plaintiff or defendant. Consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you to get help in your small claims case.

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