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Connecticut Small Claims Courts

Small claims cases have more straightforward rules compared to civil court cases. In Connecticut, plaintiffs can file civil actions against people and businesses in small claims courts. Generally, plaintiffs can sue defendants for up to $5,000.00 in small claims court. The plaintiff can file a larger claim in small claims court in special circumstances.

Small claims court is designed to resolve legal matters quickly and efficiently. The simplified rules of such cases and the relatively low amount of money involved encourage parties to forego hiring an attorney to represent their interests. However, parties may hire an attorney to represent them if they so desire.

This article summarizes the Connecticut Judicial Branch's small claims court rules and procedures. The following links provide additional information that you may find helpful as you prepare for a small claims case.

  • Where to File a Small Claims Matter: The Connecticut Judicial Branch provides guidance regarding where a plaintiff should file a small claims case. The website includes court location and address information.
  • Small Claims Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): The Connecticut Judicial Branch issued an online guide for FAQ regarding small claims courts.
  • How Small Claims Courts Work: The State of Connecticut Judicial Branch Superior Court issued this guide explaining the process and rules of the small claims court process.
  • Small Claims Forms: The Judicial Branch provides all the forms parties need for small claim cases online.

Small Claims Courts Explained

Small claims courts make litigating quicker and easier for those who are not legal professionals. The simplified rules of evidence are designed to allow people without legal training to resolve their legal issues without hiring an attorney.

Small claims cases are civil actions. The plaintiff, the person filing the lawsuit, seeks monetary damages in a small claims case. The plaintiff sues a defendant, who they allege caused the injury. The plaintiffs and defendants are known as parties to the lawsuit.

In most Connecticut small claims cases, the plaintiff cannot sue the defendant for more than $5,000.00. This amount is set by state law. Contact the clerk's office at your local courthouse before filing a small claims case to check if the state law is still current.

Small claims courts can hear many types of cases. Examples of small claims cases in Connecticut include the following:

If the plaintiff's dispute involves home improvements, the plaintiff may seek up to $15,000.00 in small claims court. Additionally, if the plaintiff sues a landlord regarding a security deposit, the plaintiff may recover more than the jurisdictional limit of $5,000.00.

In Connecticut, a magistrate decides small claims cases. Magistrates are attorneys appointed by the Chief Court Administrator. However, a judge or trial referee may decide the case in certain circumstances.

When to File a Small Claims Case

State law requires plaintiffs to file their small claims case within a specific time period. If the plaintiff does not file their lawsuit by a certain deadline, the statute of limitations will bar it. Connecticut's civil statutes provide specific information about the statutes of limitations.

Where to File a Small Claims Case

The Chief Court Administrator designates which court or venue plaintiffs may file a small claims case in. An individual plaintiff may file in the following venues in the city or town where:

  • The plaintiff lives
  • Where the defendant lives
  • Where the defendant does business
  • Where the alleged injury or transaction occurred

If the plaintiff is a business entity, they may file in the following venues:

  • Where the defendant lives
  • Where the defendant does business
  • Where the alleged injury or transaction occurred

The Connecticut General Statutes set the law for filing a small claims case.

How to File a Small Claims Case

To file a small claims action in Connecticut, a plaintiff must file a Small Claims Writ and Notice of Suit (form JD-CV-40). This form initiates the plaintiff's small claims case. It identifies the names and addresses of the plaintiffs and defendants. The form is available online or at your local small claims court. Additionally, most courts offer self-help services for filing a small claims case.

The plaintiff may attach supporting documentation with the Writ. For example, in a landlord-tenant dispute, the plaintiff may attach the lease to the Writ.

The court charges a $95.00 filing fee to file the Small Claims Writ and Notice of Suit. The court may include the filing fee in the money judgment if the plaintiff wins their case.

Serving the Defendant

Plaintiffs in small claims cases must serve the defendant(s) with notice of the case. In Connecticut, there are different requirements for serving defendants. These requirements depend on the service method.

In most cases, the plaintiff must serve the defendant before filing their Small Claims Writ and Notice of Suit with the court. If the plaintiff has sued multiple defendants, each defendant must receive notice of the lawsuit before the plaintiff files the Writ. The plaintiff must also serve the Instructions to Defendant (form JD-CV-121) on each defendant.

Once the plaintiff has served all the defendants, the plaintiff must file a Statement of Service (Delivery) Small Claims (Statement of Service) with the court (form JD-CV-123). Once the plaintiff files the Statement of Service, they can file the Small Claims Writ and Notice of Suit with the court.

A plaintiff should keep the original documents and serve the defendant with copies. A plaintiff (or their representative) may serve a defendant using one of the following methods:

  • By priority mail: The plaintiff must send the Writ, Instructions, and any additional documents to the defendant by priority mail. The plaintiff must request a delivery confirmation. If the plaintiff sued multiple defendants, they must complete a Statement of Service for each defendant. The plaintiff should then file the original Writ, the Statement(s) of Service, supporting documents, and delivery confirmations with the court.
  • By certified mail: The plaintiff must send the Writ, Instructions, and additional documents by certified mail. The plaintiff must request a return receipt from the defendant. Once the plaintiff receives the return receipt(s), they can file the original Writ, Statement(s) of Service, supporting documents, and return receipts with the court.
  • By a process server: The plaintiff may hire a professional process server to serve the defendant. The plaintiff should provide the server with copies of the original documents. Once the plaintiff receives tracking information showing delivery, they should file the original documents and Statement(s) of Service with the court.
  • By a proper officer: The plaintiff may hire an officer, such as a sheriff, to serve the defendant. The plaintiff should give the original documents to the sheriff. Once the sheriff serves the defendant, the sheriff will file the original documents and written notice of service with the court. This written notice is sometimes called an affidavit of service.

The court may dismiss the plaintiff's case if the plaintiff does not serve the defendant properly. It is essential the plaintiff correctly serves the defendant with the correct documents.

Responding to a Small Claims Case

The court clerk will set an answer date once the plaintiff files their small claims case. The answer date is the date the defendant's response is due.

The defendant must file an answer with the court before the answer date passes. The court will send the defendant an answer form specifying the answer date and docket number. The defendant may use the form to file their answer. The defendant can briefly state their case on the form, and they can attach supporting documentation. Additionally, the defendant may motion to transfer the case to a regular court docket.

If the defendant alleges the plaintiff owes them money, the defendant may file a counterclaim. The defendant must file their counterclaim before the answer date passes.

If the defendant does not timely file an answer, the plaintiff may request a default judgment. If the court issues a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor, the plaintiff wins the case. Thus, the defendant needs to file a timely response.

The Small Claims Hearing

Once the answer date passes, the magistrate will review the case filings. The magistrate may decide they can decide the case without a hearing. Alternatively, they may choose to set a court hearing. The court will notify the parties of the hearing date if a hearing is necessary.

Before the small claims hearing, parties may gather evidence to present at trial. Additionally, they may secure witnesses to testify at the hearing. Parties may request the court to issue a subpoena. A subpoena is a court order compelling a witness to testify at the hearing or compelling a party to produce documents.

At the hearing, the plaintiff will present their case first. Then, the defendant will present their case. Each party may cross-examine any witness called by the other party.

Because the hearing is not a jury trial, the magistrate decides who prevails at the hearing. The magistrate may issue the court's decision immediately, or they may issue a written judgment later. Parties cannot appeal the magistrate's decision in a small claims case.

Enforcing a Judgment

If the plaintiff prevails on their claim, or the defendant prevails on their counterclaim, they are responsible for enforcing the judgment. The party who wins is known as the judgment creditor. The party who loses is the judgment debtor.

Although the judgment creditor is responsible for enforcing the judgment, they can request the court's assistance. Upon request, the court clerk may issue an execution. This allows the judgment creditor to hire a state official to garnish a judgment debtor's wages or attach a bank account or personal property to satisfy the judgment.

An Attorney Can Provide Legal Help

Although the Connecticut small claims court system is designed to make litigation easier for people without legal training, small claims can still involve complex legal and factual issues. Additionally, small claims courts cannot decide some cases, like those involving evictions. If you are involved in a small claims case and have questions, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you for legal advice.

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