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Florida Small Claims Courts

The Florida County Civil Division handles small claims cases up to $8,000.00. Florida does not have a separate small claims court. Instead, Florida's small claims rules simply set out rules for certain cases within the County Court's jurisdiction. The County Court Civil Division generally has jurisdiction over claims for money and the return of property.

Small claims cases allow non-legal professionals to resolve minor civil lawsuits quickly. Such matters do not burden the parties with the complicated rules of civil cases. Thus, the rules of civil procedure and rules of evidence are relaxed in small claims cases.

This article briefly summarizes small claims cases in the state of Florida. The following links provide more information that you may find helpful if you are involved in a small claims case.

Small claims cases can involve complex questions of law and fact. Consider contacting a civil litigation attorney if you are involved in a small claims case.

Small Claims Court Explained

Small claims courts hear civil disputes where the amount in controversy cannot exceed $8,000.00. The amount in dispute does not include attorney's fees, costs, or interest.

The person or entity filing a lawsuit is the plaintiff. The person against whom the lawsuit is filed is the defendant. The plaintiffs and defendants are known as parties to the case.

Parties to a small claims case should communicate before the plaintiff files a lawsuit. A potential plaintiff may send a letter to the potential defendant regarding the dispute. Filing a lawsuit should be a last resort for the parties.

If the plaintiff sues a business, they must determine whether it has a fictitious name. A business has a fictitious name if the business name is different than the owner's name. The fictitious name must be registered with the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations. Contact the Department of State for more information.

Parties do not need to hire an attorney in their small claims action. However, a party can hire an attorney to represent them.

How to File a Small Claims Case

To commence a small claims case, the plaintiff must file a statement of claim. The statement of claim informs the defendant of the basis of the plaintiff's claim and the amount of the claim. The deputy clerk at the county courthouse can provide you with a statement of claim form. The forms are also available online in some counties. The clerk of the Circuit Court and comptroller may charge a fee for these documents. Please note that the deputy clerk cannot give you legal advice.

The court will charge a filing fee when the plaintiff files a claim. The fee amount depends on the amount in dispute.

Plaintiffs may attach supporting documents to their complaint. For example, if the case involves a breach of contract, the plaintiff could attach a copy of the contract.

It is essential the plaintiff correctly identifies the defendant. Failing to identify the defendant may affect the plaintiff's ability to collect on a judgment. It is the plaintiff's responsibility alone to identify the correct defendants. Depending on the defendant, the following information is needed:

  • Individual: The plaintiff will need the exact name and address of the individual.
  • Business: The plaintiff will need the name and address of the business.
  • Corporations: The plaintiff will need to identify the name and address of an officer of the corporation (CEO, COO, etc.). If the plaintiff cannot identify an officer, they can use the name and address of one of the corporation's registered agents in Florida. The plaintiff may contact the Florida Secretary of State to find this information.

The plaintiff may request a jury trial for their small claims case. To do so, the plaintiff must make a written request for a jury trial when they file the case.

The court will set a date for a pretrial conference once the plaintiff files their claim. The court will serve notice of the pretrial date on the parties. The pretrial conference will occur within 50 days of the plaintiff filing an action.

Serving the Defendant

After a plaintiff files their small claims case, they must serve the defendant(s) with notice of the case. The plaintiff's attorney can also serve the defendant(s). This is known as the service of process. The plaintiff must serve the Statement of Claim and a court-issued summons and Notice to Appear.

A plaintiff or their representative has several options to serve a defendant. These methods are as follows:

  • Personal service: The plaintiff may personally serve the defendant. To do so, the plaintiff must physically serve the defendant with the Statement of Claim, summons, and Notice to Appear. The plaintiff may ask the court clerk whether the plaintiff must file an affidavit of service.
  • Certified mail: The plaintiff may serve the defendant using certified mail. The plaintiff must request a return receipt.
  • Process server: The plaintiff may hire a special process server to serve the defendant. Process servers typically charge a service fee.
  • Sheriff's office: The plaintiff may ask the sheriff's office to serve the defendant. The sheriff's office will typically charge the plaintiff a service fee.

If a plaintiff does not properly serve a defendant, the court will likely dismiss the plaintiff's complaint. Therefore, it is essential that the plaintiff correctly serve all defendants.

Where and When to File a Small Claims Case

A plaintiff can file a small claims case with the Clerk's Office at a county courthouse. The plaintiff can file the claim in the courthouse located in the county where:

  • The defendant resides
  • Where the cause of action occurred
  • Where the property involved in the lawsuit is located

Plaintiffs must file their small claims case within a certain time limit known as the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations will bar the claim if the plaintiff does not file their claim within this time limit. Florida law sets the statutes of limitations for causes of action.

Responding to a Small Claims Case

In a Florida small claims case, the defendant does not need to file anything to respond to the plaintiff's claim. Instead, the defendant must attend the scheduled pretrial conference. There, the defendant will admit or deny the plaintiff's allegations.

A defendant may request a jury trial for the small claims case. To do so, the defendant may request a jury trial within five days of receiving notice of the case. They may also request a jury trial at the pretrial conference.

The defendant may file a counterclaim if the plaintiff owes them money. Generally, the plaintiff must file their counterclaim within five days of the scheduled pretrial conference. To file a counterclaim, the defendant must file it in writing with the court clerk and serve it on the plaintiff or plaintiff's attorney. If the defendant's counterclaim exceeds the jurisdictional limit of $8,000.00, the court will transfer the small claims case to a court with appropriate jurisdiction.

The defendant may also file a third-party complaint.

A defendant may object to the venue in which the plaintiff filed the lawsuit. Any objection to the venue is waived if the defendant does not make a timely objection to it.

The Pretrial Conference and Mediation

The pretrial conference allows the parties to discuss their claim in the presence of a judge. It also allows the judge to learn more about and simplify the issues. The defendant may formally ask the plaintiff for additional documentation of their claim. For example, the defendant may ask how the plaintiff calculated the claimed amount or question the legal basis of their claim.

If the judge determines that there is no triable issue at the pretrial conference, they may enter an appropriate order or judgment.

The judge at the pretrial conference may inform parties they can mediate the case. A mediation is an opportunity for both parties to sit with a neutral mediator to discuss the claim. The general goal of mediation is to reach an amicable resolution of the case before proceeding to trial.

If parties settle their case, they must inform the court and file a stipulation for settlement with the court.

If the parties do not resolve their dispute at mediation, the court will set a trial date within 60 days of the pretrial conference.

Small Claims Court Trial

Before the small claims court trial, parties may gather evidence and secure witnesses to testify. A party may request the court to issue a subpoena to compel the production of evidence or a witness's appearance at the trial.

If the defendant does attend the trial, the plaintiff may request a default judgment from the court. If the court enters a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor, the plaintiff wins the case.

The court process in a small claims case is simplified and less formal than in a case filed in state court. However, parties should still observe court etiquette. The rules of evidence apply to small claims trials, but the rules are liberally construed. The judge may be more active in the small claims trial than a state court trial. For example, the judge may assist a party in presenting evidence. The judge cannot, however, provide legal advice or interject legal arguments for the parties.

The court will issue a final judgment after the case concludes.

Enforcing a Judgment

The person or entity to whom money is owed is the judgment creditor. The person or entity who owes money is the judgment debtor.

The court provides an information sheet about how to satisfy judgments. Parties may request a certified copy of the court's judgment. The judgment is a public record. Each party may request a certified copy of the judgment from the court.

It is the judgment creditor's responsibility to enforce the court's judgment. Per Florida law, the recorded judgment acts as a lien on the judgment debtor's real property for 10 years.

The judgment creditor may request the court's assistance in obtaining the judgment debtor's satisfaction of judgment. The following methods may help a judgment creditor satisfy the judgment:

  • The judgment creditor may request a Writ of Execution from the court. This Writ directs the county sheriff to levy certain property of the judgment debtor. The sheriff may auction this property to satisfy the judgment.
  • The judgment creditor may request a Writ of Garnishment from the court. This Writ allows the judgment creditor to garnish the judgment debtor's wages or attach their bank account.

Your county court may have self-help guides for enforcing a judgment.

Contact an Attorney for Your Small Claims Case

Although Florida's small claims cases are designed to resolve minor legal issues, these cases can be complex. Failing to file a claim or serve parties properly may also adversely affect your case. An attorney can provide you with legal advice and general information regarding your small claims case. Consider contacting a civil litigation attorney to protect your interests in a small claims case.

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