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Georgia Small Claims Courts

In Georgia, the Magistrate Court, also referred to as the small claims court, handles money claims under $15,000. You may have an attorney represent you at your own expense. The court does not appoint attorneys for civil cases.

The following links provide additional information about Georgia's small claims courts:

This article provides an in-depth look at Georgia's small claims courts. Contact a civil litigation attorney if you have specific questions about your case.

Georgia's Small Claims Courts Explained

The small claims court hearing is informal compared to a case filed in a Superior Court. A magistrate judge decides the small claims case, and there are no jury trials. This allows many litigants to represent themselves instead of hiring attorneys. However, parties may hire an attorney if they wish.

People and businesses may file small claims cases. The person or business that files the lawsuit is the plaintiff. The person or business they sue is the defendant.

Georgia's Magistrate Courts may hear civil claims where the amount in dispute does not exceed $15,000. In general, it may only hear civil cases where the plaintiff requests money from the defendant.

If you have questions about Georgia's court system or the small claims court's procedures, you can ask the court clerk for more information. They can assist you throughout the small claims court process but cannot provide legal advice. 

Contact a civil litigation attorney near you for legal services and assistance.

Small Claims Cases

The small claims court has limited jurisdiction, meaning it cannot hear every type of civil claim. For example, it may hear the following types of cases:

It cannot hear the following types of civil cases:

A plaintiff whose claim exceeds $15,000 may file their claim in the small claims court. By doing so, they waive their ability to recover any amount of money over $15,000. The $15,000 limit does not apply to eviction cases.

How To File a Small Claims Case

The plaintiff initiates their small claims case by filing a Statement of Claim form in a court with jurisdiction over the defendant. The plaintiff may obtain the Statement of Claim at the courthouse or online.

The Statement of Claim lists the parties to the lawsuit and their contact information. The plaintiff must provide a brief description of the events giving rise to their cause of action and their legal basis for filing the lawsuit. They must also list the amount of money they claim the defendant owes them.

The plaintiff has the burden of proof regarding their small claims case. This means they must convince the judge that the defendant owes them money. The plaintiff may attach supporting documents to their Statement of Claim, such as a contract they allege the defendant breached or photographs showing property damage they allege the defendant caused.

The plaintiff must pay the court clerk a filing fee before the court accepts the Statement of Claim. The filing fee varies depending on the county where the plaintiff files their case. If you cannot afford the filing fee, ask the court clerk about filing a fee waiver (a Pauper's Affidavit). If you win your case, the court may award you the filing fee and court costs.

If you have questions about filing the Statement of Claim, contact the clerk's office at your local courthouse.

Where and When To File

As noted above, the plaintiff must file their claim in a court with jurisdiction over the defendant. This often means the plaintiff must file their case in the county where the defendant lives.

If the plaintiff sues a business, they may file the case in the county where the business has its principal place of business. If the plaintiff sues a corporation, they must file it in the county where its registered agent lives. Contact the Georgia Secretary of State to find out where a corporation's registered agent lives.

Each type of civil case has a corresponding statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is a period that begins running once the cause of action arises. The plaintiff must file their civil case within its statute of limitations. If they do not, the court cannot hear the claim. Read FindLaw's article on Georgia Civil Statute of Limitations Laws for more specific information.

Serving the Defendant

Once the court accepts the plaintiff's claim, the court will create copies of the Statement of Claim and issue a Summons. The plaintiff must ensure the defendant receives the necessary forms to alert them of the plaintiff's lawsuit.

The court will serve the defendant with the necessary forms. The plaintiff may contact the court clerk to ensure the defendant received notice of the lawsuit. If the plaintiff fails to serve the defendant, it will delay the plaintiff's case.

Responding to a Small Claims Case

A defendant who receives notice of the plaintiff's claim has several options. Regardless of whether they agree or disagree with the plaintiff's claims, they must respond to the lawsuit. To do so, they must file a written Answer or answer it in person at the courthouse within 30 days of service.

If they agree that they owe the plaintiff money, they may contact the plaintiff (or their attorney) to try and resolve the dispute. They can file an Answer indicating they do not dispute the case. The court may enter a judgment indicating when and how to pay the plaintiff.

If the defendant disputes the plaintiff's claim, they must file an Answer or appear at the courthouse to dispute it in person. They must indicate any defenses they may have or explain why the plaintiff's claimed amount is incorrect.

A defendant may also file a counterclaim against the plaintiff if they have civil claims against them. The counterclaim must relate to the plaintiff's original claim or cause of action. For example, suppose the plaintiff's claim relates to a contract dispute. The defendant likely could not file a counterclaim alleging the plaintiff injured them in a car accident unrelated to the contract dispute.

If the defendant has claims against the plaintiff arising from the contract dispute, they could file a counterclaim.

Once the defendant files their Answer, the court will schedule a small claims court hearing. If the defendant does not respond to the lawsuit, the court may enter a default judgment against them. In that case, the plaintiff will win the case, and the defendant will have to pay some or all of the plaintiff's claim.

Preparing for the Hearing

Every party to the small claims case must appear for the scheduled hearing date. The judge will likely dismiss the court case if the plaintiff does not appear for the hearing. The court will probably enter a default judgment against a defendant who does not appear.

As parties prepare for their court date, they may gather evidence to introduce at the hearing. They may consider reading local court rules or contacting the court clerk for specific rules for introducing evidence at the hearing.

Parties may also secure witnesses to testify at the trial. If a witness does not willingly appear, a party may request a subpoena to compel their appearance. A subpoena is a court order that threatens sanctions if the subject of the subpoena does not appear at the hearing.

If the parties settle their dispute before the court date, they must inform the court clerk. The parties may have to file a form with the court either dismissing the case or outlining the agreement they reached. Some courts may require the parties to mediate their case before the hearing.

The Small Claims Hearing

On the day of the hearing, the plaintiff will present their case first. This may include an opening statement, introducing evidence, and calling witnesses to testify. If one party calls a witness to testify, the opposing party can cross-examine the witness.

Once the plaintiff rests their case, the defendant will present theirs. They may also introduce evidence and call witnesses to the stand. If the defendant previously filed a counterclaim, they have the burden of proof regarding it.

Once the trial concludes, the magistrate judge will issue their decision. The judge's decision is called a judgment. The judgment specifies which party, if any, must pay another party. The judge may issue their decision at the end of the trial or at a later date. The court will mail the judgment to the parties.


Any party may appeal the judge's decision within 30 days of the judgment's issuance. The appealing party may file their appeal with a state court or a Superior Court. For more information about filing an appeal, contact the court clerk.

Appeals involve complicated rules of procedure. Consider contacting a civil litigation attorney if you want to appeal a judgment.

Satisfying the Judgment

A party that receives a money judgment in their favor is the judgment creditor. The person or entity that owes them money is the judgment debtor. Once the judgment debtor fully pays the judgment creditor, the parties must inform the court clerk.

The judgment creditor is responsible for collecting the money owed; the court will not collect it for them. If the judgment debtor does not pay the judgment creditor, the judgment creditor may request the court's assistance. The judgment creditor may use the following methods, among others, to try to satisfy the judgment:

  • They may request a court order called a Fieri Facias (Fi.Fa.). If the court issues a Fi.Fa., the creditor obtains a lien on the debtor's real or personal property. If the debtor sells the property, the creditor may use some of the proceeds to satisfy the judgment.
  • They may request a Fi.Fa., but instead of obtaining a lien on the debtor's property, the Fi.Fa. allows the sheriff to seize or levy some of the debtor's property. The sheriff may sell the property at a public auction, and the creditor may use the proceeds to satisfy the judgment.
  • They may request that the court garnish the debtor's wages or bank accounts to satisfy the judgment.
  • The judgment creditor may also contact an attorney or a debt collector to help them satisfy the judgment.

For more information about how to collect a judgment in your favor, contact the court clerk or a civil litigation attorney near you.

Need Help? Contact an Attorney

If you plan on filing a small claims case or have received notice of a small claims lawsuit filed against you, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney. An attorney can help you navigate the small claims court process, including how to file a claim, serve the defendant, and prepare for trial. An attorney can also help you present your arguments or defenses at the small claims hearing and help you collect a judgment in your favor.

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