Kentucky Small Claims Courts
Small claims courts allow individuals to handle disputes themselves. Kentucky small claims courts have jurisdiction over civil disputes that do not exceed $2,500.00. Kentucky Revised Statutes Chapter 24A.200 through 24A.360 govern the rules for Kentucky small claims courts. The rules are designed to allow litigants to quickly and inexpensively resolve their minor civil cases.
Parties to a Kentucky small claims case do not need to hire attorneys. Generally, parties in a small claims court proceed unrepresented by an attorney, also known as pro se. However, they are allowed to hire an attorney to represent them.
This article summarizes the small claims court system in Kentucky. The following resources provide additional information on the rules and procedures of the small claims court:
- Small Claims Handbook: The Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts and the Kentucky Attorney General produced a handbook summarizing the small claims court process.
- Small Claim Courts Basic Topics: The Kentucky Access to Justice Program and four Kentucky legal aid programs provide answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ) about small claims cases.
- Small Claims Complaint: This is the form plaintiffs must file to initiate their small claims case.
- E-File Your Small Claims Case: The Kentucky Court of Justice provides information to plaintiffs regarding how to file a small claims case electronically.
- What is Small Claims Court?: The Louisville Bar Association website summarizes the small claims court system.
If you are involved in a small claims case, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you. An attorney can advise you of the strengths and weaknesses of your case, as well as legal advice regarding filing and serving the claim. Depending on the facts of the case, an attorney may advise whether the case belongs in a small claims court or whether the plaintiff should file the court case in a district court.
What Is Small Claims Court?
The Small Claims Division to the Civil Division of District Court in Kentucky is a court of limited jurisdiction. The small claims court decides cases involving money or personal property. The maximum amount of the claim cannot exceed $2,500.00, exclusive of interest and costs. The court decides civil matters only; it does not decide criminal issues.
Examples of claims heard by the small claims court include the following:
- Breach of contract
- Personal property damage
- Return of personal property
- Landlord-tenant disputes
- Personal injury
Examples of claims the small claims court cannot hear include the following:
The small claims court does not conduct jury trials. A judge will decide which party prevails in the case. The small claims court hearing is informal, although litigants must observe typical courtroom etiquette.
Who Can File a Small Claims Case?
Generally, any person, business, or corporation with a claim for money or the return of property that does not exceed $2,500.00 may file a small claims case in Kentucky. However, the following entities may not file a small claims case:
- A person or business who lends money with interest
- Collection agencies or their agents
- A person or entity that has an assigned claim (third-party claim) or a class action lawsuit
An individual cannot file more than 25 small claims cases in a calendar year. Generally, a business may file up to 25 small claims cases for each store or location they own.
How to File a Small Claims Case
The person, business, or corporation filing a small claims case is the plaintiff. The entity being sued by the plaintiff is the defendant. The plaintiffs and defendants in a case are known as parties.
To initiate their small claims case, the plaintiff must file a Small Claims Complaint Form in the appropriate county. The plaintiff must file the complaint with the Office of Circuit Court Clerk. The form is available online or at the court clerk's office.
The complaint identifies the names and addresses of the plaintiff and defendant. It also states the legal basis of the plaintiff's claim. The plaintiff must state the amount of money or a description of the property they believe the defendant owes them.
Once the plaintiff completes the complaint, they may file it at the county courthouse. Plaintiffs can file the claim electronically or in person. The court will charge the plaintiff a filing fee.
Once the plaintiff files their case, the clerk will create a summons. This document indicates that the plaintiff is suing the defendant, and it will indicate the time and date of the small claims court hearing. The parties must typically attend the hearing in person. If the plaintiff fails to appear at the trial, the court may dismiss the case.
At any point prior to the trial, the defendant and plaintiff may settle their case. If the parties settle their case, they must inform the court of the settlement.
Where and When to File a Small Claims Case
The plaintiff generally can file their case in one of several venues. The plaintiff can typically file their case in one of the following counties:
- Where the defendant lives
- Where the defendant does business
- Where the events giving rise to the lawsuit occurred
However, if the defendant is a corporation, the plaintiff must typically file the case where the corporation's office or business headquarters is located. Alternatively, if the plaintiff alleges the defendant corporation breached a contract, the plaintiff may file the case in the county where the contract was made or where the defendant was supposed to perform the contract.
Plaintiffs must file their claim within a certain time period. This period of time is known as the statute of limitations. If the plaintiff fails to timely file their claim, the statute of limitations will bar the action.
State law governs the statute of limitations for different causes of action. The following are examples of causes of action and their corresponding statutes of limitation:
- Oral contracts: five years
- Written contracts: 15 years
- Personal injury claims: one year
Because state law governs the statute of limitations for specific types of claims, plaintiffs should check state law or contact an attorney before filing their claim.
Serving the Defendant - Service of Process
Once the plaintiff files their complaint, the court clerk will create a summons. The summons is a court form indicating that the plaintiff is suing the defendant, and it also indicates the court date. It is the plaintiff's responsibility to notify the defendant they are being sued. The court will not hear the case until the plaintiff proves the defendant was properly served.
Plaintiffs must inform the court clerk how they would like to serve the defendant(s) with the summons and complaint. The plaintiff can serve the defendant via the following methods:
- Certified mail: The plaintiff may inform the clerk of the court that they would like the court clerk to send the documents to the defendant via certified mail. The court clerk will mail the court forms to the defendant and request a return receipt. The court will likely charge a service fee.
- Sheriff's office: The plaintiff may request that the county sheriff personally serve the defendant with the summons and complaint. The sheriff's office will likely charge a service fee.
The court clerk can inform the plaintiff about each service method and the corresponding service fees. The court clerk can also inform the plaintiff about whether they need to file an affidavit of service with the court. The clerk cannot, however, provide legal advice to the plaintiff.
Responding to a Small Claims Case
A defendant who is properly served the summons and complaint should prepare to attend the small claims court hearing noted on the summons. If the defendant fails to appear at the small claims court trial, the judge may enter a default judgment. If the judge enters a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff, they win the case and the court will likely grant their claim for relief, including court costs.
If the defendant believes the plaintiff owes them money or property, the defendant may file a counterclaim. To do so, the defendant must file a Small Claims Counter-claim form. The defendant must file the counterclaim at least five days before the scheduled hearing. There is no filing fee for the counterclaim unless the claim exceeds $2,500.00. If the claim exceeds $2,500.00, the court will transfer the case to the Civil Division of District Court.
If the amount in controversy exceeds $250.00, the defendant may request a jury trial rather than a bench trial. The defendant must notify the court clerk at least one week before the small claims hearing that they would like a jury trial. If the defendant requests a jury trial, the court will transfer the case to the Civil Division of District Court
The Small Claims Court Hearing
The small claims court hearing is informal compared to a civil jury trial. The small claims court follows simplified court rules. Moreover, the judge may take a more active role in the small claims court hearing than in a civil jury trial.
The plaintiff(s) and defendant(s) will each have an opportunity to present their respective cases to the judge. This can include presenting evidence bolstering their case. Parties may also call witnesses to testify at the hearing. If a witness indicates they will not willingly attend the hearing, a party may request a subpoena from the court. A subpoena is a court order compelling a witness to testify at the hearing.
The judge will determine who prevails and who loses in the small claims action. Their determination is known as a judgment. The party to whom money or property is owed is the judgment creditor. The party who owes money or property is the judgment debtor.
If a party disagrees with the judgment, they may appeal the decision by filing a Notice of Appeal. The party must file the Notice of Appeal within 10 days of the date the court entered its judgment. The appealing party must then file a Statement of Appeal in the Circuit Court of Appeals.
Enforcing a Small Claims Judgment
The judgment is a legally enforceable court order instructing the judgment debtor to pay the judgment creditor money or to return property to the judgment creditor. It is the judgment creditor's responsibility to collect the judgment from the judgment debtor.
The judgment debtor typically has 10 days to satisfy the judgment. The parties may communicate to determine how the judgment debtor will pay the judgment creditor.
If the judgment debtor does not satisfy the judgment within 10 days, the judgment creditor may take additional actions to enforce the judgment. There are typically three ways the judgment creditor can enforce a judgment:
- Garnishment: The judgment creditor may request a court order to the judgment debtor's employer to garnish their wages. If the court grants the order, the judgment debtor's employer will withhold money from the judgment debtor's wages until the judgment is satisfied.
- Execution of property: The judgment creditor may request that the county sheriff execute or seize some of the judgment debtor's property. The sheriff may then auction the property and use the proceeds to satisfy the judgment.
- Judgment lien: The judgment creditor may request a lien be placed on the judgment debtor's property. The judgment creditor may then foreclose their lien to enforce the judgment.
Garnishment, executing on property, and placing and enforcing a lien on property can be complicated. Consider contacting a civil litigation attorney if the judgment debtor has not satisfied the judgment.
Contact an Attorney
Although small claims cases involve a relatively low amount of money, the cases may involve complex questions of law and fact. Additionally, filing and serving legal forms correctly is essential to resolving small claims cases. An experienced attorney can provide helpful legal advice regarding the following:
- Whether your claim belongs in small claims court, including probate cases and cases involving evictions
- Conducting discovery before the small claims case, such as serving written interrogatories on the other party
- Navigating the small claims court system
- Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of your case
- Satisfying a judgment
If you are involved in a small claims case, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you.
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