Louisiana Small Claims Courts
Small claims court can be a way to resolve lesser legal issues quickly. Louisiana's small claims courts have jurisdiction over minor civil disputes involving money or the return of property. The amount in controversy cannot exceed $5,000.00.
The advantage of Louisiana small claims courts is that they resolve civil disputes quickly, and the process is usually less expensive than a case brought in a superior court. Parties to a small claims case do not need to hire an attorney. Small claims courts follow simplified rules of evidence to allow parties to proceed without an attorney.
This article summarizes the small claims court system in Louisiana. Litigants involved in a small claims case may find the following resources helpful while preparing for their small claims court trial:
- Small Claims Court General Information: The Legal Education and Assistance Program provides general information about small claims suits in Louisiana.
- Small Claims Court Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): The city of Baton Rouge answers FAQ related to small claims cases.
- Justice of the Peace Courts Explained: The city of Baton Rouge summarizes the Justice of the Peace Courts system, including the small claims courts
- Civil Division - Small Claims: The city of Shreveport provides a summary of the small claims process, as well as sample forms parties to a small claims case need to pursue their claim.
- Louisiana Revised Statutes 13:5201 (LA R.S. 13:5201): The LA R.S. 13:5201 set out the rules regarding small claims court cases brought in Louisiana.
- Louisiana Lawyer Referral Service: The Louisiana Bar Association website has a lawyer referral section that parties to a lawsuit can use to find an attorney near them.
Consider contacting an attorney if you are suing someone in small claims court. Although the legal issues in a small claims case are typically minor, even the smallest legal issue can be quite complex. An experienced civil litigation attorney can provide helpful legal advice regarding your claim.
Louisiana's Small Claims Courts Explained
Louisiana's small claims courts are limited in the types of cases they can hear. They have jurisdiction over minor civil actions where the amount of money in dispute does not exceed $5,000.00. This amount does not include court costs, interest, and attorney's fees. Examples of cases the small claims court can hear include the following:
The small claims court cannot hear the following types of cases:
- Return of real estate
- Damage to property
- Family law (marriage, divorce, emancipation)
- Lawsuits against public officials acting within the scope of their duties
- Lawsuits against state agencies
Louisiana state law allows a city's judiciary to create a small claims division. Depending on where you live, your city may or may not have a small claims court. Check with your city court or the clerk of court at the clerk's office to determine if your city court has a small claims division.
If the plaintiff's claim exceeds $5,000.00, they may still file in the small claims court. However, if they choose to do so, they waive their right to collect any money over $5,000.00. Alternatively, if the claim exceeds $5,000.00, the plaintiff may file the claim on the Regular Civil Docket in their city. The Regular Civil Docket allows plaintiffs to file claims up to $35,000.00.
Small claims court hearings follow simplified rules of evidence. Because parties to a small claims case do not have to follow the technical rules of evidence used in most civil courts, it allows many such parties to proceed pro se, or without an attorney. The relaxed rules allow judges to consider all relevant evidence, including hearsay.
Louisiana's small claims cases follow the same rules of civil procedure followed in civil cases. For small claims cases, there is generally no discovery period. Discovery in a civil case allows for the parties to learn more about their case and typically involves sending written interrogatories, taking depositions, and making demands for discovery.
Anyone over 18 years old can file a claim on their own behalf. Minors can file small claims cases but must proceed through a parent or guardian. Corporations may also file small claims cases in Louisiana small claims courts. The plaintiff, who is the person filing the lawsuit, may sue any of the following entities:
The person or entity that the plaintiff sues is the defendant. The plaintiffs and defendants in a lawsuit are known as parties to the lawsuit. The plaintiff may sue multiple people or entities in one case so long as they each caused the occurrence giving rise to the lawsuit.
How To File a Small Claims Case
The plaintiff in a small claims case must file several pleadings to begin their lawsuit. The plaintiff must file these pleadings with the clerk of court in the proper small claims division. These pleadings are as follows:
- Small Claims Petition: The Small Claims Petition identifies the parties to the lawsuit and the amount of money the plaintiff alleges the defendant(s) owe them.
- Statement of Claim and Citation: The Statement of Claim and Citation identifies the parties' names, addresses, and phone numbers. It also allows the plaintiff to describe the reason why they believe the defendant(s) owe them money or property.
- Soldier's and Sailors Relief Act Affidavit: This Affidavit serves to protect active military members who are named as defendants in a small claims case. The plaintiff must make a sworn statement to the court indicating they either are aware the defendant is not an active duty member of the military or the defendant is on active duty, or the plaintiff investigated and could not determine whether the defendant is or is not on active duty.
These pleadings are available online or at your local courthouse. The court clerk can provide a plaintiff assistance in filling out the pleadings. The clerk cannot, however, provide legal advice to either the plaintiff or defendant.
The plaintiff may attach supporting documentation or evidence to these pleadings. For example, if the plaintiff's case involves an eviction, the plaintiff may want to include a copy of their lease in their filings.
The court will charge a filing fee when the plaintiff files their pleadings. There may be additional fees if you are suing additional defendants.
Once the plaintiff files their pleadings, the clerk will prepare a Citation. It is the plaintiff's responsibility to notify the defendant of the lawsuit. The constable will attempt to serve the defendant with the Citation. The plaintiff may contact the clerk to determine whether the constable served the defendant. If the constable cannot serve the defendant, the plaintiff may send the pleadings via certified mail with a return receipt requested.
Responding to a Small Claims Case
Within 10 days of service, the defendant must typically file an Answer to the lawsuit. The defendant may admit or deny the plaintiff's allegations. If the defendant denies the plaintiff's allegations, either party may request that the court set a hearing date.
If the defendant has claims against the plaintiff, they may file a counterclaim, also known as a Reconventional Demand.
The Small Claims Hearing
If a party requests a hearing, the court will set a hearing date within 45 days. Prior to the hearing, the parties may secure witnesses to testify. If a witness indicates they will not willingly appear at the hearing to testify, a party may request a subpoena from the court. A subpoena is a court order compelling a witness to appear and testify at the hearing.
Both parties will give opening statements to the hearing. Then, the plaintiff will present their case. Once the plaintiff finishes presenting their case, the defendant will present theirs.
Enforcing a Judgment
The judgment creditor has the responsibility to enforce a judgment. The parties may communicate as to the payment method. However, if the judgment debtor cannot or chooses not to satisfy the judgment, the judgment creditor may ask the court for assistance. For example, the judgment creditor may request that the court issue an order to the judgment debtor's employer to garnish their wages until the judgment is satisfied.
Contact an Attorney
Although small claims cases involve relatively low amounts of money, the cases may still involve complex questions of fact and law. If you are involved in a small claims case in Louisiana, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you to protect your legal interests.
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