Maine Small Claims Courts
Maine's small claims courts can hear civil disputes where the amount in controversy does not exceed $6,000.00. Your local district court has all the forms you need to file or respond to a small claims action. These forms are also available on the Maine Judicial Branch's website.
The small claims court exists to quickly and inexpensively resolve minor civil disputes. Small claims courts have limited jurisdiction. Thus, these courts may only hear specific civil claims. The following links provide additional information regarding Maine's small claims court rules and processes:
- Small Claims Court Guide: The State of Maine's Judicial Branch's website provides a comprehensive guide to the small claims court process and rules.
- A Guide to Small Claims Cases: The Judicial Branch publishes a detailed guide to small claims cases.
- Small Claims Forms: Pine Tree Legal Assistance provides the most commonly used court forms a party to a small claims case needs in their case.
- Maine Revised Statutes (M.R.S.): M.R.S. Title 14, Part 7, Chapter 738, Section 7482 defines small claims cases. This link also provides a gateway to Maine law and regulations.
- District Court Directory: The Judicial Branch provides a directory of Maine's district courts.
This article summarizes Maine's small claims court rules and procedure.
Maine's Small Claims Courts Explained
Maine's small claims court system is designed to resolve minor civil legal matters quickly. The rules of civil procedure and evidence are simplified compared to regular district court cases. Thus, many parties represent themselves, also known as proceeding pro se. Parties may hire an attorney if they so desire.
Generally, anyone can file a small claims lawsuit. Additionally, most people or entities can be sued in small claims courts, although exceptions apply to cities and municipalities.
The person or entity that files the small claims lawsuit is the plaintiff. The person or entity the plaintiff is suing is known as the defendant. The plaintiffs and defendants in a case are known as the parties to the lawsuit.
Maine's small claims courts' jurisdiction is limited. This means the courts can only hear certain types of cases. As noted above, the amount of money involved in a small claim case cannot exceed $6,000.00. The small claims court can hear the following types of disputes:
- Collecting a debt
- Some consumer complaints
- Security deposit disputes
- Damage to personal property or real estate
- Return of personal property
- Personal injury
One of the main advantages of filing a small claims case is how quickly the legal dispute is resolved compared to regular district court cases. Typically, the small claims court hearing occurs soon after the plaintiff files the case. A judge decides all small claims cases, unlike a jury trial in a superior court case.
How to File a Small Claims Case
To start a small claims case, a defendant must file a Statement of Claim form and a Notice of Service form. These forms are available online or at the court clerk's office. The Statement of Claim identifies the parties to the case, a brief description of the dispute, and the amount of money the plaintiff claims the defendant owes them.
Before the plaintiff can file the claim, they must determine in which court they should file the claim and serve the defendant(s) with notice of the lawsuit.
Where to File the Claim
The plaintiff must file the Statement of Claim in a proper venue. Typically, an appropriate venue is the district court in the county:
- Where the events giving rise to the lawsuit occurred
- Where the defendant lives
- Where the defendant's principal place of business is located
- If the defendant is a corporation, where the corporation's registered agent is located
The court will charge a filing fee when the plaintiff files their claim. The plaintiff may recover these court costs if they win their case.
Your local district court most likely has self-help resources and online services for filing a claim. Alternatively, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney who can provide legal advice regarding your claim.
Serving the Defendant
Once the plaintiff files their small claims case, they must notify the defendant(s) of the lawsuit. A plaintiff may effect service of process on defendants using the following methods:
- Request the Clerk's Office: If the plaintiff has filed less than three small claims in a month, they may request the clerk of court to effect service on the defendant. To do so, the plaintiff must file an Affidavit and Request for Service form.
- First-Class Mail: The plaintiff may send the Statement of Claim and two Notice of Service forms to the defendant. The plaintiff must send it by first-class mail and include a self-addressed envelope that the defendant may use to send a signed Notice of Service form back to the plaintiff.
- Certified Mail: The plaintiff may send the necessary forms via certified mail. The plaintiff must send the mail as restricted delivery and request a return receipt. The post office will return the return receipt to the plaintiff if the defendant signed it.
- Sheriff's Office: The plaintiff may request the sheriff in the county where the defendant lives to serve the defendant. If the sheriff serves the defendant, the sheriff will return the Statement of Claim with a notice of service.
The plaintiff must file the Statement of Claim and notice of service within 20 days of serving the defendant. Once the plaintiff files the case, the court will notify the parties of the court date.
Responding to a Small Claims Case
A defendant who receives notice of a small claims case filed against them does not need to file any response. Instead, they should prepare for the small claims hearing date. If the defendant does not appear for the scheduled hearing date, the court may enter a default judgment against them. If the court enters a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff, the plaintiff will prevail on their claims.
The parties may discuss and settle their case before the small claims hearing occurs.
The Small Claims Hearing
Before the small claims case hearing, parties may gather evidence to present their case. They may also identify and secure witnesses to testify at the hearing. If a witness makes it clear they will not willingly appear at the hearing, a party may request the court issue a subpoena. A subpoena is a court order that compels a witness to appear and testify.
On the hearing date, the judge may ask the parties if they want to mediate the case. If they agree, a neutral mediator will discuss the claim with the parties and attempt to reach an amicable resolution. If the mediation fails, the parties will proceed to the court hearing.
At the hearing, the parties will provide opening statements to the court. Then, the plaintiff will present their case, including giving evidence and calling witnesses to testify. If a party calls a witness to testify, the other party can cross-examine the witness. The defendant will present their case once the plaintiff finishes presenting their case.
The judge will issue their opinion as to who wins or loses the case.
Enforcing a Judgment
The prevailing party is responsible for collecting the money judgment. The parties may communicate regarding how the judgment debtor will pay the judgment creditor. If the judgment debtor does not willingly satisfy the judgment, the judgment creditor may request a disclosure hearing. At the disclosure hearing, the court will determine if the judgment debtor has the assets or income to satisfy the judgment.
Contact an Attorney
If you are involved in a small claims case in Maine, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney. An attorney can provide a significant advantage to a party in a small claims case, especially if the other party has not retained one. Even if you do not intend to retain an attorney, they can provide helpful legal advice regarding a litigation or defense strategy regarding the claim.
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