Michigan Small Claims Courts
In Michigan, you can sue for up to $7,000 in the Small Claims Division of the District Court. Small claims courts allow non-legal experts to resolve their relatively minor civil disputes quickly.
Parties to a small claims case may find the following resources helpful:
- An Overview of Small Claims Court: This overview from Michigan Legal Help provides general information about the small claims court process.
- Taking a Small Claims Case to Court: Michigan Legal Help also briefly summarizes the small claims court trial process.
- Michigan Tax Tribunal and Small Claims Division: Michigan's government website offers information about the Small Claims Division and small claims cases.
- Trial court directory: The Michigan Courts website provides a directory of trial and small claims courts.
- Small claims forms: This link provides all the small claims forms parties may need while pursuing or defending against a small claims case.
- Do-It-Yourself Small Claims Suit: This link provides potential plaintiffs with an easy-to-use resource to prepare their small claims suit. It prepares the required court forms a plaintiff needs to begin their lawsuit.
- Being a Defendant in a Small Claims Case: This guide provides information and self-help for defendants in a small claims case.
- Collecting a Judgment: This guide provides information about collecting on a small claims judgment in your favor.
This article provides an in-depth explanation of Michigan's small claims court process. It explains what types of cases you can file in small claims court and how to file a case. It also provides information about responding and defending against a small claims case. It concludes by discussing the small claims court trial and how to enforce a judgment.
Michigan Small Claims Court: General Information
Michigan's small claims courts can award up to $7,000 to a plaintiff, the person who files the lawsuit. Plaintiffs may file a claim for more than $7,000. in the small claims court but cannot recover more than $7,000.
The small claims courts have limited jurisdiction, which means they can only hear certain types of claims. The small claims courts may hear the following types of cases:
- Contract disputes
- Landlord-tenant disputes regarding the return of security deposits
- Insurance disputes regarding motor vehicle accidents
- Bad checks
- Consumer protection
- Some types of trespasses
The small claims courts cannot hear the following types of cases:
Parties cannot hire attorneys in a Michigan small claims case. If you want an attorney to represent you, consider filing your case at the District Court level. A defendant, the person against whom the plaintiff files the lawsuit, may motion to remove the small claims lawsuit to the District Court's General Civil Division. To do so, they must file a Demand and Order for Removal.
Preparing To File a Small Claims Case
A plaintiff begins their small claims case by filing an Affidavit and Claim form in the small claims court. The form is available online or from the court clerk at any district court. A plaintiff must sign the Affidavit and Claim form in the presence of a notary public or a court clerk.
The Affidavit and Claim form identifies the parties to the lawsuit. The plaintiff must state the amount of money they allege the defendant owes them and the reasons for the defendant's liability.
Where and How To File the Small Claims Case
Once the plaintiff prepares their Affidavit and Claim, they must file it in the appropriate small claims court. Usually, they must file it in the small claims court in the county where the defendant lives or works. The county where the dispute arose is likely a proper venue as well.
The court will charge a filing fee when you file the Affidavit and Claim. The fee amount varies based on the amount of money the plaintiff claims, ranging from $30 to $70. You may file a fee waiver with the court if you cannot afford the filing fee.
After the plaintiff files their lawsuit, the court will place a small claims court trial on its docket. It will also give the plaintiff notice of the hearing date and location.
Notifying the Defendant
Once the plaintiff has filed their small claims case, they must provide notice of the case and hearing to the defendant. The court will send a notice to the defendant, but it's the plaintiff's responsibility to ensure the defendant receives notice.
The plaintiff may tell the court how they want to effect service. For example, they may request the court send the Affidavit and Claim and Notice of Hearing forms to the defendant via certified mail or personal service through a professional process server. The court may charge a service fee, which will vary depending on the chosen service method.
Responding to a Small Claims Case
A defendant who receives notice of a small claims case has several options. A defendant may pay the plaintiff's requested amount or contact the plaintiff and negotiate an agreeable settlement. If the parties settle the case before the hearing, they must notify the court.
If the defendant disagrees with the plaintiff's claim, they do not need to file an answer to the Affidavit and Claim. Instead, they should prepare to appear at the scheduled court date. If a defendant does not appear for the hearing, the court may enter a default judgment against them. A default judgment in favor of the plaintiff means the plaintiff wins. The court will likely grant the plaintiff's requested relief in such a situation.
Defendants may also file counterclaims against the plaintiff. For example, they can file a counterclaim if the defendant claims the plaintiff owes them money. The counterclaim must relate to the plaintiff's claim in the present case. A defendant is responsible for serving notice of the counterclaim on the plaintiff.
As noted above, the defendant may also request the court remove the case to the District Court.
Preparing for a Small Claims Hearing
Before the small claims hearing, parties may compile evidence in support of their claims or defenses. For example, if the case involves a motor vehicle accident, the parties may want to obtain any accident reports or photographs. If the case revolves around a contract dispute, they may want to make copies of relevant contracts, receipts, or bills of sale.
The parties may also secure witnesses to testify at the hearing. If a witness does not willingly agree to testify, parties may file a subpoena. A subpoena is a court order requiring someone to appear in court.
The Small Claims Hearing
Parties should plan on attending the scheduled hearing. Failing to appear could have significant consequences. The court will likely dismiss the case if the plaintiff does not appear. The court may enter a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor if the defendant does not appear.
When parties arrive at the courthouse, they may tell the court clerk or a court officer they arrived. The court may have other cases to hear, so parties may have to wait for the court to call their case.
A judge or magistrate decides the outcome of the small claims case. Unlike civil cases, the law does not provide for jury trials in small claims court.
The plaintiff typically addresses the court first. They will describe their side of the case and present evidence. Once the plaintiff finishes, the defendant will present their defenses to the plaintiff's claims.
The judge or magistrate may take a more active approach than in a regular district court case. For example, they may ask the parties clarifying questions.
Once the hearing concludes, the judge or magistrate may decide the case immediately. If not, the parties may have to wait for the decision, which the court will mail to the parties.
After the Hearing
If the plaintiff prevails at the hearing, the court issues a money judgment in their favor. This order instructs the defendant to pay the plaintiff a specific amount of money. It is the plaintiff's responsibility to collect the money from the defendant.
The person owed money due to a small claims judgment is the judgment creditor. The person who owes money is the judgment debtor. Creditors have several options regarding enforcing a judgment. Debtors have several options to pay the judgment.
Of course, a debtor who can afford the judgment may simply pay the creditor. If the debtor cannot afford the payment, they may inquire about installment payment plans.
If the debtor does not make a full payment within 21 days of the judgment, a creditor may request a writ of garnishment from the court. This may allow the creditor to garnish money from the debtor's paychecks or bank accounts.
You cannot appeal the small claims court judgment if a judge decides your case. You can, however, appeal a magistrate's decision. If you want to appeal, you must file a Notice of Appeal within seven days of the judgment. A district court judge will hear the appeal.
Contact an Attorney
Although parties may not hire an attorney in Michigan small claims courts, an attorney can still provide helpful legal advice about your claim. For example, they can review the claim and advise whether you should file a small claims case or a civil court case. They can also inform you about the best arguments or defenses regarding a claim. If you have questions about a small claims case, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you.
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