Minnesota Small Claims Courts
In Minnesota, small claims may not exceed $15,000.00. Small claims are heard by the Conciliation Court Division of the District Court, per Minnesota Statutes Chapter 491A.
The Minnesota Attorney General's Office issued a User's Guide to Small Claims Court. The following links provide more information about Minnesota's Conciliation Court rules and procedures:
- Minnesota Judicial Branch: Provides an overview and FAQs regarding the Conciliation Court, also known as small claims court
- Self-Help Guide to Minnesota Conciliation Court: Provides helpful information regarding small claims court hearings
- Conciliation/Small Claims Court Forms: Provides a list of all forms a party needs during a small claims case
This article provides general information about Minnesota's small claims court rules and procedures.
What Is Minnesota's Conciliation Court?
Conciliation Court, also known as small claims court, exists to help people resolve relatively minor legal disputes quickly and efficiently. Many small claims involve disputes up to $15,000.00 and involve contracts, personal property damage, or landlord-tenant disputes.
Filing a claim in the Conciliation Court has several advantages for the parties involved. The Conciliation Court is a special court that allows judges to decide cases quickly. The parties in small claims cases are not required to follow complex legal procedures like those involved in civil cases. Many parties do not hire attorneys to pursue their small claims cases.
Minnesota small claims courts cannot accept claims over $15,000.00. If you have a dispute over $15,000.00 and wish to file it in Conciliation Court, you can lower your claim to $15,000.00. However, if you choose to do so, you cannot ask for more money via another claim. You also cannot split the claim into smaller claims.
For claims involving consumer credit transactions, the amount in dispute cannot exceed $4,000.00.
Minnesota Statutes Chapter 491A lists claims that plaintiffs cannot file in Conciliation Court. The excluded actions include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Claims involving title to real estate, including establishing boundary lines
- Claims involving claims of defamation
- Most claims for specific performance
- Claims brought or defended on behalf of a class
- Claims requesting or involving prejudgment remedies
- Most claims involving injunctive relief
- Claims involving medical malpractice
- Claims involving bad checks
- Claims for eviction
Although parties generally do not need to hire an attorney to pursue their Conciliation Court case, they are allowed to do so. An experienced civil litigation attorney can help a person pursue their claim. Consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you to assist in your small claims case.
How to File a Small Claims Case in Minnesota
A Conciliation Court claim is generally filed in the county where the defendant lives or does business. It can also be filed in the county where the alleged wrongdoing occurred. Minn. Stat. Section 491A.01 lists exceptions to these general filing rules.
An individual can begin the small claims case by filing a Statement of Claim and a summons. Individuals can get these documents online or at their local courthouse. A court clerk can assist you in filling out these forms, but they cannot offer you legal advice.
The Statement of Claim, also known as a complaint, initiates the lawsuit. It lists the following:
- The plaintiff's name and address
- The defendant's name and address
- The amount of the plaintiff's claim
- The legal basis for the plaintiff's claim
- The date the plaintiff's claim occurred
The summons is a legal notice to the defendant indicating the plaintiff is suing them. It will also indicate the small claims court date and time of the hearing.
A plaintiff must sign the Statement of Claim and file the Statement of Claim and summons with the court. The plaintiff can file the documents in person or electronically.
The plaintiff can expect to pay a filing fee and a law library fee when they file the claim. Court fees may differ based on the amount of money claimed. If the plaintiff cannot afford the court fees, they can request that the court waive the fee by filing an Affidavit of Inability to Pay Conciliation Court Filing Fee form.
What Happens After a Small Claims Court Case Is Filed?
After filing a small claims court case, the court or plaintiff must serve the Statement of Claim and the summons on the defendant. If the claim is for less than or equal to $2,500.00, the court administrator's office will serve the documents to the defendant by first-class mail. For claims greater than $2,500.00, the plaintiff must serve the defendant. This can be done via certified mail or a process server. The plaintiff must file an affidavit of service with the court.
Responding to a Statement of Claim
A defendant does not have to file an answer to the Statement of Claim and the summons. However, if the defendant has claims against the plaintiff, the defendant can file a counterclaim. The process of filing a counterclaim is similar to the process of filing a small claims case. A defendant must file a counterclaim five days before the scheduled Conciliation Court hearing.
If the defendant's counterclaim is more than $15,000.00, they can make a demand for removal to the district court. To do so, they must file a form at least seven days before the Conciliation Court hearing.
What Happens at a Conciliation Court Hearing?
Parties should bring all available evidence to the small claims court trial. At the start of the trial, the plaintiff will present their case and evidence. The defendant will present their case and evidence afterward.
Small claims courts do not have juries. In a jury trial, the jury will arrive at a verdict. In a small claims court trial, the judge will decide the case. The judge may issue their opinion immediately, or they may issue the court's decision in a written judgment later.
If a party does not attend the scheduled hearing, the court may enter a default judgment. If you are the plaintiff, and the defendant does not appear for the trial, you can request the court enter a default judgment in your favor. You win the case if the court grants the default judgment in your favor.
What Happens After a Conciliation Court Trial?
Following a court judgment, a party may appeal the decision. If the district court grants the appeal, the parties are in for a much more complicated legal process. The rules of civil procedure apply in state courts, as well as the rules of evidence. If the court grants an appeal, parties should strongly consider hiring a civil litigation attorney.
If the plaintiff prevails at the hearing, the defendant must pay the plaintiff per the judgment. Typically, the court does not involve itself in making sure the defendant pays the plaintiff. However, if the defendant cannot or does not pay the plaintiff, the plaintiff may file for a writ of execution. The court may then issue the writ of execution to enforce the judgment.
How an Attorney Can Help
Small court claims can involve complex questions of law. Whether you are a plaintiff or defendant, an experienced civil litigation attorney can significantly help your case. For example, an attorney can help you with the following information:
- How to file a small court claim if your landlord did not return your security deposit
- Defense or litigation strategy for your small claims case
- How to file documents at the Conciliation Court
Consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you if you are involved in a small claims case.
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