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New Hampshire Small Claims Courts

New Hampshire's small claims court decides civil cases where the amount in dispute does not exceed $10,000. The small claims court exists to allow people to quickly and inexpensively resolve civil disputes without hiring attorneys. The District Division of the Circuit Court handles all small claims cases. Justices from the district or municipal courts preside over small claims actions.

The following self-help links provide more information about New Hampshire's small claims court:

This article describes New Hampshire's small claims court process. For more information, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney.

Small Claims Court Explained

The small claims courts in New Hampshire may hear most civil disputes that do not exceed $10,000. The $10,000 is exclusive of court costs and interest.

A justice presides over the small claims court hearing. Small claims court hearings are informal compared to cases in superior courts. Parties to a small claims case may hire attorneys, although they do not have to retain counsel.

A person or business may file a small claims case. The person or entity filing a claim is the plaintiff. The person or entity against whom they file the case is the defendant. The plaintiffs and defendants involved in a case are known as parties to the case.

If the plaintiff's dispute involves an amount of money over $1,500.00, a defendant may request a jury trial. If they choose to request a jury trial, the small claims court will transfer the case to the county's superior court. The defendant must pay the transfer fee, which they may recover if they win the case.

A party may file a claim for over $10,000 in the small claims court. However, they waive their right to recover more than $10,000 if they do so.

The small claims court has limited jurisdiction. The small claims court may only decide cases involving money. The small claims court may adjudicate the following types of cases, among others:

The small claims court may not adjudicate the following types of civil claims:

If the amount in dispute in a small claims case exceeds $5,000, the court requires mandatory mediation before the small claims hearing. Mediation involves using a neutral third party who attempts to help the parties resolve their dispute. The district courts have approved mediation programs that the parties must use. The small claims hearing will proceed if the parties do not resolve their dispute through mediation.

Filing a Small Claims Case

The plaintiff initiates their small claims case by filing a Small Claims Complaint in an appropriate small claims court. The small claims complaint identifies the parties to the case, their contact information, the amount in dispute, and a description of why the plaintiff believes the defendant owes them money.

Plaintiffs must electronically file (e-file) their small claims court cases. The court will charge a filing fee, which ranges between $90 and $145, depending on the amount of the claim.

State law requires plaintiffs to file their claim within a specific time period, known as the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations varies based on the claim the plaintiff brings. The court will dismiss the case if the plaintiff does not file their claim within the statute of limitations. Therefore, it is essential to check the state laws regarding your claim to ensure the statute of limitations has not run.

Venue

The plaintiff must file their claim with the court clerk's office in the municipal court in the town where the plaintiff or defendant lives. If said town does not have a municipal court, the plaintiff must file the claim with the court clerk at the district court in the district where the plaintiff or defendant lives.

Suppose the defendant is not a New Hampshire resident. In that case, the plaintiff must file the claim in a court in any town or district where the defendant does business, enters into a contract, owns property, or commits a tortious act.

Notice to the Defendant

The court will send the defendant a copy of the statement via first-class mail. If the Post Office returns the first class mail to court because it was undeliverable, the court will instruct the plaintiff to serve notice on the defendant using a different method. The plaintiff may contact the sheriff's office to serve the defendant.

The defendant must receive notice of the case at least 14 days before the scheduled small claims hearing.

Responding to a Small Claims Case

As noted above, the defendant must respond to the Small Claims Complaint within 30 days of the date the court mailed it. To do so, they must file a Response to Small Claim form in the same court. Failing to respond to the notice will likely result in the court issuing a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff. In other words, if the defendant receives notice but does not respond, the plaintiff probably wins the case.

If the defendant disputes the plaintiff's claims, they must inform the court they wish to present their case. The court will then schedule a small claims hearing and email a Notice of Hearing to the parties.

The plaintiff and defendant may try to resolve the dispute before the small claims hearing. If they agree to settle the case, they must inform the court of the settlement. The parties may have to file a written settlement agreement with the court. Contact the court clerk for more information about required filings regarding a settlement agreement.

If the defendant has claims against the plaintiff, they may file a counterclaim. The counterclaim must relate to the plaintiff's claim. The defendant generally must file the counterclaim within 30 days of receiving notice of the plaintiff's claim. If the counterclaim exceeds $1,500, the defendant may request a jury trial rather than a small claims hearing. In general, the courts require defendants to use their electronic filing system for counterclaims.

The Small Claims Hearing

The small claims court does not follow the technical rules of evidence. The justice presiding over the case may admit or deny evidence they deem material and proper.

Before the hearing, the parties may gather evidence and secure witnesses to testify. For example, the parties may bring copies of contracts, photographs of property damage, or communications sent between the two. If a potential witness makes it known that they will not willingly appear to testify at the hearing, a party may subpoena the witness. A subpoena is a court order compelling a witness to appear and testify.

On the day of the hearing, the plaintiff will present their arguments and evidence first. Once the plaintiff finishes presenting their case, the defendant can respond and present their evidence.

Once the hearing concludes, the justice will enter their judgment. The justice may decide the case immediately after the hearing, or they may issue their judgment later. If the plaintiff wins the case, the court may award them their court costs and interest, if any.

Appeals

Parties to a small claims case may only appeal questions of law. An example question of law is whether the small claims court correctly interpreted the relevant laws to the issues raised in the case. The New Hampshire Supreme Court reviews all appeals from the small claims court.

Satisfying the Judgment

If a plaintiff, or a defendant making a counterclaim, prevails, they become the judgment creditor. The person or entity that owes money pursuant to the judgment is the judgment debtor. It's the judgment creditor's responsibility to collect the money owed.

If the debtor does not voluntarily pay the creditor, the creditor may request assistance in enforcing the judgment. They may, for example, contact the sheriff's office for information about collecting a judgment. Courts may allow the sheriff to seize and sell the debtor's property to satisfy the judgment.

For more information about satisfying a judgment, read the state of New Hampshire's Small Claims Division's Collection Process information sheet.

Questions? Contact an Attorney

Although small claims cases tend to involve relatively minor legal disputes, they may involve complex questions of law and fact. Consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you for legal advice regarding a potential small claims case. An experienced attorney can provide valuable legal information about the strengths and weaknesses of your case, as well as help with your litigation strategy.

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