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New Jersey Small Claims Courts

New Jersey's small claims courts decide civil disputes where the claim does not exceed $5,000. Small claims court hearings follow informal court rules, allowing people to pursue their claims without hiring an attorney. Parties may, however, hire an attorney to represent them if they wish.

Parties to a small claims case may find the following links and self-help resources helpful in preparing for their small claims court hearing:

This article summarizes New Jersey's small claims court system. Consider contacting a civil litigation attorney for more information about your small claims court case.

New Jersey Small Claims Court Explained

Anyone 18 or older may file a small claims case in New Jersey. If a minor wants to file a small claims case, their parent or guardian must file it. The person or entity that files a lawsuit is the plaintiff. The person or entity they sue is the defendant.

The small claims court may only award up to $5,000. A plaintiff whose claim exceeds $5,000 may file it in small claims court, but they waive their right to recover any amount over $5,000. They cannot file separate claims to get around this limitation.

New Jersey's small claims courts have limited jurisdiction, meaning they can only hear certain types of cases. The small claims court may decide the following types of civil cases, among others:

The small claims court cannot hear the following types of cases:

Plaintiffs must file their small claims case in the Small Claims Division of the Superior Court Tax Court. If their claim is between $5,000 and $20,000, plaintiffs may file in the Special Civil Part Court of the Superior Court. They may file claims for more than $20,000 in the Law Division of the Superior Court.

How To File a Small Claims Case

Plaintiffs must file a small claims complaint and a summons to begin their case in the state of New Jersey. The procedure to file a small claims complaint differs depending on whether the claim involves a motor vehicle accident or not. Plaintiffs whose cases involve a motor vehicle accident may ask the court for the motor vehicle claim packet.

The small claims complaint identifies the parties' identities and their contact information. The plaintiff must state the amount of money claimed and the basis for the claims. They must also fill out the top section of the small claims summons. Plaintiffs may obtain these forms online or in person at the courthouse.

The court will charge a filing fee when the plaintiff files their claim. The fee is $35. If the claim involves multiple defendants, the filing fee increases by $5 for each defendant.

A party may request a jury trial for their small claims case. The court charges $100 to the party requesting the jury trial.

If the plaintiff cannot afford the filing fee, they may request a fee waiver. Plaintiffs may ask the court clerk about filing a fee waiver. The court clerk cannot provide legal advice.

Plaintiffs may file their claim online via the Judiciary Electronic Document Submission (JEDS) system. They may also mail the complaint, summons, and fee to the appropriate Special Civil Part Office to file it. Once the plaintiff files their claim, the court will set a hearing date and mail a notice to the parties.

Where To File

A plaintiff must file their small claims complaint and the summons in a proper venue. A proper venue is one in which the court has jurisdiction over the defendant. Typically, this means filing the case in the county courthouse where the defendant lives or works.

If the defendant is a business, a proper venue is a county where they do business. If the plaintiff sues multiple defendants, they may file the case in any county where one of the defendants lives, works, or does business. If the plaintiff sues a non-New Jersey resident, they must file the case where the cause of action arose.

When To File

A plaintiff must file their civil cause of action within a specific period called the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations varies based on the type of claim, and state law sets each claim's specific time period to file. Failing to file the claim within this time limit bars the court from hearing it. Check New Jersey's statute of limitations laws for more specific information about your claims statute of limitations.

Serving the Defendant

The plaintiff must ensure the defendant receives notice of the lawsuit before the scheduled court date. This is known as the service of process. Failing to serve the defendant properly may lead to extra time and expense for the plaintiff.

The court mails the complaint and summons to the defendant once the plaintiff files their case. Therefore, it is crucial that a plaintiff correctly identifies the defendant's address on the forms they file. The court charges the plaintiff a $7 fee for each defendant it serves via mail.

If the court cannot effect service on the defendant via mail, the plaintiff must request the court serve the defendant personally. A Special Civil Part Officer will then attempt to serve the defendant personally. The court may charge additional fees to serve the defendant.

Responding to a Small Claims Case

A defendant must file an Answer within 35 days of the date of the summons they receive. The court will charge a filing fee for an Answer. A defendant who disagrees with the plaintiff's claims must deny the claim in their Answer and state the reasons for the denial. The defendant must file the Answer with the court and mail it to all parties to the case.

If the defendant has claims against the plaintiff, they may file a counterclaim. For example, they may file a counterclaim if the defendant alleges the plaintiff owes them money for an unpaid debt. The defendant must serve the counterclaim on all other parties to the case. The court clerk can provide additional information about the forms needed to file a counterclaim.

If a defendant does not appear at the scheduled court date, the court may enter a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff. This means the court may award the plaintiff some or all of their claimed amount of money, which the defendant must then pay. The plaintiff must still provide proof of their claim to receive a judgment by default.

Before the small claims hearing, either the parties or their attorneys may try to negotiate a settlement. If the parties agree to a settlement, they must inform the Special Civil Part Office.

Preparing for the Small Claims Hearing

All parties must attend the small claims hearing. The summons contains the hearing time, date, and location. The court may dismiss the case if the plaintiff does not attend the hearing. If the defendant does not appear, the court will likely enter a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff.

Parties may collect evidence to support their arguments at the small claims hearing. For example, if the small claims case involves a contract dispute, the parties may want to ensure they bring copies of the contract. The parties may want to bring photographs of the damaged property for property damage cases.

The parties may also secure witnesses to testify at the hearing. A party may issue a subpoena if a witness indicates they do not plan to attend the hearing. A subpoena is a court order compelling a witness to appear and testify.

The court may require the parties to submit their evidence online before the trial begins. Contact the court clerk about submitting evidence before the hearing.

The Small Claims Hearing

On the hearing date, the court provides a trained professional to help the parties attempt to settle their case. If the parties cannot reach a settlement, they proceed to a small claims hearing.

A judge presides over New Jersey small claims hearings. The judge may actively participate in the hearing, such as asking for clarification on an issue or argument.

During the hearing, both parties have an opportunity to present their case. They can introduce evidence of their claim and call witnesses to testify. If one party calls a witness, the other party may cross-examine the witness by asking them questions.

The plaintiff presents their side of the case first. When the plaintiff finishes, the defendant presents their side. Parties may not introduce a written statement of the case. Instead, they must explain their side of the case with their testimony.

After the hearing concludes, the judge will enter the court's judgment. They may do so immediately or mail it to the parties later.


Any party may appeal the small claims court's judgment. To do so, they must file a Notice of Appeal, a Request for Transcript, and a Case Information form within 45 days of the judgment's date. The Appellate Division of the Superior Court reviews all appeals.

Enforcing a Judgment

The court's judgment may order one party to pay another party some amount of money. The person or entity who is owed money is the judgment creditor. The person or entity that owes money is the judgment debtor. It is the judgment creditor's responsibility to collect the money owed. The court may offer assistance but cannot guarantee payment to the creditor.

The creditor and debtor may discuss payment options, but if the debtor does not or cannot pay the judgment, the creditor may request the court's assistance. For example, the judgment creditor may apply for a Writ of Execution. A Writ of Execution allows a Special Civil Part Officer to seize some of the debtor's property and sell it at a public auction to satisfy the judgment. A judgment creditor may also apply for a writ allowing them to garnish the debtor's wages.

Read the New Jersey Judiciary's guide on Collecting a Money Judgment for more information about collecting money owed due to a judgment.

Questions? Contact an Attorney

If you have questions about your small claims case, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney. An experienced attorney can provide helpful legal advice regarding your claim.

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