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New Mexico Small Claims Courts

The Metropolitan Court of the Civil Division in New Mexico hears all small claims cases. Small claims cases involve civil disputes where the amount in controversy does not exceed $10,000. The small claims court in New Mexico is informal compared to the district court. The informal nature of the small claims court allows many people to resolve their cases without hiring an attorney.

If you are involved in a small claims case, you may find the following links helpful:

  • Metropolitan Court's Self-Help Center: The Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court's website provides resources and downloadable court forms for those involved in small claims cases.
  • How to File a Civil Lawsuit: The Metropolitan Court published a guide that provides information about filing a small claims case.
  • Community and Legal Services: New Mexico publishes a handout with various self-help resources for anyone with a legal dispute in the state. For example, it provides information about free legal assistance and legal workshops.
  • Civil Forms: This link provides downloadable forms that parties to a small claims case may need.

This article provides information about New Mexico's small claims courts, how to file a claim, and how to respond to a claim. It also describes the small claims hearing and how to enforce a judgment. For more information, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you.

New Mexico Small Claims Court Explained

Any person who is 18 or older may file a small claims case in the Metropolitan Court. Business entities may also file small claims cases. The plaintiff is the person or entity that files a case. The person or entity they are suing is the defendant. The plaintiffs and defendants in a case are parties to the case.

The Metropolitan Court, sometimes called the Metro Court or Magistrate Court, may only resolve disputes where the amount in dispute does not exceed $10,000. The court has limited jurisdiction, meaning it may only hear certain types of civil cases. It may hear the following types of cases, among others:

The court does not have jurisdiction to hear the following types of cases:

Either party may request a jury trial. If they do not request a jury trial, the court will hold a small claims court hearing, and a judge will decide the case.

How To File a Small Claims Case

A plaintiff begins their small claims court case by filing a Civil Complaint form. The Complaint must identify the parties to the case, the dollar amount the plaintiff claims, and a brief statement describing the basis of the claim. A plaintiff who wants a jury trial must request one when they file the Complaint. Plaintiffs may obtain the Complaint online, at a self-help center, or at the courthouse.

The plaintiff may ask the clerk of the court for assistance in obtaining and filling out the Complaint. The clerk may answer basic questions but cannot provide legal advice.

The court will charge a $77 filing fee when the plaintiff files their Complaint. If the plaintiff requests a jury trial, the court will charge them an additional $100. If the plaintiff wins their case, the court may award them their court costs, including filing fees.

Venue and Time Limits To File

State law requires plaintiffs to file their civil cases within a certain period, known as the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations differs depending on the type of claim. It usually begins to run when the cause of action occurred or when the plaintiff should have reasonably known the cause of action arose.

The court may not hear the claim if the plaintiff does not file it within the statute of limitations. Therefore, check New Mexico's statute of limitations laws before filing your claim.

Serving a Defendant

New Mexico's rules of civil procedure require that the plaintiff serve notice of the lawsuit to the defendant. This allows the defendant time to respond to the Complaint and prepare for the small claims hearing. Failing to serve the defendant properly may result in extra expenses and delays for the plaintiff. In some situations, the court may dismiss the case entirely.

Once the plaintiff files their Complaint, the court clerk will prepare a packet containing the Complaint, Summons, and Answer forms. The plaintiff must arrange for the service of this packet on the defendant. The plaintiff cannot serve the defendant themselves. Instead, they may choose one of the following service options:

  • Contact the county sheriff's office to serve the defendant
  • Hire a private process server to effect service
  • Ask an adult to serve the defendant

Plaintiffs who use the county sheriff or a private process server can expect to pay a service fee.

If the defendant is a business, the plaintiff must ensure the process server serves the packet on the business's registered agent or a person in charge of the business.

The person who serves the packet on the defendant must file the Return of Service portion of the Summons. They must then file it with the court.

Responding to a Small Claims Case

If the defendant disagrees with the plaintiff's claims, they must file an Answer to the plaintiff's Complaint within 20 days of service. If the defendant does not file an Answer, the plaintiff may request the court to enter a default judgment. If the court enters a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor, the plaintiff prevails on their claims, and the court may order the defendant to pay some or all of the plaintiff's claim.

The defendant must describe in their Answer why they disagree with the plaintiff's claims. They must also indicate whether they want a jury or bench trial. The defendant may also bring a counterclaim against the plaintiff using the Answer form. A counterclaim is a claim under $10,000 against the plaintiff.

Pre-Trial Considerations

The parties must attend the scheduled small claims hearing or trial. If the defendant does not appear, the court may enter a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor, as described above. If the plaintiff does not appear, the court may dismiss the case.

The parties may also communicate before the small claims hearing or trial to try to settle the dispute. They may also try to mediate the case. If the parties settle the dispute outside of court, they must inform the court of their settlement. They may have to submit a written settlement agreement. Contact the court clerk if you settle your case before the trial or hearing.

In preparation for their court date, the parties may gather evidence to support their claims or refute the opposing party's claims. For example, the parties may secure copies of relevant contracts or photographs to introduce into evidence. The parties may also secure witnesses to testify at the hearing or trial. If a witness notifies a party that they will not appear willingly, the parties may issue a subpoena to compel their appearance and testimony.

The plaintiff must provide a list of their witnesses and evidence to the defendant at least 20 days before the small claims hearing or trial. The defendant must provide their list of witnesses and evidence to the plaintiff at least 15 days before the hearing or trial.

Either party may request that the small claims court record the hearing or trial. They must make their request at least 10 days before their court date. A record of the proceeding is important if a party wants to appeal the case.

The Small Claims Hearing

On the day of the hearing or trial, the plaintiff will present their case first. This may include an opening argument, introducing evidence, and calling witnesses to testify. If a party calls a witness to testify, the other party may cross-examine the witness. Once the plaintiff finishes presenting their case, the defendant has an opportunity to present theirs.

If the parties did not request a jury trial, the judge will make their findings of fact and enter their judgment or order after the trial concludes. They may do so immediately after the hearing or at a later date.


If either party disagrees with the judgment or order, they may appeal it to the district court. They must file a Notice of Appeal and an Affidavit of Service to appeal the judgment or order.

Collecting on a Judgment

The judgment creditor is the party who prevails in the case and is owed money. The party that owes money is the judgment debtor. The creditor is responsible for collecting money from the debtor.

The parties may communicate about how to satisfy the judgment. If the debtor cannot or chooses not to pay the judgment, the creditor may request the court's assistance.

One option the creditor has is filing a Writ of Garnishment. A Writ of Garnishment allows the creditor to garnish the debtor's wages or bank accounts to satisfy the judgment. Another option is a Writ of Execution. This allows a public official, often the county sheriff, to seize property from the debtor and sell it at a public auction to satisfy the debt. A debtor must file an Answer to both Writs once they receive notice of them. Failing to answer the Writs may lead to a default judgment in favor of the creditor.

When the debtor pays the creditor, the parties must file a Motion for Entry of Satisfaction of Judgment form with the court.

Contact an Attorney

Although parties to a small claims case in New Mexico do not need to hire attorneys to represent them, the law allows them to hire counsel. If you are involved in a small claims case, consider contacting an experienced civil litigation attorney near you. An attorney can provide helpful legal advice such as the following:

  • How to navigate New Mexico's court system, from filing a small claims case to pursuing an appeal
  • Legal information about your claim's statute of limitations
  • Litigation strategy for your claim, defense, or counterclaim

Do not delay in contacting an attorney if you have questions about your small claims case.

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