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North Dakota Small Claims Courts

In North Dakota, the small claims court may hear civil disputes that do not exceed $15,000. The small claims court may only hear certain types of civil claims. The small claims court allows people to resolve their disputes quickly and inexpensively.

The following links provide helpful resources for anyone involved in a small claims case:

This article describes North Dakota's small claims courts. For more information, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you.

North Dakota Small Claims Court Explained

The small claims court is a division of North Dakota's District Court. The small claims court has limited jurisdiction. This means the small claims court may only decide certain disputes. In North Dakota, the small claims court may only hear the following types of disputes:

  • Disputes concerning the return of money
  • Disputes regarding the cancellation of an agreement

The small claims court cannot award more than $15,000 in a small claims case. Therefore, if your claim exceeds $15,000, consider filing it in District Court.

Parties to a small claims case do not need to hire an attorney. However, they may choose to retain an attorney if they wish.

A judge (also known as a judicial referee) will preside over the small claims court hearing. North Dakota does not provide a right to a jury trial in a small claims case. Parties cannot appeal the judge's decision in the small claims case.

How To Begin a Small Claims Case

plaintiff begins their small claims court action by filing a claim affidavit in the small claims court. The claim affidavit identifies the following:

  • All plaintiffs and defendants in the lawsuit, including their correct addresses
  • The amount of the plaintiff's claim
  • A description of why the plaintiff believes the defendant is liable for the claimed amount

The plaintiff must also complete an Affidavit of Identification for each defendant they sue.

Once the plaintiff fills out the required forms, they must file the documents with the court clerk in the appropriate District Court. The court will charge a $10 filing fee.

Where and When To File a Small Claims Case

Generally, the plaintiff must file their small claims case in the county where the defendant lives. If the defendant is a business, the plaintiff must file it in either the county where the defendant has a place of business or where the cause of action arose.

Most civil claims in North Dakota have a statute of limitations. The plaintiff must file their claim within the statute of limitations for the court to hear it. Failing to file within the statute of limitations bars the court from hearing the claim.

The specific statute of limitations varies depending on the type of claim. Check FindLaw's article on North Dakota's Civil Statute of Limitations for more information.

Serving the Defendant

Once the plaintiff files their claim affidavit and pays the filing fee, they must serve several documents on the defendant(s). Failing to serve the defendant properly will prevent the court from hearing the case.

The plaintiff must serve the following documents on every defendant:

  • Small claims court information (Form One)
  • A signed and completed claim affidavit (Form Two)
  • Request for hearing/removal to District Court (Form Three)
  • Defendant's answer and counterclaim (Form Four)
  • Affidavit of mailing for counterclaim (Form Five)
  • North Dakota Small Claims Court Act (Form Seven)

The plaintiff has several options to effect service on the defendant, including the following:

  • They may contact the sheriff's office to serve the defendant(s) personally. The sheriff will complete an affidavit of service and give it to the plaintiff. The plaintiff must then file the affidavit of personal service with the court.
  • The plaintiff may mail the documents to the defendant. They must generally mail it via certified mail — restricted delivery. When the plaintiff receives the return receipt from the post office, they must file the receipt and a completed affidavit of service with the court.
  • The plaintiff may also contact a private process server to personally serve the defendant.

Form Six has specific instructions regarding how to serve a party.

Responding to a Small Claims Case

A defendant who receives notice of a small claims case against them has several options. If they dispute the claim, they must file an answer with the court. The answer involves requesting a small claims court hearing. The defendant must also serve the plaintiff and any other parties with their answer.

The defendant must file their answer within 20 days of receiving notice of the lawsuit. Failing to respond may result in a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor. This usually means the plaintiff wins the case.

Once the defendant files an answer, the court will set a hearing on its docket. The hearing will take place within 30 days of the date it received the answer.

If a defendant has claims against the plaintiff, they may file a counterclaim along with their answer. The counterclaim cannot exceed $15,000.

A defendant generally may request to remove the case from small claims court to the District Court. They must file a Removal to District Court form within 20 days of receiving notice of the lawsuit. The court will charge an $80 filing fee if the defendant requests to remove the case.

Preparing for the Small Claims Hearing

All parties should plan on attending the scheduled small claims court hearing date. The court may dismiss their small claims action if the plaintiff does not appear. The court may enter a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor if the defendant does not appear. In that case, the plaintiff will likely win their case.

Before the small claims hearing, the parties may try to settle their dispute. The North Dakota Attorney General suggests sending a letter to the other parties before filing a lawsuit to try and resolve the dispute. The parties can settle their case at any time. If the parties settle their case, they should notify the court clerk immediately.

If the parties cannot settle their case, they should prepare for the hearing. This may include gathering evidence to present in court. For example, if the case involves a contract dispute, they may want to bring a copy of the contract. If the case involves property damage, they may want to bring pictures of the damaged property.

Parties may also secure witnesses to testify at the hearing. A party may issue a subpoena if a witness does not want to testify. A subpoena is a court order compelling someone to attend the hearing.

The Small Claims Hearing

Small claims hearings are relatively informal and short. The judge may take a more active role than they usually would in a District Court case.

The plaintiff will present their case first. This may include an opening statement, presenting their evidence, and calling witnesses to testify. When the plaintiff finishes presenting their case, the defendant will present theirs.

The judge will issue the small claims judgment when the case concludes. They may issue their judgment immediately, or they may issue it at a later date. As part of the judgment, the judge may award court costs to the prevailing party (e.g., filing fees).

Enforcing a Judgment

The judgment creditor is the person or entity that wins the lawsuit and is due money. The losing party who owes money is the judgment debtor.

The judgment creditor is responsible for collecting on a small claims judgment. The court does not collect the money for the prevailing party.

The judgment debtor generally has 30 days from the date of the judgment to satisfy the judgment. If the debtor does not pay within 30 days, the judgment creditor may contact the sheriff's office to begin the collections process.

Before they begin the execution process, judgment creditors may conduct post-judgment discovery. This process allows them to determine what assets the judgment debtor has.

Then, they may apply for a writ of execution, which allows the sheriff to seize the debtor's non-exempt property. The sheriff's office may then sell the property to satisfy the judgment.

The judgment creditor may also apply for a writ of garnishment. If the court allows it, the writ allows the creditor to garnish the debtor's wages. Wage garnishment occurs when one's employer withholds money from each paycheck. The employer typically pays this money to the court, and the court distributes the money to the creditor.

Once the judgment debtor satisfies the judgment, the judgment creditor must file a Satisfaction of Judgment form with the clerk of court.

Contact an Attorney

Small claims cases often involve relatively minor legal disputes and amounts of money. However, these cases may involve complicated questions of law, fact, or procedure. If you are involved in a small claims case, consider looking into obtaining the assistance of an attorney. An experienced attorney can provide you with helpful legal advice, such as:

  • Specific information about your small claims case and possible litigation strategies
  • The strengths and weaknesses of the opposing party's case, whether they sue you or you are suing them
  • Specific information about appeals from the District Court to the Supreme Court
  • Whether the North Dakota small claims court can hear your case if the defendant resides in another state, like Minnesota or South Dakota

If you have a small claims case or received notice of a case filed against you, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you.

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