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South Carolina Small Claims Courts

The small claims courts in South Carolina help litigants quickly and inexpensively resolve civil disputes. The Magistrate Courts act as small claims courts throughout the state. In general, you cannot file a claim in the Magistrate Court if it exceeds $7,500, except in some landlord-tenant cases.

The following links provide more information and self-help resources for parties involved in a small claims case:

  • Magistrate Small Claims Court: The South Carolina Bar Association provides information about small claims court rules and procedures.
  • Magistrate Courts FAQ: The South Carolina Judicial Branch answers frequently asked questions (FAQ) regarding Magistrate Courts and the small claims court process.
  • County Court Directory: The South Carolina Judicial Branch provides an interactive map of each county to help parties find the correct courthouse for their legal issue.
  • Court Forms: The South Carolina Judicial Branch provides the necessary court forms for your legal dispute.
  • Beaufort Small Claims Overview: Beaufort County provides a summary of the small claims process and a blank Complaint form.
  • S.C. Code 22-3-10: This link provides the laws governing the Magistrate Courts in South Carolina.

This article summarizes South Carolina's small claims courts, providing information about the Magistrate Courts and the types of cases over which it has jurisdiction. It discusses filing a small claims case and how to respond to a small claims case. It also answers questions and offers information about the small claims court hearing and how to enforce a judgment.

South Carolina Small Claims Court Explained

As noted above, the Magistrate Courts handle small claims cases in South Carolina. The state does not have a small claims court. Instead, the Magistrate Courts have jurisdiction over certain civil claims that do not exceed $7,500.

Along with the jurisdictional limit of $7,500, the Magistrate Courts have concurrent jurisdiction over specific civil claims. In general, they may adjudicate civil cases involving money, landlord-tenant disputes, and the recovery of personal property.

For example, the Magistrate Court may hear the following types of claims:

The Magistrate Court cannot hear the following types of claims:

A complete list of disputes the Magistrate Court may hear can be found in South Carolina's Code of Laws.

The Magistrate Court uses informal rules of procedure compared to a Court of Common Pleas. The informality allows many litigants to represent themselves instead of hiring an attorney. Parties may hire attorneys if they wish.

How To File a Small Claims Case

The plaintiff, who is the person or entity filing the lawsuit, begins their small claims case by filing a Complaint in an appropriate Magistrate Court. The Complaint form is available online or at the courthouse. The Complaint contains the following information:

  • The parties' names and addresses
  • A brief description of the plaintiff's claim
  • The amount of money or other relief the plaintiff claims

The court will charge the plaintiff a filing fee. The filing fee varies depending on the county where the plaintiff files their small claims action. The judge may waive the filing fee if the plaintiff shows they cannot afford it. A plaintiff who wishes to waive the filing fee must fill out a Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis and file an affidavit stating they cannot afford the fee.

The plaintiff may attach any documents to support their claim. For example, if they claim the defendant failed to perform a contractual obligation, they could include a copy of the contract. If they allege the defendant damaged their property, they could include photographs of the damaged property.

The clerk of court can provide procedural help to a plaintiff filing a claim, such as helping you fill out and make a copy of the Complaint. However, they cannot give legal advice. If you need legal help filing your claim, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you.

Where and When To File

The plaintiff must file their claim in a Magistrate Court with jurisdiction over the defendant. More often than not, this means the plaintiff must file their claim in the county where the defendant lives. Other proper venues include the following:

  • If the defendant is a business, the county where the business has its principal place of business
  • The county where the cause of action arose (e.g., if the dispute involves a contract where the defendant agreed to perform a service, the plaintiff may file in the county where the defendant was to perform said service)

All civil claims in South Carolina have a statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is a legal rule that specifies when someone must file their claim. State law sets the statute of limitations for each civil claim, and the time limits vary between claims.

For example, a plaintiff filing a contract dispute or personal injury claim must file it within three years of the alleged breach or harm. Read FindLaw's article on South Carolina's Statute of Limitations Laws for more information.

Serving the Defendant - The Service of Process

Once the plaintiff files their claim, they must serve notice of the lawsuit on every defendant they sue. This means they must ensure the defendant receives a copy of the Complaint, any attachments to the Complaint, and a Summons.

Plaintiffs have four options to serve the defendant:

  • They may contact the county sheriff's office and pay them a fee to serve the defendant. The sheriff will give the plaintiff an affidavit after they serve the defendant.
  • They may hire a private process server to serve the defendant personally. The plaintiff can expect to pay a service fee to the process server. The process server will give the plaintiff an affidavit once they serve the defendant.
  • They may send the documents to the defendant via certified mail with a return receipt requested. Once the plaintiff receives the return receipt, they must complete a notarized affidavit, file the affidavit, and return receipt with the court.
  • If the plaintiff cannot serve the defendant using the above methods, they may serve the defendant by publication. First, the plaintiff must file a Petition for Order by Publication with the court. If the court allows this service method, the plaintiff must contact an appropriate news publication (e.g., the county newspaper). The plaintiff must publish a notice in the newspaper that notifies the defendant they have tried to serve them using the sheriff's office, a private process server, and certified mail. For more information, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney.

Failing to serve the defendant will delay the plaintiff's case. Therefore, a plaintiff must serve all defendants in their case properly.

Responding to a Small Claims Court Case

A defendant who receives notice of a small claims lawsuit against them must respond to the lawsuit. In most cases, they must respond to the Summons and Complaint within 30 days of receiving notice. The court will serve the plaintiff with notice of the Answer.

To respond, the defendant files an Answer with the court. The Answer explains the defendant's position in the case. The defendant may also appear at the courthouse and explain their position.

If the defendant does not provide an Answer to the court within 30 days, the court may enter a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor. This often means the plaintiff wins their case, and the defendant must pay the plaintiff's claim or perform the requested actions.

If the defendant has claims against the plaintiff, they may file a counterclaim. For example, if the defendant alleges the plaintiff damaged their property or owes them money, they may file a counterclaim. The plaintiff does not need to file a response to a counterclaim.

The Magistrate Court generally cannot hear a counterclaim if it exceeds $7,500. The defendant can choose to file a counterclaim exceeding $7,500 in the Magistrate Court, but they waive their ability to recover any money over $7,500. In addition, the $7,500 limit does not apply to counterclaims filed in a landlord-tenant case or disputes over the possession of land.

Before the Trial

The court will notify all parties of their Magistrate Court trial date. All parties must attend the small claims court trial.

If the defendant does not appear at the trial, the court may enter a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff. If the plaintiff does not appear, the court may dismiss their case. If the defendant files a counterclaim and the plaintiff does not appear, the court may enter a default judgment in the defendant's favor.

The parties may gather evidence to present at the small claims trial. This may include gathering relevant documents, such as contracts or leases. It may also involve talking to potential witnesses and asking them to testify at the trial.

If a witness informs a party they will not appear at the trial, a party may subpoena them. A subpoena is a court order requiring someone to appear in court or produce documents or information.

The parties may attempt to settle their case before the scheduled small claims court trial. If the parties settle their case, they must inform the court clerk.

If either party wants a jury trial, they may request one at least five days before the scheduled trial.

The Small Claims Trial

On the day of trial, the plaintiff will present their case first. This may involve an opening statement, introducing evidence, and calling witnesses to testify. When the plaintiff finishes presenting their case, the defendant will present their side.

A Magistrate Judge presides over the small claims trial unless a party requests a jury trial. When the parties finish presenting their arguments, either the Magistrate Judge or the jury will issue their decision or verdict following the trial's conclusion. The court will send a judgment (the court's final decision) to all the parties.


If either party disagrees with the small claims court's judgment, they may appeal it. A county Circuit Court will review the case on appeal. To appeal, they must file a Notice of Civil Appeal form in the Circuit Court where the Magistrate Court is located. The time limit to file an appeal is 30 days from the judgment's date. The court will charge a $150 filing fee.

Either party may file a request for a new trial. They must file their request within five days of receiving notice of the judgment.

Unlike the Magistrate Court, the Circuit Court follows formal rules of evidence and procedure. Consider contacting a civil litigation attorney if you are considering filing an appeal.

Satisfying a Judgment

The person or entity that prevails in their small claims case must collect the judgment from the non-prevailing party. The court will not collect the judgment for you.

If the losing party does not pay the judgment, the prevailing party may file an Execution of Judgment with the court. The court clerk must sign the Execution of Judgment and the plaintiff must serve it on the defendant. They can contact the Division of the Sheriff's Office or the Civil Service Department to serve the defendant.

Once the non-prevailing party satisfies the judgment, they must file a Satisfaction of Judgment form with the court.

Contact an Attorney

While the small claims court process allows parties to represent themselves, they may hire attorneys if they wish. An attorney can provide helpful legal advice such as the following:

  • General information about contract law or personal injury lawsuits
  • Specific information and strategies for your claim
  • Appellate procedure and how to prepare for an appeal
  • How to properly file documents and serve a defendant

If you are involved in a small claims case, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you.

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