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Vermont Small Claims Courts

In Vermont, the civil division of the Superior Court handles small claims cases. Small claims cases are civil claims where the amount in dispute does not exceed $10,000. Vermont designed its small claims courts to allow litigants to pursue and defend against claims without hiring an attorney. Parties may hire attorneys if they wish.

The following links provide information and self-help resources that litigants may find useful during their small claims case:

This article provides an in-depth explanation of Vermont's small claims courts. For more information, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you.

Vermont Small Claims Courts Explained

The small claims court in Vermont offers parties a quick and inexpensive way to resolve their legal issues. The informality of the small claims courts allows many parties to proceed pro se rather than hiring an attorney. Parties may hire attorneys at their own expense if they so desire.

The court may only hear certain civil claims. In general, the small claims court may only hear civil claims where the plaintiff claims money. It cannot order someone to do or stop doing something.

The small claims court can only award up to $10,000 in a single case. Plaintiffs may file a claim exceeding $10,000 but they waive their right to recover any money over $10,000.

The court may hear the following types of cases where the plaintiff seeks money, among others:

The small claims court may not hear the following types of cases:

The small claims court also cannot adjudicate a dispute arising out of a consumer credit transaction or involving medical debt if the amount in dispute exceeds $5,000.

A plaintiff can't request a jury trial, but a defendant may request a jury trial. A judge will decide your small claims case unless the defendant requests a jury trial.

How To File a Small Claims Case

A plaintiff begins their small claims case by filing a Small Claims Complaint in an appropriate county Superior Court. The Complaint is available online or at the courthouse. The Complaint identifies the following information:

  • All parties to the case and their contact information
  • A brief description of the events giving rise to the plaintiff's claim
  • The legal basis for the plaintiff's claim
  • The amount of money the plaintiff claims

The plaintiff must pay a filing fee when they file their Complaint. The fee amount varies based on the amount of money the plaintiff claims. The plaintiff may file a fee waiver if they cannot afford the filing fee. If they win their case, the court may award them their filing fees and other court costs.

Once the plaintiff files their Complaint and pays the filing fee, the court clerk will give it back to them with a docket number and a Summons.

Plaintiffs may file their forms via email, mail, or in person. The court clerk can provide general information about filing the Complaint. They cannot, however, provide legal advice.

Where and When To File

The plaintiff has to file their Complaint in a county court with jurisdiction over the defendant. This often means they must file in the county where the defendant lives. In some cases, they may file the case in the county where their cause of action arose.

If the plaintiff does not file the Complaint in an appropriate venue, the court may not hear the case. This means the plaintiff may have to file their case again, which will cost them additional fees and time.

Each civil claim has a statute of limitations, which is a deadline to file the case. The court can only hear the case if the plaintiff files it within the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations varies between claims. Read FindLaw's article on Vermont's Civil Statute of Limitations Laws for more information.

Serving the Defendant

After filing their claim, the plaintiff must ensure the defendant receives notice of the lawsuit. This process involves sending the following small claims forms to the defendant within seven days of filing their Complaint:

  • The Small Claims Complaint and any attachments
  • The Summons
  • Small Claims Information and Instructions for Defendant
  • A blank Small Claims Answer Form
  • A blank Disclosure of Exempt Income
  • A filled-out Certificate of Service form

The plaintiff has several options to serve the defendant. The most common ways to serve a defendant include the following:

  • They can mail the forms to the defendant via first-class mail. If they choose this option, they must also mail a copy of the Certificate of Service to the court.
  • If the defendant does not respond by filing an Answer within 30 days of the date the plaintiff sent the first-class mail, the plaintiff must then contact the sheriff's office and pay a service fee to have them serve the defendant. The sheriff has 30 days to serve the defendant. If they cannot effect service within that time frame, the plaintiff must request a 30-day extension from the court.

Failing to serve the defendant properly often results in the court dismissing the plaintiff's case. If the defendant does not respond to either service method, the plaintiff may request a default judgment from the court. If the court grants it, the plaintiff wins their case.

Responding to a Small Claims Case

A defendant who receives notice of a small claims case filed against them must respond within 30 days of service. To do so, the defendant must fill out the Answer form that the plaintiff served on them.

If the defendant agrees with the plaintiff's claims, they can check the "Agree" box on the Answer form. If they agree but cannot afford to pay the claim in full, they can request to pay it in installments. They must then file the Answer with the court.

If the defendant disputes the plaintiff's claims, they can check the "Disagree" box on the Answer form. They also must describe why they disagree with the plaintiff's claims. Once they file their Answer, the court will schedule a small claims hearing.

A defendant may have claims against the plaintiff. If so, they can check the "Counterclaim" box on the Answer form. The claim must relate in some way to the plaintiff's original claim(s).

If the counterclaim exceeds $10,000, the defendant may file the claim in small claims court. By doing so, they waive the ability to collect any amount over $10,000. They can choose to file their claim in a Superior Court instead.

The defendant must serve the Answer form on the plaintiff. They can use the same service methods described in the above section.

The defendant must also complete a Disclosure of Exempt Income form and file it with their Answer. These financial disclosures inform the plaintiff about the defendant's assets and whether they can satisfy a potential judgment in the plaintiff's favor.

If the defendant does not file an Answer, the court may enter a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor. This means the plaintiff wins the case, and the court will enter a judgment for the plaintiff's claimed amount. In other words, the defendant will have to pay the plaintiff's claimed amount, along with their filing and service fees. To avoid this, a defendant should file an Answer with the court.

Before the Small Claims Hearing

All small claims court case parties should plan to appear at the scheduled hearing. The court may dismiss the plaintiff's case if they do not appear for the hearing. The court may enter a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor if the defendant does not attend the hearing.

If a party knows they have a scheduling conflict, they must request a continuation from the court. They may file and serve the following forms to request a continuance to a later date:

  • Motion to Resolve Scheduling Conflict
  • Stipulation/Motion for Continuance

Before the small claims hearing, the parties may communicate and try to resolve their dispute. If they settle the case, they should inform the court clerk at once.

If the parties plan to proceed to trial, they may secure evidence and witnesses to bring to trial. A party may issue a subpoena if a potential witness indicates they will not attend the hearing. A subpoena is a court order compelling someone to attend a court proceeding or produce certain information.

The Small Claims Hearing

A judge will preside over the scheduled small claims hearing. Due to the informal court rules and procedures of the small claims court, the judge may take a more active role in the case. For example, they can ask questions of the parties and any witnesses that may testify.

The plaintiff has the burden of proof in their case. This means they must prove to the judge that the defendant is liable for the money claimed. If a defendant files a counterclaim, the defendant has the burden of proof regarding the counterclaim.

The plaintiff will present their arguments and evidence first on the day of the hearing. This may include introducing contracts, photographs, or other evidence into the record. They may also call witnesses to testify. If a party calls a witness to testify, the other party can cross-examine them.

Once the plaintiff rests their case, the defendant presents their arguments and evidence. If they filed a counterclaim, they will present their evidence about that as well.

The judge may announce their decision after the conclusion of the hearing or at a later date if they so choose. The court will also issue a judgment to the parties.

Satisfying the Judgment

The party that is owed money is the judgment creditor. The party who owes money is the judgment debtor. The court will not collect money for the creditor. It is the creditor's responsibility to collect money from the debtor.

The debtor usually has 30 days to satisfy the judgment. The parties may work out a payment method that works for them. Once the debtor fully pays the creditor, the creditor must file a Notification By Plaintiff (Judgment Creditor) Judgment Has Been Paid in Full form.

If the debtor does not pay the creditor, the creditor has several options for enforcing the judgment. These options include the following:

  • The creditor may request a Financial Disclosure Hearing to identify assets the debtor has to satisfy the judgment.
  • The creditor may garnish the debtor's wages. A wage garnishment requires the creditor to name the debtor's employer as a trustee. This method requires the creditor to file several documents with the court, including a Trustee Summons and a Motion for Trustee Process. If the court grants the motion, the employer will withhold money from the debtor's paychecks until the judgment is satisfied.
  • The creditor may obtain a lien on the debtor's real property located in Vermont. If the debtor sells the property, the creditor may use the sale's proceeds to satisfy the judgment.

Collecting money owed due to a judgment involves complicated procedures. Read the Vermont Judiciary's article, Collecting a Small Claims Judgment, for more information. Consider contacting a civil litigation attorney for help.

Contact an Attorney for Help

The small claims courts allow plaintiffs a quick and inexpensive way to pursue their civil actions. Your case may involve complicated questions of law or fact. If you are involved in a small claims case, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you for legal advice.

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