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West Virginia Small Claims Courts

In West Virginia, the Magistrate Courts handle small claims cases. Small claims cases in West Virginia are civil actions where the amount in dispute does not exceed $10,000. The Magistrate Courts follow informal court rules, allowing parties to represent themselves instead of hiring attorneys. However, parties may hire attorneys if they so desire.

The following links provide additional information about filing a small claims case in West Virginia:

This article describes the small claims process in West Virginia. If you need legal advice in your small claims case, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you.

West Virginia Small Claims Explained

West Virginia does not technically have a small claims court. Instead, its Magistrate Courts hear small claims cases. A small claims court case involves a civil dispute where the plaintiff (the person or entity filing the lawsuit) files a claim for money.

Magistrate Courts cannot award more than $10,000 in a small claims case. The plaintiff may seek money owed or the value of property or services they believe the defendant owes them. The Magistrate Court cannot order someone to do something, like finish painting your house. They also cannot order someone to stop doing something.

The Magistrate Court can hear the following types of civil cases where the plaintiff seeks monetary damages, among others:

The Magistrate Court cannot hear the following types of cases, among others:

Any adult, business, or corporation may file a small claims case in the Magistrate Court.

How To File a Small Claims Case

The plaintiff begins their small claims case by filing a civil complaint form with the clerk of the court. The plaintiff must fill out the complaint and include the following information:

  • Each party's name, address, and contact information
  • The amount of their claim
  • A brief description of the cause of action and why they believe the defendant is liable for the claimed amount

If the plaintiff's claim exceeds $20, they may request a jury trial instead of a bench trial.

The court will charge the plaintiff a filing fee when they file their civil complaint. The filing fee varies depending on the amount of the plaintiff's claim. If the plaintiff prevails on their claim, the court may award them the filing fee and other court costs as part of the judgment.

If the plaintiff cannot afford the filing fee, they may request a fee waiver from the court.

Where and When To File

A plaintiff must file their small claims case in a court with jurisdiction over the defendant. According to West Virginia law, the following counties may serve as a proper venue, among others:

  • Where any defendant lives
  • Where the cause of action arose
  • If the plaintiff files their claim against a corporation, the county where the business has its principal place of business or where its president or chief officer lives

Most often, a plaintiff filing the case must file it in the county where the defendant lives. If the plaintiff files their claim in court that does not have jurisdiction over the defendant, the court will likely not hear the case. This may require the plaintiff to file their case in another county courthouse.

Anyone with a civil claim must file it within the statute of limitations. State law determines the statute of limitations, and they vary between claims. The court cannot hear the case if you do not file your claim within the statute of limitations. Read FindLaw's article on West Virginia Civil Statute of Limitations Laws for more specific information.

Serving the Defendant

The plaintiff must serve all defendants with notice of the small claims case. This is known as the service of process. Failing to serve a defendant properly may lead to extra time and expense in your case. The court will dismiss the plaintiff's case if they do not serve the defendant(s) within six months of filing their case.

Once the plaintiff files their civil complaint and pays the filing fee, they can ask the court clerk to mail the documents to the defendant. The clerk will charge a service fee and send the documents via certified mail.

The plaintiff may also deliver the complaint and other small claims court forms to the sheriff. The sheriff's office will charge a fee to serve the documents on the defendant(s). Ask the court clerk about which documents you need to bring to the sheriff if you choose this option.

It is the plaintiff's responsibility to ensure all the defendants receive notice of the case. If the plaintiff does not receive a notice from the court that the defendant filed an answer to the complaint, they should contact the court clerk and ask if the sheriff served the defendant.

If the sheriff is unable to serve the defendant, the plaintiff may contact a private process server to see if they can serve the defendant.

Responding to a Small Claims Case

A defendant must file an answer to the plaintiff's civil complaint, whether or not they agree with the plaintiff's claims. They must file the answer within 20 days of receiving the summons and complaint. They can file their answer with the court clerk.

If the defendant admits to the plaintiff's claims, they can check a box on the answer form indicating as such.

If the defendant disagrees with the plaintiff's claims, they can check a box on the answer form indicating their denial of the claim. They may also present their arguments and defenses on the answer form.

A defendant who has claims against the plaintiff may also file a counterclaim. The counterclaim cannot exceed the Magistrate Court's jurisdictional limits. In other words, the claim must request money from the plaintiff, and it cannot exceed $10,000. They can file their counterclaim along with their answer.

The defendant must serve the other parties with a copy of the answer and counterclaim. They can use the service methods described in the Serving the Defendant section above. Contact the clerk's office for more information about serving parties.

If the defendant receives notice of the lawsuit and does not respond within 20 days, the plaintiff may request a default judgment. If the court grants a default judgment, they will win their case and the defendant may have to pay all of the plaintiff's claims. If the defendant does not file an answer and the plaintiff does not move for a default judgment in six months, the court will dismiss the plaintiff's case.

Before the Small Claims Trial

Once the defendant files an answer, the court will schedule a small claims court trial on its docket. The court will mail a notification of the trial to the parties.

All parties should plan on appearing in court for the scheduled trial. Failing to appear may have a significant effect on your case. If the plaintiff does not appear, the court may dismiss their case. The court may enter a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor if the defendant does not appear.

Either party may request to remove the case from the Magistrate Court to the Circuit Court. If a defendant has a counterclaim that exceeds $10,000, they may request to remove the case to recover more than $10,000.

A party may also request that the court continue the scheduled trial to a later date. A party must show good cause for the continuance.

In preparing for the small claims trial, parties may gather evidence to support their claims. For example, in a personal injury case, the injured party may make copies of medical records and bills to introduce at the trial. The parties may want to introduce copies of contracts, leases, or other relevant documents in a contract dispute.

Parties may also secure witnesses to testify at trial. They may also request a request a subpoena from the court to compel a witness to provide testimony at the trial.

The Small Claims Trial

The plaintiff has the burden of proof at trial. They must prove that the defendant is liable for the money the plaintiff claims. If the defendant filed a counterclaim, they have the burden of proof regarding it.

The plaintiff will present their arguments first. This may include presenting an opening statement, introducing evidence, and calling witnesses to testify before the court. If a party calls a witness to testify, the opposing party can cross-examine the witness. The defendant will present their defenses and evidence once the plaintiff rests their case.

The Magistrate Judge may issue their decision when the trial ends, or they may mail their judgment to the parties later.


Any party may appeal the Magistrate Court's judgment. To do so, they must file a Notice of Appeal with the Magistrate Court within 20 days of the judgment's issuance.

A Circuit Court will hear all appeals. If a Magistrate Judge decided your case, the Circuit Court will hold a new trial. If a jury decided your case, they will review the Magistrate Court's decision.

The Circuit Court is not as informal as the Magistrate Court. Therefore, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney if you plan to appeal a judgment.

Satisfying a Judgment

Suppose the court issues a money judgment in favor of the plaintiff. In that situation, the plaintiff is the judgment creditor, and the defendant is the judgment debtor. The judgment creditor must collect the money owed from the judgment debtor. The court will not collect the money for them.

The debtor typically has 20 days to satisfy the judgment (i.e., pay the creditor). If the debtor does not pay the creditor, the creditor may request the court's assistance in collecting the judgment. They have several options, including the following:

  • They may obtain a lien on the debtor's real estate. If the debtor sells the real estate, the creditor may use some of the proceeds to satisfy the judgment. A creditor may also file a motion in Circuit Court requesting an order to sell the property.
  • They may obtain a Writ of Execution, which allows the sheriff to seize certain property from the debtor and sell it at a public auction. The creditor may use the proceeds to satisfy the judgment.
  • They may obtain an order for a Suggestee Execution. When filed, the court clerk will direct the debtor's employer to withhold the debtor's wages, which the creditor can use then use to satisfy the judgment.

Consider contacting a civil litigation attorney if you do not know how to satisfy a judgment issued in your favor.

Contact an Attorney

Although small claims cases may involve a relatively small amount of money, they may involve complicated legal issues and questions of facts. Appealing or enforcing a judgment involves complex rules and filings. Consider contacting a civil litigation attorney near you for legal services in your small claims case.

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