«A GUIDE TO SMALL CLAIMS IN THE NYS CITY, TOWN AND VILLAGE COURTS JUDITH S. KAYE JONATHAN LIPPMAN CHIEF JUDGE CHIEF ADMINISTRATIVE JUDGE Back Cover A ...»
N E W Y O R K S TAT E U N I F I E D C O U R T S Y S T E M
A GUIDE TO
NYS CITY, TOWN
AND VILLAGE COURTS
JUDITH S. KAYE JONATHAN LIPPMAN
CHIEF JUDGE CHIEF ADMINISTRATIVE JUDGEBack Cover
A GUIDE SMALL CLAIMS COURTTO
TABLE CONTENTSOF What is Small Claims Court?.................................. 2 Who can use Small Claims Court?............................. 2 Where are the Small Claims Courts Located?.................... 3 How do I Start a Small Claims Case?........................... 3 Must I Know the Defendant’s Correct Name?.................. 4 What is a Counterclaim?
Can I Change the Date of my Hearing?
How do I Ask for an Adjournment?
What Should I Do on the Day of My Hearing?.................. 6 What Should I Do When My Case is Called?
Should I Choose a Judge or an Arbitrator?..................... 6 Can I Demand a Jury Trial?.................................. 8 Preparing for Hearing/Trial
How is a Hearing/Trial Conducted?
Disclosure of Assets....................................... 10 What Happens if one Party Does Not Appear?................. 10 What Happens if there is a Settlement........................ 10 What Happens when there is a Decison or Judgment?.......... 11 Can I Appeal the Decision?................................. 11
Collecting your Judgment:
What do I do if I Win a Judgment?.......................... 12 How can I Collect my Judgment?............................ 12 What is an Enforcement Officer?............................. 12 Locating Assets........................................... 13 What if the Judgment Debtor owns Real Estate?............... 14 How Much will I have to Pay the Enforcement Officer?.......... 15 Are there any Other Ways to make a Judgment Debtor Pa
WHAT IS SMALL CLAIMS COURT?The Small Claims Court is an informal court where individuals can sue for money only, up to $3,000 in Town or Village Courts, and $5,000 in City Courts, without a lawyer. If you have a claim for damages for more than $3,000 / 5,000 you cannot separate it into two or more claims to meet the $3,000 / 5,000 limit.
If you believe that a person or business damaged something you own, you may sue that person or business for the monetary amount of your damages. You cannot sue in Small Claims Court to force a person or business to perform a task, such as to fix a damaged item, or to fulfill a promise made in an advertisement. The court may not order the return of a personal item. Your lawsuit may be for money only.
You may sue a municipality (i.e., a town, village, city or county), public benefit corporation, school district or school district public library in Small Claims Court. However, the law requires you to notify the municipality of your intention to sue. Notice must be given to the municipality within 90 days after the occurrence of the incident that is the subject of your suit. If you do not notify the municipality within 90 days of the incident, your case may be dismissed.
You must bring your claim in the municipality (or, if it’s a city court action, in the county) in which the person or entity you are suing resides, or has an office for the transaction of business or regular employment.
WHO CAN USE SMALL CLAIMS COURT?Anyone 18 years of age or over can sue in Small Claims Court. If you are younger than 18, your parent or guardian may sue on your behalf. Generally, corporations, partnerships, associations, or assignees cannot sue in Small Claims Court.1 They can, however, be sued in Small Claims Court. A corporation may authorize an attorney, officer, director, or employee of the corporation to appear on its behalf to defend an action.
The party who brings the suit in Small Claims Court is referred to as the “Claimant” or the “Plaintiff”. The party that is being sued is referred to as the “Defendant”.
Any corporation, including a municipal corporation or public benefit corporation, partnership, or association, which has its principal office in the State of New York, or an assignee of any commercial claim, may file a claim in Commercial Claims Court. Commercial Claims Courts are located in the New York City Civil Court, in all city courts, and in the district courts in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Consult your telephone book for the address and phone number of your local court, and call that local court for information.
2 A GUIDE TO SMALL CLAIMS COURTIf you are sued and you believe that someone else (a third party) is responsible for the claim, you may be able to bring that party into the lawsuit as a defendant. Contact the Small Claims Court for information about starting a “Third Party Action”.
Most Small Claims Courts have a clerk who can assist you with the procedures for bringing your lawsuit. In those town or village courts that do not have clerks, the judge may assist you. When this booklet mentions the clerk, but the court you are using does not have a clerk, you should seek the assistance of a judge.
Because the small claims procedures are informal, you do not need an attorney to represent you. You may, however, choose to hire an attorney to represent you. If there are attorneys on both sides, the case may be transferred to a regular civil part of the court.
WHERE ARE THE SMALL CLAIMS COURTS LOCATED?There is a Small Claims Court in every city, town2 and village located in New York State.
Consult your telephone book for the address and phone number of your local court and call that local court for information.
HOW DO I START A SMALL CLAIMS CASE?You or, if you suffer from an illness or infirmity, someone on your behalf, must go to the Small Claims Court to file a statement of your claim. The court will provide the necessary forms.
The statement should be brief. It should include a description of the incident that is the basis for your claim, including all important names and dates. If you are suing over a contract or for property damage, you may claim interest as well as damages.
In a Town or Village Court, if your claim is $1,000 or less, you will be required to pay a $10 filing fee. If your claim is for more than $1,000, you will be required to pay a $15 filing fee. In a City Court, if your claim is $1,000 or less, you will be required to pay a $15 filing fee. If your claim is for more than $1,000, you will be required to pay a $20 filing fee. The fees are payable at the time of filing.
The clerk will provide the date and time of the small claims hearing. The clerk will “serve” the notice of claim by mailing it to the defendant. The notice informs the defendant when and where In Nassau County and the western part of Suffolk County, towns are served by district courts, which have Small Claims Courts.
N EW YO R K S TAT E U N I F I E D C O U RT S Y S T E Mto appear for the hearing, and gives the reason for the claim and the amount of the claim. The notice will be mailed to the defendant by certified mail and by ordinary first-class mail. If the notice sent by first-class mail is not returned by the post office within 21 days as undeliverable, the defendant is deemed to be served, even if the notice sent by certified mail has not been delivered.
If the post office cannot deliver the notice of your claim (for example, the defendant may have moved without leaving a forwarding address), and you believe that the defendant remains within the jurisdiction of the court, the court will give you a new hearing date and may instruct you on how to arrange for personal delivery of the notice to the defendant.
The hearing cannot take place until the defendant has been served with the notice of claim.
If the notice of claim cannot be served on the defendant within four months after the claim has been filed, the claim will be dismissed. However, if you learn new information about the defendant’s location at a later date, you can file your claim again.
MUST I KNOW THE DEFENDANT’S CORRECT NAME?When you file your small claim, you must provide the name and place of residence or place of business or employment of the person or business you want to sue. You may obtain the correct or “legal” name of a business by contacting the office of the County Clerk in the county where the business is located.
If, after you have filed your papers, you discover that the defendant has a “legal” name that you did not use, you may return to the Small Claims Court and have the papers changed to state the correct name of the defendant.
WHAT IS A COUNTERCLAIM?A "counterclaim" is a claim filed against you by the defendant —a countersuit. The counterclaim must be for money only. The amount of the counterclaim cannot be more than $3,000 in Town or Village Court or $5,000 in City Court. Any counterclaim for more than $3,000 must be brought in another part of the court or in a different court having the needed jurisdiction.
The defendant is required to file his or her counterclaim with the court within five days of receiving the notice of claim and must
4 A GUIDE TO SMALL CLAIMS COURTpay the court fee of $3 for actions brought in a Town or a Village Court, or $5 for actions brought in a City Court, plus the cost of mailing the counterclaim to you. If the defendant fails to file a counterclaim within the five-day period, the defendant may still file a claim up until the time of the hearing. The judge then may either proceed with the hearing or adjourn the hearing for a period no longer than 20 days or as soon thereafter as may be practicable.
However, if the defendant did not file the counterclaim within the five-day period, the judge must adjourn the hearing to a later date if you ask the judge to postpone the hearing because you believe you are not prepared to defend against the counterclaim. In some cases, the judge might decide to delay the hearing even if you do not ask for a postponement.
You have the right to reply to a counterclaim but are not required to do so.
If you receive notice of a counterclaim with enough time before the date of your hearing, be prepared to present your claim and also defend against the counterclaim on the day of your hearing.
CAN I CHANGE THE DATE OF MY HEARING?If you are seeking to postpone the date of your hearing or other court procedure, you are seeking an “adjournment.” Only the court may decide if an adjournment is to be granted. Adjournments in the Small Claims Court are discouraged, since the purpose of Small Claims Court is to have cases quickly decided.
HOW DO I ASK FOR AN ADJOURNMENT?If you are going to ask for an adjournment, you should notify the court by mail before the scheduled date of your hearing. Also, you should mail a copy of your letter to the other party. If on the day of the hearing you find you cannot attend or are not prepared to present your case, either you or someone else on your behalf should appear in the Small Claims Court to explain to the judge why you need an adjournment.
If you do not have a good excuse, your request for an adjournment may be denied. If your request for an adjournment is denied and you are not ready to start your hearing, your small claim may be dismissed. If you are the defendant and you do not appear at your hearing, the judge may award the claimant a judgment against you based only upon evidence provided by the claimant (a default judgment).
N EW YO R K S TAT E U N I F I E D C O U RT S Y S T E M
WHAT SHOULD I DO ON THE DAY OF MY HEARING?On the day of your hearing, you should arrive at the courthouse at least 15 minutes before the Small Claims Court session begins.
When you arrive at the courthouse, look for a Small Claims Court calendar or for a clerk or court officer to assist you. Usually, the calendar is posted outside the courtroom. Your case will be listed by your last name and by the last name of the defendant. If your case is not listed on the Small Claims Court calendar, or if a calendar is not posted outside the courtroom, speak to the court clerk; if there is no clerk present, speak to the judge. In some courts, the clerk may check names as people arrive; in others, you must wait until the case is called.
If a claimant does not arrive at the courthouse on time, the claimant's case may be dismissed. If the defendant does not arrive at the courthouse on time, the judge may hear and decide the case based only on evidence provided by the claimant (a default judgment).
Court rules require that the judge wait at least one hour before holding a hearing or entering a judgment in favor of the claimant.