Getting Your Case Filed
To begin a case in Small Claims Court, the first step is filing the correct paperwork.
You can ask the clerk if there is a form or forms which should be completed, and whether they can send them to you or whether you can pick them up from the clerk's office. When you pick them up, be sure to get one or two extras in the event you make a mistake. Also, make sure you have enough forms in the event there is more than one defendant. [Ask the clerk].
Usually the first form you file will be called a petition or a complaint. It is usually easy to understand. You must follow all of the directions and you usually must complete all of the blanks. You cannot rely on the court to provide any information. For example, they will not know your address, or zip code, and they will not usually look it up. Also, they will not look up the address of a defendant. Nor will they assume anything.
If you do not complete the form properly and do the "leg work " yourself, you may end up taking a day off of work and go into court at the time you thought your case was ready, only to find that you did not provide the proper information and you have to take another day off later.
If you are suing a defendant and that defendant is a person, you must sue him or her in their full name, or any name by which you know them. The court must be able to identify the defendant, and you must be able to show the court the defendant is the proper party.
If the defendant is a business, you may have to research the business to find out its full name, the officers, the type of business and their offices and addresses. If the business is a sole proprietorship, you should sue the business and the owner [2 defendants.] If it is a partnership, you should sue the partnership and all of the partners [or at least several main partners.] If it is a corporation, you must sue the corporation and you might want to sue the person(s) with whom you dealt. [For certain legal reasons, which take a lengthy explanation, the court may not allow you to sue a person individually, if they work for a corporation.]
When in doubt, the rule is you must sue all the people who caused you this problem. In a neighbor dispute, you must sue the landowner, and any tenants, if the neighbor is renting. In a car accident for minor damages to property you must sue the driver of the car and car owner, and all cars who are involved who may have caused the problem to your car. [For major damage or injury call our toll-free 800 Legal Hotline for the number of your Plan Attorney]
One word about completing the paperwork. Most Small Claims Courts have small claims advisors and you should call them to answer questions. Your Plan Attorneys, and any other attorneys are generally not allowed to practice law in Small Claims and thus, they cannot assist in filling out the paperwork either. Do not call the 800 line to ask a plan attorney to help you fill out paperwork. She/he cannot because State Bar Ethical Rules usually define completing forms as the "practice of law."
Points to Remember:
- Get the right forms from the Small Claims Court. Be sure to get extra forms in case you make a mistake or there is more than one defendant.
- Some fees are required to file a suit. Be prepared to pay them when you file.
- Follow all of the directions and complete all of the blanks on the forms.
- Give the court the full name of each defendant, complete address, and phone number.
- When in doubt, sue all of the people who caused you the problem.
- Call the Small Claims Court if you have questions about the paperwork.