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Small Claims...

The Process

Small Claims actions are like other civil lawsuits, except that they are handled in a somewhat less formal manner than regular civil cases on the court’s docket.   The statutes and court rules are more liberally construed to allow a layman to present his or her case, or defense, without the assistance of an attorney.

The maximum amount of a Small Claims judgment may not exceed $6,000.00 (excluding interest and court costs).

You are not required to have an attorney in a Small Claims action.  However, anyone may be represented by an attorney in Small Claims, and the court encourages all parties to consider legal representation. If you have any questions, you should consult an attorney of your own choice. 

COURT PERSONNEL ARE NOT PERMITTED TO GIVE YOU LEGAL ADVICE.

Judgments in Small Claims are in the form of money only.  For instance, a judge cannot order the return of specific property in a Small Claims action.

Certain types of cases may not proceed as Small Claims actions, including: those based on libel, slander, malicious prosecution, those seeking punitive or exemplary damages, those brought by an assignee or agent, and claims against agencies of the State of Ohio or against the United States government or its agencies.

You can file a Small Claims action in the Trumbull County Eastern Court District against another individual, company, or other entity, if:

To find the jurisdiction that your claim may be filed; if not able to file with Eastern Courts; CLICK HERE.

The Ohio Judicial Conference in cooperation with the Ohio State Bar Foundation has published “A Citizen's Guide to Small Claims” that presents an overview of the rules and procedures in small claims.  You can find this guide from your computer with internet access at www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/JCS/interpreterSvcs/forms/english/5.pdf.

How to File a Small Claims Action

You begin a Small Claims action by filing a formal statement of the claim with the Court.  You can obtain a copy of the complaint form at the Court, or can download a complaint form by clicking on: Small Claims Complaint Form and the Small Claims Information Sheet. Before you file the small claims with the court read Information for Filing a Small Claims Action. 

To initiate a Small Claims action you must provide the following:

1.) The full name and address of each defendant;
2.) The address where the defendant is to be served; and
3.) A short statement of the nature and details of the claim;
4.) The names and addresses of all of your witnesses;
5.) A statement of the amount of your claim, plus any interest claims;
6.) Filing fees of $46.00 for one defendant, plus $10.00 for each additional
defendant; IF you desire bailiff service, that fee will be $20.00 per person listed;
7.) Whether the defendant is on active military duty;
8.) You must sign the complaint in the presence of the clerk or notary
public.

Once the Small Claims complaint is filed, the information is entered into the Court’s Case Management System, a case number is assigned, and the Court: 

1.) Schedules a hearing on the claim approximately within 30 days (Small Claims are generally heard on Tuesdays); and
2.) Notifies the Defendant of the claim, and the hearing date and time by certified mail or personal service; if requested at the address supplied by the plaintiff.

Unlike regular Civil Actions, the defendant in Small Claims is not required to file a written response to the complaint.  Whether or not the defendant files a written answer, the defendant should appear at the scheduled hearing prepared to offer arguments, evidence and/or witnesses to defend against the claim.  If the defendant does not appear, it is likely that the court will issue a judgment against the defendant.

If the certified mail containing Defendant's copy of the complaint is returned as “unclaimed” or “refused,” then the court; upon payment of $8.00 will re-send complaint by ordinary mail. If the ordinary mail is also returned, then the court will not be able to proceed with the Small Claims trial, and will request that the plaintiff provide a better address for the defendant.

Before the Hearing:

Both parties must be prepared to present their case at the Small Claims hearing or trial.  Parties should collect their evidence (contracts, cancelled checks, bills, receipts, photographs, letters, etc.), contact their witnesses, and make written outlines of their cases to assist them in presenting their case or defense.

 At the Hearing:

Both parties will have the opportunity to present their claims and defenses, and any evidence which supports their arguments.  Please bring enough copies of your evidence (documents, pictures, etc.) to provide copies for yourself, the witnesses, the court, and opposing parties.

Make sure that your witnesses appear in person. With some very limited exceptions, written statements from persons not personally appearing in court cannot be accepted as evidence. 

As in all civil cases, a Small Claims plaintiff will be expected to present evidence of:

(1) Liability (wrongful conduct) of the defendant(s); and
(2) The proper amount of the damages resulting from that liability.

At the hearing, the Plaintiff presents his or her case first, then the Defendant. After hearing both sides, the Judge will issue a decision, or may state that the claim is "heard and submitted" and issue a written decision at a later date.

Continuances & Requests for Different Hearing Dates:

For significant reasons, a party may request a continuance (rescheduling) of a scheduled hearing or trial date. The fee for the continuance is $15.00 and is due when filing for the continuance. Mere inconvenience standing alone is not normally sufficient cause for a continuance.  Continuance Request Form.

A party requesting a continuance should do so well before the scheduled date, and should first attempt to secure the opposing party’s consent to the proposed continuance. 

Except in extraordinary circumstances, requests for continuances shall be made in writing, and a copy should be sent to the other party.

Disagreement with the Judgment - Appeal

If you feel the court has made a legal or factual error in arriving at its decision, you may appeal to the Ohio 11th District Court of Appeals.  Appeals must be filed within 30 days after the judgment which is being appealed was rendered. 

Representation by an attorney is very much recommended in an appeal, as much more strict compliance with all statutes and court rules will be required.  Furthermore, court employees are prohibited by law from offering legal advice or assistance. 

Cost for the appeal is $183.00.  Two checks are required. Make one check payable to Trumbull Eastern Court in the amount of $33.00. Make another check payable to Trumbull County Clerk of Courts in the amount of $150.00.  This is required when you are filing the appeal. 

http://clerk.co.trumbull.oh.us/appellate.htm is the link for the Court of Appeals.

Dismissal

If the Plaintiff decides to dismiss the action before the hearing, the following form should be filed with the court and a copy should be sent to the defendant: Voluntary Dismissal.

 Payment

After a decision is made awarding a monetary judgment, the issue of collecting or paying the judgment typically arises.  Absent a voluntary payment of the judgment, the successful party may wish to pursue other avenues to collect on the judgment, including:  Garnishment of wages or accounts; filing of a Judgment Lien; Debtor’s Examination; and/or Affidavit of Financial Status.

Garnishment

Garnishment is a common form of forcing payment of a judgment. The court orders the judgment debtor's (defendant’s) employer, bank, or other third party holding money belonging to the judgment debtor, to satisfy the judgment by paying from the judgment debtor's earnings or bank account to the court. The court then pays the judgment creditor.

There are limitations in garnishments, including: (1) If the funds in an account can be traced to certain types of exempt sources, such as social security payments or certain pensions, the garnishment may be disallowed; and (2) You may not garnish more than 25% of the net wages of the judgment debtor.

As is the case in the initial filing, the Plaintiff/Judgment Creditor is responsible to provide the names and addresses of Defendant/Judgment Debtor and the Garnishee (the third party holding the Judgment Debtor’s funds). The court cannot, and will not do this for you.

The forms for wages garnishment can be found at: Personal Earnings Garnishment. BEFORE a wage garnishment can be filed, plaintiff is required to file a 15 Day Notice of Court Proceedings to Collect Debt form with the defendant(s). How to Serve This Form and the 15 Day Notice Form are provided.

The forms for non-wage garnishments (such as banks) can be found at: Garnishment Non-wages.

The fee for Garnishment of Personal Earnings is $40.00.

The fee for Non-wage Garnishment is $40.00, plus a $1.00 check payable to the Bank, Credit Union, etc. which is being served.

Trusteeship 

Trusteeship was established by the State of Ohio Legislature (ORC 2329.70) to protect the garnishment of the debtor’s personal earnings. The trusteeship does not protect a creditor from the collection on a legal judgment via other means, such as bank garnishments or placing a lien on property.  It is a system where a person pays a percentage of their gross earnings, each pay period into the court to be prorated among their creditors.  Garnishment of wages will not be allowed by creditors stated in the trusteeship as long as the debtor makes regular payments into the trusteeship account established by the court. The court prorates the monies; then disburses the pro-rated amount to the creditors. The creditors cannot harass the debtor while they are in trusteeship. If you do not want to include some of your creditors; you can omit them.  If you forget one of your creditors you can add them. If any of the creditors are credit card companies; you will not be allowed to add any additional charges to those accounts. You will be required to surrender those cards to the court; where they will be disposed of.

To file for a trusteeship

You must have received a form “Notice of Court Proceeding to Collect Debt” mailed to you from this Court or any other Court in order to start the process.

You must live in the jurisdiction of the court or your employer must be within the jurisdiction of the court. To find the jurisdiction that your trusteeship may be filed within Trumbull County; CLICK HERE for JURISDICTION LISTING. You must get the form from the court or print the form from this site.  CLICK HERE FOR TRUSTEE APPLICATION AND CREDITOR LISTING.

Do not sign the application until you file it with the court.

If your application is approved by the Judge and the clerk of court is appointed trustee, it is your responsibility to make timely payments of 20% of your disposable earnings each pay period.  To determine your disposable earnings, deduct the following from your gross pay: Federal Income Tax, Social Security, Medicare, Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), State Teachers Retirement System (STRS), State Taxes, City Taxes, Child Support, IRS, and any other legally required deductions.

On the Application you must include the creditor that you have received the “Notice of Court Proceeding to Collect Debt”. You can include additional creditors that you owe monies to but have not received a Notice to Collect Debt. For all creditors; legal names, addresses, account numbers, and balance due are required. Bring the filled in form along with your two last pay stubs and cash or a money order for the first payment from your last pay stub; which is 20% of your disposable income. 

If you do not want to include some of your creditors; you can omit them.  If you forget one of your creditors you can add them after the trusteeship is accepted. CLICK HERE for MOTION TO AMEND STATEMENT AS TO CREDITORS. If any of the creditors are credit card companies; you will not be allowed to add any additional charges to those accounts. You will be required to surrender those cards to the court; where they will be disposed of. Bring the credit cards in with the application (if applicable).

There is a $65.00 filing fee which must be paid when the application is accepted at the court.

Since trusteeship is voluntary on both the debtor and creditor; if the creditor refuses to participate, they will not be allowed to garnishee you during the terms of the trusteeship. Contact the court 20 (twenty) days after the filing date to see if any creditor has refused to participate in the trusteeship.  If they contact you personally please keep the court informed. If the creditor does not refuse within the 20 days then they must abide by the rules of the trusteeship.

If you are a co-signer on a loan you are not protected from garnishment when the signer is in trusteeship.

Payments will be sent to your creditors quarterly. The payment will be pro-rated and be less 2% (two percent) for court costs.
Debts less than $50.00 cannot be in trusteeship.

You will be required to make payment to the court each time that you get paid.  The payment must be received within 3 (three) working days from the date of the pay stub. You must pay in cash or with a money order. You must give us the original pay stub in order to determine the disposable income.  If you fail to make a payment to the court the trusteeship will be cancelled for nonpayment.  You will not be allowed to reapply for trusteeship for 6 (six) months from the date of cancellation.

If you are off of work for any reason, let the court know immediately.  Send a signed and dated letter from your employer, indicating the last day worked and when the first check will be expected when you return. The court must know that you are off work or else you will be considered delinquent and the trusteeship will be cancelled. 

If you decide to file bankruptcy, you must send a copy of the bankruptcy notice. If there is money in the trusteeship account, you must provide a copy of the bankruptcy order stating who and where to send the money. 

If you pay your account outside of Trusteeship, the court must receive a signed and dated letter from the creditor of the satisfaction if it was paid in full.

Judgment Lien

A successful plaintiff (Judgment Creditor) who has received a judgment may wish to record a judgment lien against the defendant’s real estate.  A judgment lien imposes a lien on the judgment debtor’s (the defendant’s) real estate much like a mortgage.  However, a judgment lien will expire after five (5) years unless it is renewed.

The first step in recording a judgment lien is the securing of a Certificate of Judgment from the trial court.  The request to obtain a certificate of judgment can be found at: Certificate of Judgment.   This court’s fee for issuing a Certificate of Judgment is $15.00. 

The judgment creditor then must transfer the Certificate of Judgment to the Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas.  Thereafter, the plaintiff may record the Common Pleas Court’s Certificate of Judgment with the County Recorder of the county wherein the real estate is located.  The Clerk of the Common Pleas Court and the County Recorder will each assess their own fees.

 Affidavit and Motion for Debtor's Exam

A Debtor’s Exam is an opportunity to force the judgment debtor (defendant) to appear in court and give statements under oath providing information on their assets and income, including:  insurance policies, bank accounts, credit cards, wages, real estate or other assets.

The judgment creditor (plaintiff) may request a Debtor’s Exam by completing an Affidavit for Debtors Exam and filing it with the court.  The fee for a Debtor's Exam is $40.00 and an additional $20.00 for personal service; if requested. 

The judgment creditor is responsible for providing the address where a judgment debtor can be served.  The court cannot do this for you.

The court will schedule a Debtor Exam and will send an order to the judgment debtor(s) to appear in court to fill out a Judgment Debtor's Information Form and answer questions regarding his or her assets and income under oath.

If the judgment debtor fails to appear at the Debtor’s Exam the judgment creditor may file a motion for Contempt for Failing to Appear to Debtor's Exam. The filing fee is $40.00.  Once the motion is received a contempt summons will issue requiring the judgment debtor to appear.

Affidavit of Financial Status (Small Claims Only)

A judgment creditor (plaintiff) may also file a Motion for Affidavit of Financial Status.  This motion is ONLY available for Small Claims judgments, and may not be filed in conjunction with a Motion for Debtor’s Exam. 

The motion requests that the Court submit orders to the judgment debtor (defendant) to complete, under oath, an Affidavit of Financial Status. The following is the request form for the motion to order an Affidavit of Financial Status.  The fee for filing the Motion for an Affidavit of Financial Status is $33.00. 

This motion must be completed and filed with the court.  The court will send an order to the judgment debtor(s) to complete the Financial Status Form. The judgment debtor will be ordered to provide information on their insurance policies, bank statements, credit card statements, paycheck stubs, anything that might show their assets, including real estate owned by him or her.  The judgment debtor must return completed form within one (1) week of receipt. The form must be notarized.

The judgment creditor is responsible for providing the address where judgment debtor can be served.  The court cannot do this for you.

If the judgment debtor fails to complete and return the Affidavit of Financial Status, the judgment creditor can file the motion for Contempt for Failing to File Affidavit of Financial Status.   Once the motion is received a contempt summons to appear at a hearing is issued to the judgment debtor.

Satisfaction of Judgment

Once a judgment has been paid in full, the Plaintiff should file a “Notice of Satisfaction” with the Court stating that the judgment was paid in full.  Satisfaction of Judgment Form