Small Claims Division

Summary of Rules for Filing a Small Claims

  1. The amount claimed cannot exceed $6,000.00 and you may not separate your claim into multiple suits. The statutory rate of interest on civil judgments for the calendar year 2015 is 3%.

  2. There is a $50.00 filing fee for the filing of a Small Claims Complaint that names one defendant, and a $10.00 charge for each additional defendant. These costs can be recovered, provided you win your suit.

  3. You must know the address of the party against who you file suit. The court will serve the defendant by certified mail at this address unless another form of service is requested. It is the responsibility of the Plaintiff to monitor the status of service of the complaint.

  4. If you are a minor, under 18, you must have your parent or guardian file the suit for you.

  5. You may not sue a minor.  You may sue a minor through his parent or legal guardian.

  6. The party filing the suit must prove their case by a preponderance (more likely than not) of the admissible, credible evidence.

  7. THE MEMBERS OF THE CLERK'S OFFICE ARE NOT ATTORNEYS AND BY LAW CANNOT GIVE ANY LEGAL ADVICE.  If you require legal advice, you must get the advice from an attorney.  You have the right to hire an attorney at your own expense.

  8. When a judgment is obtained and if the defendant refuses to pay, the Clerk's office will supply the plaintiff (person bringing suit) with the necessary forms to attempt collection of the judgment.  However, it is the responsibility of the plaintiff, and not the court, to collect the judgment.

Small Claims Division Information

Introduction

The Small Claims Court is a division of the Hocking County Municipal Court and is governed by Chapter 1925 of the Ohio Revised Code.

Small Claims Court provides a quick, informal, and inexpensive way of resolving various types of disputes which you have with other individuals or companies. You do not need a lawyer to file a small claims action but, may hire a lawyer to represent you, if you wish. Complaints heard in Small Claims Court include, for example: unpaid rent/damages, repair problems, breach of warranty, defective products, unreturned rental deposits, undelivered goods, insurance claims, damage to property, unpaid wages, etc.

Small Claims Court does not have jurisdiction in such actions as libel, slander, repossession, or cases which do not involve monetary damages. The monetary limit in small claims court is $6,000, plus interest and court costs.

How to Begin Proceedings

An action in Small Claims Court begins when the Plaintiff (person bringing the suit) files a complaint with the Clerk of the Hocking County Municipal Court. Forms for filing a complaint are provided at no charge by the Court and may be obtained in the Clerk of Court's office, first floor, Hocking County Courthouse. They are also available on the Court's website. The claim states the amount of money that plaintiff is seeking and nature of the action. The complaint must be signed before a notary public or a deputy clerk.

Before you file, make sure you know the true, legal name of the person or business you intend to sue. If you sue the wrong party, the case may be dismissed, or you could wind up with an uncollectible judgment.

Generally, this court has jurisdiction over a claim if the incident or transaction took place in Hocking County, or if the defendant resides or conducts business in Hocking County.

After a complaint is filed with the Court, the Clerk will set the case for hearing in approximately 4 weeks. Service will be issued to the defendant (person being sued) by certified mail at the address supplied by plaintiff.

THE CLERK IS NOT AN ATTORNEY AND CANNOT GIVE YOU LEGAL ADVICE ABOUT YOUR CASE.  IF YOU NEED AN ATTORNEY, YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO HIRE ONE TO HELP YOU.

Evidence

You must have all of your evidence at the hearing of your case. Under no circumstances will any new evidence be accepted after conclusion of the hearing. Although you may prepare and present your case in any manner you see fit, you must have evidence to support your claim. Evidence includes your testimony, the testimony of witnesses, written agreements, receipts, public records, tangible items, photographs, etc. While a written statement from a witness is admissible as evidence if at all possible you should have the witness attend the trial. If the witness attends the Court can ask questions. You may issue subpoenas, if necessary, to command the attendance of witnesses, and also for any documents you may need to substantiate your claim. Listed below are several examples of the types of cases commonly heard in the Small Claims Division, and the evidence that is suggested:

Automobile Property Damage

  • Certificate of title to prove ownership of vehicle
  • Two copies of two estimates of repair or the repair bill
  • Witnesses who saw the accident
  • Accident report from the proper law enforcement agency

Security Deposit

  • Two copies of receipt or canceled check, etc., showing payment
  • Lease agreement, if one exists
  • Witnesses who viewed the premises before and after occupancy

Damage to Real Property

  • Two copies of two estimates of repair or the repair bill
  • Photographs/video recordings of the damage
  • Witnesses who viewed the incident

Loss or Conversion of Personal Property

  • Two copies of receipt, canceled check, or invoice showing value of the item lost or estimate of the value of the property
  • Witnesses who could describe the condition of the property

Faulty Repair of Automobile, Appliance, etc.

  • Description of the item repaired
  • Receipt from the transaction or a witness who observed the transaction
  • Copies of estimates prepared by repair experts, showing the cost to complete or do over again, the alleged faulty or incomplete repairs
  • An expert witness in the field of such subject matter, to discuss the damages caused to the property

Account or Other Written Instrument

When any claim or defense is founded on an account or other written instrument, two copies are needed so one can be attached to the pleading. If not so attached, the reason for the omission must be stated in the pleading. If more than the legal rate of interest at the statutory rate is charged, you must show proof in writing that the defendant was aware of this at the time of the transaction, and signed a document to that effect.

Continuances

One continuance, not exceeding thirty (30) days may be granted to any party who makes such a request in writing, at least (7) days prior to the trial date. The request should include the names of the parties involved, the case number, and the reason for continuance. A form for requesting a continuance is on this court's website.

Transfer to Regular Civil Docket

The defendant has a right to transfer the case of Small Claims Division and into the regular Civil Division. The defendant may do this in order to preserve his right to a trial by jury. Once transferred, the case will not return to the Small Claims Division. The defendant may use the motion form on the court's website for this. The transfer fee is $50.00.

Counterclaim

If you deny the plaintiff's claim, and if you feel that the plaintiff actually owes you money as a result of the same incident or transaction, you may file a counterclaim. Counterclaims for less than $6,000.00 may be heard in Small Claims Division. If you believe you have a claim against the plaintiff, you may file a counterclaim with the court and must serve the plaintiff and all other parties with a copy of the counterclaim at least seven (7) days prior to the date of the trial of the plaintiff's claim. The counterclaim filing fee is $25.00.

Settlement

If you do not contest the claim, you may contact the plaintiff and negotiate a settlement. The plaintiff must notify the court in writing upon payment in full of any claim. Also both the Plaintiff and Defendant can appear for the pre trial or trial and put their agreement on the record before the judge.

Dormant Claim

If you do receive a judgment and no action has been taken within five (5) years, then it becomes dormant and a special action must be filed in order to revive the claim.

Trials and Magistrate Hearings

At the trial you will have an opportunity to present your argument and your evidence to the court. You must have all of your evidence, substantiation, witnesses, etc., with you at the hearing of your case. You will also have a right to cross examine the defendant and his witnesses, in order to bring out points in your favor. Similarly, the defendant will have an opportunity to present his evidence and to ask questions of the plaintiff. Individuals signing a Small Claims Complaint must appear at the hearing. NOTE: A CORPORATION APPEARING WITHOUT AN ATTORNEY AT LAW MAY NOT ENGAGE IN CROSS EXAMINATION, ARGUMENT OR OTHER ACTS OF ADVOCACY. IT IS STRONGLY RECOMMENDED THAT A CORPORATION BE REPRESENTED AT THE HEARING BY AN ATTORNEY AT LAW. THE PERSON SIGNING THE COMPLAINT MUST APPEAR. IF AN ATTORNEY SIGNS THE COMPLAINT, THEN THE PLAINTIFF MUST ALSO STILL APPEAR.

The Court, after hearing the case on its merits, will render a decision. The decision may be announced at the conclusion of the case or it may be mailed to you in the form of a written opinion. In some cases, the trial will be before the court's magistrate. The magistrate will conduct the trial and will write a decision. Within fourteen (14) days from the filing of the decision of the magistrate, any party may serve upon the other party and file with the Court, written objections to the magistrate's decision. The objections and the case will then be assigned to the Judge for his consideration. The Judge may then modify the recommendation of the Magistrate, order a new hearing, or approve the decision of the magistrate and enter a judgment. The filing fee for objections to the magistrate's decision is $10.00.

If the case is decided in favor of the plaintiff, the defendant should make arrangements to pay the plaintiff the amount of the judgment. Otherwise, the plaintiff can proceed against the defendant, to collect the judgment amount through garnishment of personal hearings, bank attachment, etc.

Legal Advice

The Clerk's staff cannot help you in investigating the whereabouts of the defendant's income or property. Representation by an attorney at law is permitted, but not required. If you have any questions concerning your legal rights, you should contact your attorney for advice before coming to the Small Claims Division, as the personnel cannot give you legal advice.

Hearing Date

Typically, the pre trial date is scheduled in approximately four (4) weeks from the date of filing of the complaint. The final trial is normally scheduled for about eight (8) weeks from the filing. Hearings are scheduled for Thursday mornings and are held in the Municipal Court room on the first floor of the courthouse.

Collection Procedures for Small Claims Court

Collection Procedures for Small Claims Court

As stated above, the filing party in a Small Claims action is known as the plaintiff. After judgment, that party is known as the judgment creditor. The defendant becomes the judgment debtor.

It is the responsibility of the creditor, not the Court, to collect the judgment from the judgment debtor. If the case is handled by the magistrate, the judgment creditor cannot take any action to collect until the fourteen-day objections period has elapsed. Below are several courses of action for collection, and although the small claims division will assist you by providing forms, we cannot give you legal advice on collection procedures.

Financial Statement

You may file a request for a financial statement if, thirty days after judgment, the judgment remains unpaid and the parties have not otherwise agreed. The Court will order for judgment debtor to answer questions as to his or her financial status (assets, liabilities, and personal earnings.) The judgment debtor will have seven days from the date of receipt of the financial statement to respond. Court costs are $10.00.

Garnishment of Personal Earnings

To start the procedure the judgment creditor mails a Notice to Collect Debt to the Judgment Debtor by regular mail with certificate of mailing or by certified mail with return receipt. You will need to provide the Court with a copy of the above notice and proof of mailing when the garnishment is filed with the Court.

If, after 15 day from the date of service, but no more that 45 days, and no satisfactory reply was received, you may then proceed to file the garnishment papers with the clerk.

The following items are needed to file:

Once your garnishment of personal earnings is successful, it is your responsibility to file annually, an Affidavit of Current Balance Due with the court, employer, and defendant. Additionally, you are required to send the notice and request for hearing along with a self addressed, stamped envelope, addressed to the court, with the defendant copy of the Affidavit of Current Balance Due.

Bank Attachment

A bank attachment is a court order requiring the debtor's bank to take money from the debtor's checking and/or savings account, and send it to the court so it can go to the judgment creditor. This occurs as long as the money is not exempted by law. You must have knowledge of where the judgment debtor conducts his or her banking and additional information (i.e. bank account number or social security number) is helpful. Court costs are $40.00 and a separate $1.00 check or money order made payable to the bank.

Lien

Filing a certificate of judgment will place a claim on the property of another as security for the payment of the judgment. It is your responsibility to file the certificate of judgment with the Court of Common Pleas in the county where the judgment debtor's property is located. The Court costs are $25.00 payable to the municipal court. This does not include the Common Pleas filing fee.

Additional Information

Preparing Your Case

Organize the case before going to court. Plan on what you will say and organize your testimony and arguments so the Judge will be able to understand clearly what happened and why you have been injured or wronged. Bear in mind you will have to convince the Judge not only that you are right but you are also entitled to a specific sum of money from the Defendant.

Collect all documents related to your case; receipts, cancelled checks, estimates, bills, contracts, photos, etc.

If you have a witness that is necessary to prove your case, you have the right to subpoena that witness to guarantee their appearance at your hearing. You may obtain the subpoena forms from the Clerk's office . The Court requests that the completed subpoena be turned into the Clerk's office at least five (5) days prior to the hearing. You must pay the court $5.00 for each witness subpoened. Out-of-state witnesses cannot be compelled to attend.

Going to Court

At the hearing, the Judge will swear in all parties and witnesses; hear testimony and receive evidence.

Again, BE ON TIME. Court starts promptly at the time scheduled.

Present Your Best Case

Each side gets a chance to present testimony and evidence. Present your case in an orderly manner. Include all relevant facts and be sure to state the amount you are claiming and explain how you arrived at this amount. Show the Judge any documents or other evidence you have.

The other side will have a chance to question (not argue with) you on any points you have raised in your testimony. The Judge may also ask you clarifying questions. Remember, you are under oath and must answer truthfully and as completely as possible.

If you have witnesses, they will then have the chance to explain what they know about the case. They may also be questioned (cross-examined) by the other side. After the Plaintiff has finished, it is the Defendant's turn.

You will have the chance to question each witness for the other side. Do not interrupt or argue. Permit the Defendant or the witness to complete their testimony and then the Judge will give you a chance to ask questions.

Decisions

After the hearing, the Judge will then file an entry (his decision) with the Court. The Clerk will mail copies of the Judge's entry to the parties.

After the entry has been filed and if you object to the Judge's decision, you have fourteen (14) days to file an "objection" detailing the errors you believe the Judge has made. Send a copy of your objections to your opponent (or their attorney) when you file the objection with the Court. If no timely objections are made, the Judge's entry will be adopted as the final order of the Court.

Within fourteen (14) days of the filing of the entry, a party may serve and file written objections to the Judge's entry. If objections are timely served and filed by any party, any other party may serve and file objections within ten (10) days of the date on which the first objections were filed. The objections shall be considered a motion. Objections shall be specific and state with particularity the grounds of objection. Upon consideration of the objections, the Court may adopt, reject, or modify the entry; hear additional evidence; return the report to the Judge with instructions; or hear the matter itself. On appeal, a party may not assign as error the Court's adoption of a Judge's finding of fact unless an objection to that finding is contained in that party's written objections to the Judge's entry. The Court may adopt any finding of fact in the Judge's entry without further consideration. Unless, the party who objects to that finding supports that objection with a copy of allrelevant portions of the transcript from the Judge's hearing or an affidavit about evidence submitted to the Judge if no transcript is available. In deciding whether to adopt a Judge's finding of fact, the Court may disregard any evidence that was not submitted to the Judge. Unless, the complaining party demonstrates that with reasonable diligence they could not have discovered and produced that evidence for the Judge's consideration.

THE PARTIES MUST MAIL COPIES OF THE OBJECTIONS OR RESPONSES TO THE OTHER PARTIES AT THE TIME THEY FILE THE SAME WITH THE CLERK OF COURTS.

The Municipal Court Judge will review the record and rule on the objections. The parties will be notified of the decision of the Court.

Default Judgments

Small Claims cases are often over even before they begin. The Plaintiff appears at the initial hearing but the Defendant does not. The Judge grants the Plaintiff a Default Judgment. The Court will send a copy of the Default Judgment entry to the Plaintiff and Defendant. This judgment is just as enforceable as it would have been had the Defendant appeared, contested the case, and lost after putting on a spirited defense.

If you want to be sure the Defendant fully understands what has happened and that you are now a Judgment Creditor, it is your responsibility to notify them and request payment.

If the Judgment Debtor fails to pay, the collection lies with a more formal procedure. You may file to garnish the Defendant's wages or attach the personal property or bank account of the Defendant. Each of these collection steps requires additional forms and fees. IT CAN BE A LENGTHY PROCESS, BUT IT CAN WORK.

Before you collect from the reluctant Debtor, you must first know something about their finances. If you are already familiar with where the Judgment Debtor banks, works, lives, does business, etc., you may know enough to proceed with collection.

Collecting a Judgment

When the party in a case receives a judgment, it is the responsibility of the Judgment Creditor to collect from the Judgment Debtor. By way of the judgment, the Court has confirmed that the Debtor has a legal, enforceable obligation to pay.

Satisfaction of Judgment

Once a judgment has been satisfied in full, the Judgment Creditor files a request for satisfaction with the Court stating that judgment has been paid in full.

Lists of Assets and Liabilities

In addition to the standard Judgment Debtor exam available to all Judgment Creditors, there is an additional, simplified process that may save considerable time. You may, therefore, wish to try this before moving to the more time-consuming Judgment Debtor hearing process.

  1. Wait until thirty (30) days after the judgment.
  2. Go the Clerk's office and ask for a "Financial Statement". Fill out the form with your case number, the name of the Judgment Debtor, and your name, etc. (This will cost you $10.00 to file.)
  3. The Clerk will mail this form to the Judgment Debtor asking for a list of their assets, liabilities, and personal earnings.
  4. The Judgment Debtor will be given one (1) week to return the information to the Clerk. They will be informed that failure to respond within the week could result in a charge of contempt of Court.
  5. When the list of assets and liabilities is filed with the Clerk's office, they will then send a copy of it to you.
  6. If the Judgment Debtor fails to return the completed forms to the Clerk's office, you may file for a "Show Cause Hearing".

Judgment Debtor Exams; Personal Exam

The Judgment Debtor examination is the court's way of helping Judgment Creditors learn about the Judgment Debtor's assets...information that then can be used to collect the judgment. While the by-mail process may be more convenient, you may find the information you receive is not specific or complete enough to enable you to proceed with collection. At this point, you may want to consult with an attorney to aid you in the process.

Garnishments

If the Debtor is employed, has a checking account or savings account, you may "garnish" the Debtor's wages or the Debtor's bank account.

Garnishment is a process that lets the Creditor claim and take money owed by the Debtor from another person. For example, the typical employee is paid one or two weeks after actually earning their wages. The employer is holding the employee's money during that time and, through the garnishment process, may be required to pay a portion of these wages to the Creditor. Garnishment as a process consists of the following:

  1. Mail a Fifteen Day Notice of Intent to Garnish ("Notice of Court Proceedings to Collect Debt") to the Judgment Debtor. This notice is not needed for a bank attachment. You will need to provide the Court with proof of mailing of this Notice and a copy of the Notice at the time the actual garnishment is filed with the Court.
  2. After the fifteen (15) days have passed and the Defendant has not responded to the "15-Day Demand", go to the Clerk's office and complete a garnishment form. In all cases, you will need the correct mailing address for the garnishee (Debtor's employer or bank). The filing fee for a wage garnishment is $120 for balances over $500 and $60 for balances under $500. There is a $40.00 filing fee plus $1.00 check to bank for bank attachments for judgments of any amount. All additional filing fees paid to the Court, may be added to the court costs owed by the Judgment Debtor.
  3. When the Clerk's office receives monies from the garnishee (Judgment Debtor's employer or bank), a check will be issued to the Judgment Creditor.

Limits and Exceptions

Incomes from sources such as Social Security, Welfare, Workman's Compensation, Unemployment Compensation, etc. are exempt and protected from garnishment. It is also possible for the Judgment Debtor to block any action taken against a bank account if it can be shown the money in the account came from these types of sources (public assistance).

Law regulates the amount that Judgment Creditors can garnish from a Judgment Debtor at any one time. Creditors cannot attach the Debtor's entire paycheck and the most Creditors can obtain during any one period is 25% of the Debtor's take-home pay.

Execution

If the Judgment Debtor fails to pay within fifteen (15) days of the judgment, the Judgment Creditor may, through the court, seize the Judgment Debtor's property, sell it, and collect the judgment from the proceeds. This process is referred to as "Execution on Property".

Although the concept is rather simple, the laws on execution have made it a bit more complicated. Again, you may want to consult with an attorney before going through this procedure. As explained below, execution against personal property to collect a judgment will usually make sense only when the property involved is worth considerably more than the amount of the judgment.

Exemptions

Ohio law defines certain property as being "exempt" from execution. Prior to processing an execution, the Judgment Creditor must have some reasonable expectation that the property to be attached and sold is not exempt.

In the case of personal property (household goods, cars, jewelry, etc.), the exemptions are defined in terms of the Debtor's "interest" (in dollars) in that property.

For example, the law exempts the Debtor's "interest", not to exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000.00) in one motor vehicle. That means if the car is attached and sold, the first thousand dollars ($1,000.00) of the sale proceeds must go back to the Judgment Debtor. Thus, a Judgment Creditor seeking to collect a $500.00 judgment would gain nothing at all from an execution on a car which ultimately sold for $999.00. The judgment could not be collected unless the car sold for at least $1,500.00.

If you have any questions as to whether a particular item of property you intend to execute upon is subject to an exemption, you should consult an attorney. An additional obstacle to collecting your money through execution could arise if the Judgment Debtor owes money on the property to someone else, for example, a bank. In that case, you could be second or third in line when it comes time to collect from the sale proceeds. The proceeds from the sale are divided as follows:

Liens

A "lien" (pronounced "lean") can be placed on real estate owned by the Judgment Debtor, if the real estate is in Hocking County and was owned at the time the case was originally filed. The lien must be renewed every five (5) years. The lien holder, Judgment Creditor, will recover the amount of the judgment when the property is sold. The procedure for filing a lien is fairly simple:

  1. Go to the Clerk's office and ask for a "Certificate of Judgment". There will be a $25.00 fee due at this time. The Clerk's office will mail the certificate to you once it has been completed.
  2. Take the certificate to the Clerk of Common Pleas Courts, Courthouse, 1 E Main St., on the 3rd floor. There will be a filing fee for this filing. For information regarding filing in Common Pleas Court call (740) 385-2616.

Small Claims Costs

Effective February 1, 2017

Complaint $50.00
Each Additional Defendant $10.00
Amendment $25.00
Transfer to Civil Division $50.00
Re-serve Defendant $10.00
Financial Statement (each defendant) $10.00
Certificate of Judgment $35.00
Transfer of case to this court $20.00
Subpoena (plus service costs) $5.00 each
Objections to Magistrate's Decision $10.00
Cost for events after judgment will be as set forth on civil costs sheets