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Information for Defendants in Small Claims Cases
Filing an Answer

Along with a copy of the plaintiff’s claim, you were given a summons and a form for your answer to the claim. If you disagree with the plaintiff’s claim and want to contest the claim, you must complete the answer form and file it with the court clerk by the deadline in your summons. The answer form must be filled out with a typewriter or printed in black ink. Enter the appropriate information in the
caption (name of the plaintiff, name of the defendant, and the case number) of the answer form the same as they are shown on the plaintiff’s claim.

In the first section of the form, immediately below the caption, there are spaces for the defendant’s name, address, and phone number. If your name is spelled incorrectly on the plaintiff’s claim or if your address is incorrect or incomplete, write your correct name, address, and phone number in these spaces. If the plaintiff’s claim is asking for a judgment for money, fill out the second section of the form. If the plaintiff’s claim is asking for the return of personal property, fill out the third section of the form. You must fill out the form completely and you must sign the form in front of a notary or a court clerk. If you sign the form in front of a notary, the notary must sign and seal the form.

When you have completed the answer form, you must deliver it to the court clerk where the claim was filed by the deadline shown on the summons and the court clerk will file your answer. There is no fee for filing an answer in small claims court. You can file your answer by taking it to the court clerk’s office or by mailing it to the court clerk’s office. The address of the court clerk’s office is shown on the summons. If you file your answer by mail, you should mail it early enough so that it will arrive at the court clerk’s office before the deadline shown on the summons. If you do not file the answer by the deadline, the judge may give the plaintiff a default judgment against you.

When the court clerk receives your answer, the court clerk will schedule your case for a “contested claim” hearing. This hearing is when you and the plaintiff come to court to tell the judge about your case. If you disagree with the plaintiff’s claim and want to contest the claim, you must come to the hearing. If you do not come to the hearing, the judge may give the plaintiff a default judgment against you. The court clerk will mail a notice of the hearing with the date and time to you and the plaintiff. Generally, the court clerk will schedule the hearing for a date within four weeks after you file your answer.

If there is an urgent reason why you cannot come to court when your hearing is scheduled, you can ask the judge to reschedule the hearing. To change the date of your hearing, you must file a “Motion to Continue Hearing” with the court clerk. In some counties you can get a form from the court clerk. Your motion must be typewritten or printed in black ink. Your motion must have the same caption (name of the plaintiff, name of the defendant, and the case number) as the plaintiff’s claim. You must explain why you cannot come to court when your hearing is scheduled and sign the form. When you file your motion, the court clerk will give it to the judge and the judge will decide whether to reschedule the hearing. If the judge grants your motion, (decides to change the date of your hearing) the court clerk will mail a notice of the new date and time for the hearing to you and the plaintiff. The motion must be filed before the hearing date. The deadline for filing the motion varies from county to county and you can ask the court clerk what the deadline is for your county. If there is no deadline, you should file your motion at least two weeks before the hearing to allow the judge time to consider your motion and, if your motion is granted, allow the court clerk time to notify you and the plaintiff of the new hearing date.

Settlement

You and the defendant can talk to each other to try to settle your case at any time before the court enters a judgment. Often, each party is more willing to try to resolve the case than the other party expects so it is worthwhile to try to settle the case even if you don’t think the plaintiff is interested in settlement. Generally, settlement negotiations are confidential—in other words, the judge generally will not consider anything the parties say as part of settlement discussions as evidence in the case. The reason for this rule is to encourage the parties to talk to each other openly to try to resolve the case.


Counterclaims

If you have a claim that the plaintiff owes you money or that the plaintiff has property that belongs to you, then your claim is a counterclaim. If you want the judge to consider your counterclaim, you must file your own claim against the plaintiff.

For example, a plaintiff might file a claim saying that the plaintiff loaned you $1,000 that you didn’t pay back. Your defense might be that you only owe the plaintiff $500 because there was another time when you loaned the plaintiff $500 that the plaintiff didn’t pay back. The judge will not consider your claim that the plaintiff owes you $500 unless you file a claim against the plaintiff.

You can file a claim in small claims court for up to $5,000 or for the return of personal property worth up to $5,000. If your claim is more than $5,000 and less than $10,000, you must file a complaint in the magistrate division of the district court. If your claim is for more than $10,000, you must file a complaint in district court.

The court clerk can provide you with information about filing a claim in small claims court. If you need information about filing a complaint in the magistrate division of the district court or in district court, you should talk to a lawyer.

If you file a claim against the plaintiff in small claims court before the hearing on the plaintiff’s claim, the court can set both claims for hearing at the same time. If the plaintiff’s claim and your claim are set for different times, and you want them both heard at the same time, you can ask the judge to reschedule one or both of the hearings so that they may be heard at the same time. This process for asking the judge to reschedule the hearing is same as above, “If there is an urgent reason why you cannot come to court…”

If you file a complaint against the plaintiff in the magistrate division of the district court or in district court, then at the hearing on the plaintiff’s claim, either party (plaintiff or defendant) can ask the judge to transfer the plaintiff’s claim to the magistrate division of the district court or to district court to be heard at the same time as your complaint.


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