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Information for Defendants in Small Claims Cases
A Claim Has Been Filed

The person who files a claim is called the plaintiff. The person the claim is filed against is called the defendant. The plaintiff is required to file the claim in the county where you live unless you live outside Idaho. If you live outside Idaho, then the plaintiff is required to file the claim in the county where the claim arose. For example, if the claim is about a car accident then the county where the claim arose is the county where the accident happened. To file the claim, the plaintiff had to fill out a claim form and file it with the court clerk. The plaintiff had to pay a fee for filing the claim. The plaintiff was required to give you notice of the claim and may have had to pay a fee to give you notice. If the judge awards judgment to the plaintiff in your case, the judge will require you to pay the plaintiff for the cost of the filing fee and the cost of giving you notice of the claim.

The plaintiff cannot ask for more than $5,000.00 in small claims court. The plaintiff cannot avoid the $5,000.00 limit by filing more than one claim about the same transaction or occurrence. For example, if the plaintiff is a landlord and the claim is about unpaid rent and damages to rental property, the plaintiff cannot file one claim for the unpaid rent and file another claim for damages to the rental property.

The plaintiff can ask for the return of personal property (property other than land or buildings) that belongs to the plaintiff. The plaintiff cannot ask for the return of personal property that is worth more than $5,000.00 in small claims court. If the plaintiff is asking for money and the return of personal property, the total cannot be more than $5,000.00.

There are laws called statutes of limitations (time limits on filing claims). There are different time limits for different types of claims and the time limit is extended in some circumstances. Generally, a claim should be filed within one year after the claim arose. There are many types of cases in which the time limit is more than one year and a few in which it is shorter. The court clerk will not be able to tell you the statute of limitations that applies in your case. The judge will decide at the hearing whether the claim is within the time limit.

Along with the copy of the plaintiff’s claim, you were given a summons and a form for your answer to the claim. On the summons there is a deadline for you to file an answer with the court. If you agree with the plaintiff’s claim or if you do not want to contest the claim, then you do not need to file the answer. If you do not file an answer, the judge may give the plaintiff a default judgment (j
udgment entered against a party who has failed to defend against a claim). The default judgment will say that it is in favor of the plaintiff. If the plaintiff is asking that you pay the plaintiff money, the judgment will state the amount of money you are to pay. If the plaintiff is asking that you return personal property that belongs to the plaintiff, the judgment will describe the property you are to return. The judgment will include the costs the plaintiff paid to file the claim and to give you notice of the claim. The judgment cannot be for more than the plaintiff is asking for (plus the costs the plaintiff paid to file the claim and give you notice of the claim.) The court clerk will mail a copy of the judgment to you.

After the judge enters a default judgment, you are required to pay the amount of money stated in the judgment and return any personal property described in the judgment immediately. Payment should be made directly to the plaintiff, not to the court. You should make the payment in a way that gives you proof that you paid the full amount, that you paid it to the plaintiff, and the date it was paid (such as the cancelled check or the money order sent by certified mail). You should keep your proof of payment.

If you do not pay the full amount stated in the judgment, or if you do not return the personal property described in the judgment, there are ways the plaintiff can collect on the judgment.

·         The plaintiff can garnish your wages (your employer withholds part of your paycheck and pays the money to the sheriff, who pays it to the plaintiff).

·         The plaintiff can attach your bank account (the bank pays the money you have in your account to the sheriff, who pays it to the plaintiff).

·         The plaintiff can have the sheriff seize your personal property (property other than land or buildings), sell it at auction, and give the proceeds to the plaintiff.

·         The plaintiff can file a lien against real property (land or buildings) and foreclose on the lien (process of selling the property to pay the judgment lien).

You can also be ordered to come to court for a debtor’s examination (court hearing for the plaintiff to find out what you have that can be used to pay the judgment). If you do not come to the court for examination you can be held in contempt and a warrant can be issued for your arrest.

If the judge gives the plaintiff a default judgment, you can ask the judge to set aside the default judgment. A request to set aside a judgment should be made within a reasonable time, generally within 2 weeks after you were given notice that the judgment was entered. To ask the judge to set aside the judgment, you must file a “Motion to Set Aside Default Judgment” with the court clerk in the county where the claim was filed. In most counties you can get a form from the court clerk. The motion must be typewritten or printed in black ink. The motion must have the same caption (name of the court, the names of the plaintiff and defendant, and the case number) as the judgment. You must explain why you did not file an answer to the plaintiff’s claim or why you did not file it by the deadline in the summons and sign the motion. You must also complete the answer form and file both your motion and the answer with the court clerk.

After you file your motion with the court clerk, one of the following three things will happen.

1.    The judge may decide that your motion shows that you did not have good cause for failing to file an answer to the plaintiff’s claim and deny your motion.

2.    The judge may decide that your motion shows that you did have good cause for failing to file an answer to the plaintiff’s claim and grant your motion. If the judge grants your motion the judge will set aside the default judgment and the court clerk will schedule a hearing on the contested claim. The court clerk will mail a notice of the date and time for the hearing to you and the plaintiff.

3.    The judge may schedule a hearing on your motion. The court clerk will mail a notice of the date and time for the hearing on your motion to you and the plaintiff. If the judge decides at the hearing on your motion that you had good cause for failing to file an answer to the plaintiff’s claim, the judge will grant your motion and set aside the default judgment. The judge will then go ahead and have the hearing on the claim at that time. So if you receive a notice of hearing on your motion, you should come to the hearing and be prepared to have a hearing on the claim. If the judge schedules a hearing on your motion and you do not come to the hearing, the judge will deny your motion and the default judgment will remain in effect. If the plaintiff had costs from having to attend another hearing, the plaintiff can ask the judge to order you to pay for those costs.

A judge is likely to find good cause if the judge is satisfied that you have one of the following reasons for not filing an answer by the deadline in the summons:

·         You were not given proper notice of the claim.

·         At the time the default judgment was issued you were on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces.

·         There was a genuine emergency that prevented you from filing an answer.

·         Due to circumstances beyond your control, it was an unreasonable hardship for you to file an answer.

A judge may find good cause for other reasons.


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