Chidatma Lex Group welcomes all inquiries for legal assistance about business organization and disputes. Often, we received a call and the client has a valid legal dispute, but it is not cost effective to have lawyer help you. You go to Home Depot to do home repair by yourself. You can work with your bank online. Maybe you even trade stocks online through E*TRADE or Charles Schwab. Even though we work with many alternative fee arrangements, sometimes you are better served by doing it yourself. We will explain Small Claims Court but there are a few things you should know from the start:
- You can sue for up to $10,000 in small claims court;
- If you are a corporation and need a lawyer to be in regular court (CPLR 321) – not so in Small Claims Court.
- They have night court so you don’t have to miss work.
New York Civil Court
New York City Civil Court hears three types of cases: Civil, Housing, and Small Claims. You need a lawyer if you are a corporation in the Civil and Housing parts, so we will focus on Small Claims. Small Claims Court is a special type of court in which a party may sue for money only. Common disputes brought before this court include: failure to return a security deposit or loan, breach of a contract, or damages inflicted on personal property or one’s person. The processes of filing a claim and going through trial are inexpensive and simple. And the court offers evening hours to hear cases to avoid work conflicts, and it is not required that a lawyer be retained to represent a party on their behalf. While other counties have different rules, we will solely discuss this court system in New York City.
In New York City, claims may be filed for any monetary amount up to, but no more than, $10,000.00. Claims cannot be split into multiple claims to get around this value. Any individual over the age of 18 can sue in Small Claims Court. If under the age of 18, a parent or legal guardian can sue on their behalf. Individuals, corporations, associations, and partnerships can bring claims to Small Claims Court. In their instances, their case is called a ‘commercial small claims’ case. If the claim is against an individual and the claim is about goods or services designed mainly for personal or household use, the case is called a ‘consumer transaction claims’ case.
Consider where the suit is brought because this will determine whether the court will hear the case. In New York City, if the defendant’s home or work address is in New York City, one can use the Small Claims Court in the county where the claimant lives or where the defendant’s home or work address are located. However, if the defendant neither lives nor works in New York City, then one cannot file a small claim in the New York City Small Claims Court. Regarding commercial small claims, the rules provided apply, only the claimant’s primary office must be in the state of New York.
How & Where to Start
To start a Small Claims case, one must fill out a form (Statement of Claim) that describes the claim, identifies the party being sued by their name and address, and provides a monetary amount being claimed. Access to an online copy of the form may be found here. This form may be e-filed or it may be filed in-person at the Small Claims Court Clerk’s Office. The address and phone number of this office, which is in the New York City Civil Court, is below:
111 Centre Street
New York, NY 10013
Small/Commercial Claims Clerk’s Office: Room 322
Phone: (646) 386-5484
To file a small claim, a court fee must be paid. For claims less than or amounting to $1,000.00, the filing fee is $15.00. For claims greater than $1,000.00, the filing fee is $20.00. Accepted forms of payment include: cash, certified check, money order, or bank check made to “Clerk of the Civil Court”. To file a commercial small claim, a fee of $25.00 plus postage must be paid. Also, the defendant must receive a demand letter before filing the commercial small claim. This demand letter must be certified and sent at least 10 days before filing the claim.
Upon filing the claim, the Court Clerk will serve the defendant with a notice via mail in two copies: one by regular mail, the other by certified mail. This notice indicates the reason of the claim, the monetary amount being claimed, and the date of trial. The trial can be postponed by sending a letter to both the court and the other party, requesting a different date. This will be granted if the other party agrees in writing. If they do not agree, one can explain the need for postponement on the date of trail at the court.
Going to Trial
Before trial, gather all evidence that supports the claim. This may amount to photos, letters, emails, texts, receipts, checks, damaged items, or other pertinent documents. Witnesses may provide records or testimony before the court. Often relatives, friends, or other individuals aware of the case may be called as witnesses.
In New York City, a case may be decided by either a judge or an arbitrator. An arbitrator is a lawyer that has been trained in small claims disputes. The vast majority of the cases are decided by an arbitrator because it could take a long time for a judge to get through the cases filed in Small Claims Court. The key difference between both decision-makers is that a decision issued by a judge may be reviewed by a higher court, or appealed. However, an arbitrator’s decision is binding and therefore cannot be appealed. Juries are available solely in judge-deciding cases. They must be requested by the defendant and can be retained for a total $120 fee. Beginning with the claimant, they take an oath to tell the truth, present the facts of their case, and may introduce witnesses and other evidence to support their claim. The court and opposing party may pose questions to the claimant and their witnesses. Then, the defendant goes through the exact process, presenting their side of the narrative and any evidence. Once the trial has finished, the court will decide and mail their decision (Notice of Judgment) to both parties.
If a party wishes to challenge a judge’s decision, they must file a Notice of Appeal within 30 days of the judgment. Otherwise, it is the party’s responsibility to contact the debtor and collect the money specified in the notice. If the debtor refuses to pay, one may retain an enforcement officer for a fee to ensure payment of the judgment. One may view this list for NYC Marshals. The Small Claims Court Clerk can provide a list of enforcement officers.
Small Claims Court grants people the opportunity to contest issues that recur frequently throughout everyday life. It is designed so claimants must self-advocate while paying fewer costs typically associated with the litigation process. And don’t forget we will always spend a few minutes on the phone with you helping you think through the strategy of your case and its presentation. If you find yourself with a potential claim, contact the Court Clerk Office at the phone number provided above. Visit the Small Claims Court website here for updates regarding COVID-19, general information, and contact details.
Conveniently located in New York City (and available by Zoom conference), your experienced business lawyers, Michelle Mandelsteinand Dwight Yellen, will make you our priority and put your mind at ease. We are seasoned professionals and know business! We will answer your questions, evaluate your circumstances, and discuss your options. Call us right away (212-903-4546), or contact us confidentially online.
Thanks to our summer associate, Luciano De Luca, for assisting with this article. We wish you continuous good health and safety.