SMALL CLAIMS PROCEDURES
HONORABLE SHARON I. HAMILTON
Small Claims Action
Occurs when there is a dispute between two parties, and the issue in controversy does not exceed $5000. You should review Chapter 34 of the Florida Statutes for a description of which causes of action are covered under small claims in the county court. It is strongly recommended that you familiarize yourself with the laws that apply to your particular case by visiting your local law library.
Service of Process
The first step in filing a small claims action is obtaining and filling out the necessary forms that consist of a statement of claim and notice or service of process which require s the parties to appear at a specified pre-trial conference. Small claims forms are available at your local Clerk of Court’s office.
Once the statement of claim has been completed and filed with the clerk of court, the plaintiff must provide the defendant with the copies of the statement of claim and the service of process form. In a small claims case, there are two ways to provide the defendant with these forms.
If the defendant lives in Florida, the statement of claim and service of process can be sent by certified mail through the USPS. If the defendant refuses to accept the service of process through mail, or does not live in Florida, or is a corporation within Florida, the statement of claim and service of process must be delivered to the defendant by the sheriff of the county where the defendant lives. A private process serves who is authorized to serve legal papers may also serve the defendant.
Once the defendant has been served, the process may continue. If service of process is done incorrectly or not done at all, the case may not proceed. Once the defendant has been served with the statement of claim and the service of process form, both parties must attend a pre-trial conference.
At the Pre-trial conference, the Judge will review the pleadings and documents and may simplify the issues, refer the case to mediation, and take care of any other matters as needed. You may settle the case with the other arty before or at the pre-trial conference by entering into and filing a stipulated agreement. This agreement can settle all or part of the case and becomes part of the court order. Either party may also move to have the pre-trial conference continued if needed.
Sometimes, the participation of a third, neutral party is helpful in aiding the litigants in reaching an agreement. This process is called Mediation and your case may be referred to it at the pre-trial conference.
If the parties are unable to reach an agreement through stipulation or mediation, they must appear for trial on the date and time scheduled by the Judge during the pre-trial conference. When the defendant fails to respond or show up to defend against the statement of claim, the clerk or Judge may enter a default judgment. All parties are bound by the applicable law and the court cannot help you to present your case. The parties must make certain to bring all evidence and witnesses to the trial but letters, affidavits and estimates may not be accepted as evidence.
A judgment is the written decision of the case and includes the amount of money to be paid by one party to another, acts which must be performed, or property which must be transferred. After the judgment is signed, it will be recorded in the county’s public records and will be provided to the parties either at the conclusion of the trial or later by mail.
If the parties feel the Judge has made an error, they have ten days from the date of the judgment is entered by the court to file with the clerk for a re-hearing.
After the judgment is entered, the winning party may need to execute and enforce the terms of the judgment in order to collect money or property. If judgment monies are paid in full, the plaintiff must furnish the defendant with a completed satisfaction of judgment form which can be obtained from your local Clerk of Court.
Please note that just because you have won a judgment it does not mean collection of judgment monies is guaranteed. The court cannot and does not guarantee collection of judgment monies.
Small Claims Pre-trials are held the second Thursday of each month at 1:00 p.m. Telephonic appearance is NOT allowed. Parties must appear in person.
Motions to Continue must be in writing and e-filed with the clerk of court. Courtesy copies should be either mailed or e-mailed to the Judicial Assistant within two days of the pre-trial conference hearing.
If you are an attorney and have not perfected service on the defendant, you must file a Motion to Continue based on lack of service with the Clerk of Court. Courtesy copies along with a proposed orders should be e-mailed directly to the Judicial Assistant within two days of the pre-trial conference hearing.
Cases that are not resolved and request a trial date will be provided with such by the Judge at pre-trial conference. It is the parties’ responsibility to exchange all documents capable of photocopying at least ten days prior to the trial date. Each party is responsible for subpoenaing their own witnesses as needed.
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