This information has been prepared by the 38th District Court as a general overview of the Small Claims process. It is not intended to take the place of professional legal advice.
What is Small Claims?
Small Claims is a dispute resolution option in the district court for money disputes in the amount of $5,000.00 or less. The Small Claims process is designed to expedite the resolution of the dispute. To proceed under Small Claims rules, the parties must agree to waive the following rights:
For specifics regarding the Small Claims process, please refer to subchapter 4.300 of the Michigan Court Rules.
Can I Collect If I Win?
A verdict in your favor does not automatically mean the defendant will pay the judgment and costs immediately. You may have to take certain additional steps to obtain your money, and in some cases, success in collecting may depend on whether the other party has the money to pay.
Before filing a Small Claims action, you should consider whether the other party has the money to pay. If not, the effort and cost to file and proceed may not be worth it.
How Do I Know In Which Court to File?
The proper court in which to file your Small Claims action is the district court where the other party lives or does business, or where the incident occurred.
How Do You File?
First make sure you are bringing the claim against the proper party and you have the defendant's proper name and address. Having the correct address is vital for the service of the summons.
Complete an “Affidavit & Claim” form and submit it with the appropriate filing fee to a court clerk at the 38th District Courts (or forward to the Court by mail). If the amount of the claim exceeds $5,000.00, the actual amount of the claim must be stated on the Affidavit & Claim with acknowledgment that the plaintiff waives claim to the excess over $5,000.00. A judgment on the claim is a bar to a later action in any court to recover the excess.
What does it cost to file?
The cost of filing a Small Claims action varies depending upon the amount of the claim:
Amount of Claim Filing Fee
Claims up to $600 $25.00
Claims over $601 - $1,750 $45.00
Claims over $1,751 - $5,000 $65.00
In addition, the filing party must bear the cost of serving the summons.
How Can Service of Summons Be Arranged?
The defendant must be served with the small claims affidavit. Service of the summons can be done by personal service or certified mail.
The following are the fees for both types of service:
Certified mail: (Certified mail service must be completed by the Court.)
Prices are per defendant $12.00
Service will be made by the Court approved process server, who will invoice the plaintiff directly for service. (Note: If an incorrect address is provided, the plaintiff may be invoiced an additional $12.00 fee by the process server for attempted service at the incorrect address.)
How Will the Case Proceed?
Upon proper service, the defendant may file an answer to the complaint within 21 days of service and must appear at the scheduled hearing. Either party may have the case moved from the Small Claims calendar to the General Civil calendar.
If, as the defendant, you feel you have a claim against the person suing you, you may file that “counterclaim” in writing. The counterclaim may be served by first class mail.
If the filing party (plaintiff) fails to appear for the scheduled hearing, the case will be dismissed. If after proper service, the defendant fails to appear for the scheduled hearing, a default judgment will be entered against the defendant.
What If We Settle Prior to Trial?
If the parties reach an agreement before trial, the plaintiff should notify the Court prior to the hearing date that the case is dismissed.
What Will Happen at Trial?
Prior to trial, the Court encourages the parties to discuss their differences and reach a mutually satisfying resolution. The Court may provide the parties with information about alternative dispute resolution options also.
Each side should come prepared with any evidence and/or witnesses needed to present his/her case. During the trial, each party has an opportunity to present his/her case and cross-examine the other party's presentation. The plaintiff presents first. The defendant may then cross-examine the plaintiff and his/her witnesses. Then the process is reversed with the defendant presenting and the plaintiff cross-examining.
Forms Generally Used in Small Claims (State Court Administrative Office Form Number in Parenthesis; Forms are Available Online at the Michigan Supreme Court Website, Court Forms):
Honorable Kathleen G. Galen
38th District Court