You may visit the Small Claims Division during the office hours of 8:30 A.M. to 5:00 P.M., Monday through Friday. The Small Claims Division is located in the Fostoria Municipal Building. The phone number is (419) 435-8139.
Small Claims Court is a division of the Civil Docket and is governed by Chapter 1925 of the Ohio Revised Code, Rule 53 of the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure, and Rule 101(C)(8) of the Ohio Rules of Evidence.
Small Claims Court provides a quick, informal and inexpensive way of resolving various types of disputes one has with other individuals or companies. Complaints heard in Small Claims Court include a variety of legal disputes, such as repair problems, breach of warranty, defective products, unreturned rental deposits, undelivered goods, insurance claims, damage done to property, etc.
Small Claims Court can decide claims for MONEY ONLY. The Small Claims Judge cannot order a Defendant to do anything other than pay a specific sum of money. So, you must be able to put a price tag on any damages you have suffered as a result of the Defendant's actions. You must have evidence to offer to prove the damages.
Small Claims Court does not have jurisdiction in such actions as libel, slander, repossession or cases which do not involve actual monetary damages. If you have a dispute with your mechanic, for example, you can base an action on your bills or the estimated cost of redoing his work. But, you could not ask the Court to make the mechanic fix your car or release it before payment of a bill. If you are a Defendant in a Small Claims action and you believe that you have a claim against the Plaintiff, you may file a counterclaim with the Court and it must be served to the Plaintiff and all other parties with a copy of the counterclaim at least seven (7) days prior to the date of the hearing of the Plaintiff's claim. The monetary limit on the amount of damages that can be claimed on a complaint is $3,000.00, plus interest and court costs. The monetary limit on a counter-claim or cross-claim is $3,000.00 plus interest and court costs. If a counterclaim exceeds this amount, the case must be transferred out of Small Claims Court to the regular docket of this Court or if the counterclaim exceeds $15,000.00 it will be transferred to Seneca County Common Pleas Court.
What is small claims?
WHAT IS SMALL CLAIMS COURT?
The Small Claims Court is designed to handle claims that are too small to warrant the services of an attorney. The maximum amount you may sue or be sued for is $3,000.00. The limit on a counterclaim is $3,000.00. Small Claims Court is informal and provides an inexpensive way for you to bring a civil lawsuit against another person, organization, company, or corporation. You may sue for money only. You may not sue for libel or slander, possession of property, malicious prosecution, abuse of process or claims by assignees or agents. Your case may not involve punitive damages or a jury.
The person filing the claim is referred to as the plaintiff. The defendant is the person against whom the claim has been filed. The defendant must live in the Court's jurisdiction, or the basis of the complaint must have arisen in the Court's jurisdiction, which is the City of Fostoria, Loudon and Jackson Townships in Seneca County, Washington Township in Hancock County and Perry Township in Wood County.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: If you are an individual, then either you or your attorney must sign the claim form and appear in Court for the trial. You may not be represented by an agent or employee unless he or she is an attorney. If you are a partnership, then either a partner or the partnership's attorney must sign the claim form and appear in Court for the trial. An agent or employee of the partnership may not sign the claim form or appear in Court on behalf of the partnership unless he or she is an attorney. If you are an individual doing business under another name and your business is not incorporated, then either you or your attorney must sign the claim form and appear in Court for the trial. An agent or employee of your unincorporated business may not sign the claim form or appear in Court on your behalf. If you are a corporation or an association, then either an officer or salaried employee of the corporation/association or the corporation's/association's attorney must file the claim form and appear in Court for the trial. However, the corporation's/association's representative may not engage in cross examination, argument or other acts of advocacy unless he or she is an attorney. (See Ohio Revised Code Section 1925.17.)
How do you file a claim?
Claim forms are available at the Court. When you file, it is essential to have the following information with you:
1. The amount you are requesting for damages;
2. The time and place of the transaction or incident that gave rise to the complaint;
3. The original document plus a copy to serve each defendant if you are suing on a note, canceled or "not sufficient funds" check, or on a contract or account in writing;
4. The correct name and address of the party you are suing and, if possible, the home and business telephone numbers of the party you are suing.
If you are suing a corporation you must use its legal name on the claim form. When suing a company which is not a corporation, you must sue an individual dba (doing business as) name of company. You should check to see if the business is a corporation before you file to avoid later problems.
After you complete the claim form you will be asked to verify it by signing it in the presence of a court deputy or notary public.
How is defendant notified of trial?
The Court notifies the defendant of the claim by sending the claim with a summons by certified mail, return receipt requested. If the defendant does not claim or refuses the certified mail, another copy of the claim and summons will be sent by regular mail and the trial date may need to be rescheduled. The plaintiff should call the Court at least three (3) days prior to the trial date to verify that the defendant has received the summons and complaint and that the trial will proceed as scheduled or has been rescheduled.
If a mailed summons cannot be delivered, the plaintiff will be notified of this failure. If the plaintiff desires another mail service at a new address, there is additional charge.
Remember, the plaintiff is responsible for supplying the defendant's correct address and telephone number.
What happens if you receive a summons?
Receiving a summons means that you have been named a defendant in a case. If you wish to defend yourself against the claim, you may:
1. Prepare for trial by organizing your case and collecting evidence.
2. File a counterclaim if you believe you have one.
If you ignore the summons and do not appear for trial, the plaintiff may be given judgment for the amount sued for plus interest and costs.
How does defendant file a counterclaim?
If you are being sued and you have a claim against the plaintiff as a result of the same incident or transaction as stated in plaintiff's complaint, you may file a counterclaim. The procedure is similar to that for filing a claim. It must be filed at least seven (7) days prior to the trial date. The Court will notify the plaintiff that a counterclaim has been filed. Both the claim and the counterclaim will be heard by the Court at the same time. There is a charge for filing a counterclaim.
What if you cannot appear on the scheduled court date?
Continuances of hearings may be had in the following manner:
1. At the discretion of the Court if you have a real emergency or an urgent reason, or
2. By consent of the opposing party.
In either instance the request for continuance must be made in writing and filed at the Court with written notice given to the opposing party preferably five (5) days prior to the hearing date.
Should you bring witnesses to the trial?
Yes, if you believe their testimony is important to your case. The people who should testify are those who actually participated in the events causing the dispute. Witnesses are essential to confirm your testimony or to relate relevant events that occurred when you were not present. If a witness will not appear voluntarily, you may subpoena him/her through the Clerk of Court's office. The costs and procedures will be explained to you by the deputy clerk.
What should you bring to court?
Bring all evidence and witnesses necessary to prove your case on the assigned court date, including such items as repair estimates, estimates of the value of your property before and after it was damaged, taken or destroyed, automobile title or memo certificate (required in any automobile damage suit), bills, receipts, letters, canceled checks, photographs, contracts, and any other papers having a bearing on the claim. You should bring enough copies of documents to be used as evidence to give to both the court and the opposing party. Please note the Court will not award the value of new items to replace old/used items. Further, the Court will not award repair costs if they exceed the total value of the property. For example, if someone takes, damages or destroys your bicycle which is worth $100.00, you will be awarded a maximum of $100.00 even though it may cost $200.00 to repair it or buy a new one.
What happens when you come to court?
Go to the courtroom at the time shown in your trial notice and wait for your case to be called. Your case will be heard before a judge.
The plaintiff, defendant, and each witness will be given time to tell his or her side of the story. Small claims trials usually last from ten to thirty minutes.
Suggestions for appearing in court:
Be on time. The Court will not wait if you are late, and your case will be dismissed or a default judgment may be entered for the opposing party.
Do not interrupt. You will be given time to tell your side of the story and to respond to the other party's testimony. Do not interrupt or talk to your witness while the other party is speaking.
Be brief and to the point. Be prepared for your Court appearance. Arrange your evidence so that it can be presented with your testimony, and try to make it a short, organized presentation of the facts. You do not need to use complicated legal language.
What happens if you miss the court appearance?
If you are the defendant and fail to appear in court, a default judgment may be entered for the plaintiff if the Judge decides that the plaintiff has proven his case.
If you are the plaintiff and fail to appear in court, the case will be dismissed or a judgment may be entered for defendant. However, if the defendant has filed a counterclaim and does appear, a default judgment may be entered against the plaintiff.
Once a default judgment is entered, the case will not be reopened unless the Judge decides the missed appearance was unavoidable or unintentional. A request to reopen the case must be filed in writing with a copy to the other side and filed immediately on receipt of the judgment. This is a special process and the request must state your reasons.
When will you hear the court's decision?
The decision of the Judge will become known to you in one of two ways:
1. At the close of the hearing, the Judge will announce his decision in open court in cases where the questions of law and fact are simple and also in cases where there is a dismissal or a default judgment; or
2. The Judge will take the decision under advisement at the close of the hearing in more complex cases. Then, after review and consideration, the parties will be notified by mail of the Judge's decision.
Collecting on a judgment:
The individual or corporation that wins a money judgment is known as the judgment creditor. The loser is called the judgment debtor.
How can the judgment creditor collect?
There are several ways you can collect money owed to you on a judgment. The best way is voluntary payment by the judgment debtor. After you receive your judgment, you should contact the judgment debtor and attempt to arrange for payment either all at once or in installments.
What if the debtor refuses to pay?
The two most common methods to force the judgment debtor to pay are by garnishment or attachment.
Garnishment means that the court orders the judgment debtor's bank or employer to pay the balance in his bank account or up to twenty-five percent of his net earnings into the Court to satisfy the judgment. To pursue this method, the judgment creditor must take the first step by filing the proper papers with the Court and paying the costs up front. The Court will not initiate such action on its own. Costs are recoverable through the garnishment.
Attachment is the method whereby the Court orders some of the judgment debtor's personal property (such as a car, stereo or television) seized and sold to pay the judgment. Attachment is more time consuming, complicated and initially more costly than garnishment. It is recommended that you have an attorney handle attachment for you.
What is the judgment lien?
This is a procedure whereby the judgment creditor places a lien on the real estate owned by the judgment debtor. Just having the lien will not get your money for you. In order to use this as a direct method to collect, you will have to foreclose on the lien which is a complicated procedure. It is recommended that you have an attorney handle foreclosures for you. This should be used only as a last resort. The initial steps for obtaining a lien, however, require your getting a certificate of judgment from the Court which granted the judgment and then filing the certificate with the Clerk of the Common Pleas Court in any county where the judgment debtor may own real estate.
How does the judgment creditor find the property to garnish or attach?
If the judgment is not satisfied within thirty (30) days after judgment, the judgment creditor may request the Court to order the judgment debtor to list his/her assets, liabilities and personal earnings on a form prepared by the Court. There is a $40.00 court cost fee to file this request. The judgment creditor then may proceed to enforce the judgment with this information.
Will the court help to enforce the judgment?
The judgment creditor can get the assistance of the Court to fill out the necessary papers as long as the costs are paid. The Court, however, cannot give legal advice. You will have to employ an attorney for this.
A final point:
It is possible that your judgment is un-collectible. Although
the Court can assist you within limits in enforcing your judgment, it
cannot make the judgment debtor pay something he does not have.
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