Filing A Claim
The individual or corporation who initiates a court action is known as the plaintiff. The individual or corporation against whom an action is brought is the defendant. Anyone may file a claim. However, a person under age 18 must bring an action through his or her parent or guardian, and a corporation must bring an action through an officer, salaried employee or an attorney at law.
The plaintiff must supply the correct name and address of all defendants. Special care should be given when filing against a business or other organization to determine whether or not it is incorporated. If incorporated, you must supply the exact corporate name of the defendant. You may be able to determine whether the defendant is incorporated by contacting the Secretary of State, corporate section in Columbus, Ohio. If the business is not incorporated, you must supply the name of the owner(s).
Representation by an attorney at law is permitted, but not required. A corporate party, however, may not engage in cross examination, argument or other acts of advocacy, unless it is represented by an attorney at law.
The Small Claims Division has jurisdiction over claims for the recovery of money only, with a maximum allowable recovery of $3,000 exclusive of interest and costs.
Generally, the court has jurisdiction over a claim if the incident (or transaction) giving rise to the claim occurred in Fairfield, Ohio. The court does not have jurisdiction over actions for libel, slander, malicious prosecution and alienation of affections. Assignees may not bring claims in the Small Claims Division. Also, no demands may be made for punitive damages.
Although you may prepare and present your case in any manner you see fit, you should have evidence to support your claim. And, while you believe that the defendant owes you a sum of money, the most important objective is to convince a judge or magistrate that your claim is valid. As the plaintiff, you will have the "burden of proof" and will be expected to prove your case by the greater weight of the evidence.
Evidence includes your testimony, the testimony of witnesses, written agreements, receipts, public records, tangible items, photographs, etc. Please note that a written statement from a witness is not admissible as evidence. You may issue subpoenas, if necessary, to command the attendance of witnesses.
Inasmuch as each case is different, it is difficult to estimate how much evidence is enough to prove your case. Listed below are several of the types of cases commonly heard in the Small Claims Division and evidence suggested.
Automobile Property Damage
- Certificate of title to prove ownership of your vehicle.
- At least two estimates of repair, or a repair bill.
- Witnesses who viewed the accident.
- Receipt or canceled check, etc. showing payment of the deposit.
- Lease agreement, if there is one.
- Witnesses who view the premises before and/or after occupancy.
Damage to Real Property
- 2 estimates of repair, or repair bill.
- Photographs of the damage.
- Witnesses who viewed the incident.
Loss or Conversion of Personal Property
- Receipt, canceled check, invoice showing value of the item lost, or an estimate of the value of the property.
- Witnesses who could describe the condition of the property.
Faulty Repair of Automobile, Appliance, Etc.
- Description of the item repaired.
- A receipt from the transaction or a witness who observed the transaction.
- Estimates prepared by repair experts showing the costs to complete or redo the alleged faulty or incomplete repairs.
- If possible, an expert witness in the field of such subject matter to discuss the damage caused to the property.
Service of Process
- It is fundamental that defendants receive notice of the claim brought against them. The procedure of delivering such notice to the defendant is known as "service of process" (or "service" for short).
- In Ohio, the usual method of service is by certified mail. Ideally, the certified letter containing the summons is delivered to the defendant who will sign a card acknowledging receipt of the summons. The case then proceeds to trial.
- However, if the letter is returned to the court showing no delivery, the case cannot be heard as to the defendant to whom delivery was intended. In order to proceed further, it will be necessary for you to re-issue new service in a manner prescribed by Ohio law.
- If service is returned with the postal endorsement "unclaimed" or "refused," it will be necessary for you to re-issue service by ordinary mail.
- If service is returned for any other reason, e.g., "moved, "addressee unknown," etc. you must discover another address for the defendant and attempt the process all over again by Alias Summons.
- In sum, be sure to verify the address of the defendant. A failure of service will delay your trial causing you inconvenience and additional expense.
One continuance, not exceeding 30 days, will be granted to any party who makes such a request in writing at least seven days prior to trial. The request should include the names of the parties, the case number and the reason for the continuance.
Transfer to the Regular Docket
Just as you have elected to file your claim in this division of the court rather than the regular civil division, the defendant has the right to transfer the case out of the Small Claims Division and into the regular civil division. The defendant may do this in order to preserve his right to a trial by jury and also his right to a stenographic record of the proceedings. Once transferred, the case will not return to the Small Claims docket.
At the trial you will have an opportunity to present your argument and your evidence to the court. You will also have a right to cross examine the defendant and his witnesses in order to bring out points in your favor (exception: corporation who appears without an attorney at law may not engage in cross examination). Similarly, the defendant will have an opportunity to present his evidence and to ask questions of you and your witnesses.
Be well prepared in advance of your day in court. Make a list of the points you wish to cover, and have your evidence ready for presentation. Be straightforward and let the facts speak for themselves.
The court, after hearing the case on its merits, will render a decision. The decision may be announced at the conclusion of the case, or it may be mailed out to you in the form of a written opinion several days later.
Collection of the Judgment
Collection is the last and often the most difficult phase of the entire action, difficult for both attorneys and laymen alike. Ideally, the defendant will pay you within a reasonable time after judgment. However, if the defendant fails to pay you, you must take steps to enforce collection.
Generally, your collection will come from the defendant’s income or property. If the defendant is without income or property, you will be without means to enforce collection, at least until the defendant is able to acquire such income or property sufficient to pay the amount of the judgment. Obviously, it is important to evaluate your chances of enforcing collection prior to investing the time and expense necessary to pursue your action.
If the defendant has not fully paid you within 30 days of your hearing in court, you may contact the clerk of this court and request, at a cost, that the court order the judgment debtor to file in the court a list of his or her assets, liabilities and personal earnings, to help you to determine what income or property the defendant may have to satisfy your judgment.