Small claims court, also known as conciliation court, is an informal proceeding designed to be a relatively inexpensive and quick process to recover money owed. Small claims court is generally limited to the recovery of money. If you are owed an amount less than $15,000, you may consider pursuing your case with or without the assistance of an attorney in small claims court.
In North Dakota, the court system provides a helpful guide to initiating a small claims action. The type of case that may be heard in small claims court is limited to the recovery of money or cancellation of an agreement where the amount claimed does not exceed $15,000. If you are seeking to recover more than $15,000, your case must be filed in district court, which is a more expensive and formal process. Unlike district court cases, which are initiated through service of a summons, a small claims case is initiated by filing a claim affidavit and filing fee with the court. The filing fee for small claims cases in North Dakota is $10. The claim affidavit and other documents must then be served on the defendant. Proof of that service must then be filed with the court. Included in those other documents is a form for an answer and request for a hearing, which the defendant must submit to the court if he or she disputes the claim. The defendant also has the option to move the case to the district court.
It is important to note that if the defendant chooses to move the case to the district court and the plaintiff prevails, the defendant is responsible for the entirety of the plaintiff’s attorney fees and costs. If the defendant does not respond or request a hearing, the small claims court may order a default judgment. If a default judgment is ordered, the small claims court will enter a judgment in favor of the plaintiff for the amount requested and send notice of the judgment to the defendant. However, if the defendant responds and requests a hearing, the court will set a date and time for the hearing.
The Minnesota court system similarly provides a helpful guide to conciliation court. Minnesota conciliation court is also limited to a claim for $15,000 or $4,000 if the claim involves a consumer credit transaction. In Minnesota, the court will serve the claim documents by mail if the claim is for less than $2,500. If the claim is for more than $2,500, the plaintiff must arrange for service on the defendant. After filing and service, the conciliation court will set a hearing date for every case regardless of whether the defendant responds. If the defendant does not attend the hearing, the conciliation court may enter a default judgment in your favor.
Whether in Minnesota or North Dakota, if you are the plaintiff in a small claims court case, you must attend any hearing set by the court and bring any witnesses and evidence you have to support your case. Small claims court hearings are informal, but it is still the plaintiff’s burden to prove the amount owed and being prepared is crucial. You should bring three printed copies (one for you, one for the court, and one for the defendant) of any relevant documents, including text messages and emails supporting your case.
The next issue that arises if you obtain a judgment in small claims court is collecting on that judgment. Collecting on a judgment can be challenging depending on the specific facts of the defendant’s situation. In Minnesota, you must wait 23 days before attempting to collect on the judgment. In North Dakota, you must wait 14 days after obtaining a judgment to collect. At this point, you may find the assistance of an attorney to be especially helpful in navigating various collections issues.
If you need assistance with a case that may be resolved in small claims court, contact the attorneys at O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Foss in Fargo, North Dakota. Call 701-235-8000 or 877-235-8002 to discuss your case.