Small Claims Cases
Small claims provides a forum for resolving money disputes up to $5,500. In Small Claims cases, the parties represent themselves. You may not have an attorney represent you. Your case will be heard by a Magistrate unless you request a Judge. The Judge's decision is final and cannot be appealed.
To start a small claims lawsuit, the cause of action must have occurred in the City of Lansing or the defendant must live or do business in the City of Lansing.
Before filing your claim, you should have some idea of your chances of collecting the judgment if you are successful. A judgment does not mean automatic payment. It simply means you have proven to the court that the person you sued owes you money. There are often cases where a judgment is not difficult to obtain but the collection of the money is difficult, if not impossible. However, you have six years to collect the judgment, and a party's circumstances may change during that time.
Filing a Small Claims Lawsuit
To file a small claims lawsuit, complete Affidavit and Claim form (SCAO Approved DC84), available on the Court Forms link on our home page. You may pick up a copy of this form here, or we will mail the form to you if you send a self addressed stamped envelope and $1.00 for the form. The form must be completely filled out and your signature notarized. You may bring the completed form into the district court and we will notarize you signature. The filing fee is determined by the dollar amount you are seeking. See the table below for the various filing fee amounts.
While staff is available for assistance, please note that court employees are prohibited by law from giving legal advice.\
If you file in small claims, you are giving up the following rights:
- The right to have an attorney.
- The right to appeal to a higher court.
- The right to a jury trial.
The defendant may not agree to give up these rights, and have the case transferred to the General Civil Division.
Who May File a Claim?
The party filing the claim is the plaintiff, and the person being sued is the defendant. The plaintiff can be an individual or a business. If a business, only a partner or a full-time employee with personal knowledge of the facts can file the complaint. If the plaintiff is an individual, no one other than the plaintiff can file the complaint.
What do I need to file the complaint?
- The filing fee - see chart. Checks or money orders should be payable to the 54-A District Court. If filing by mail, include a self addressed stamped envelope to return your copy.
- The defendant's full name and address.
- The amount of the claim and the date(s) involved.
- A brief statement as to what happened.
You will receive a date for mediation or a hearing approximately 4 to 6 weeks after the defendant has been served. If your case is selected for mediation, the mediator will review the case and give both parties an opportunity to discuss their side. The mediator will assist the parties to find a solution that is satisfactory to all parties. If a satisfactory outcome cannot be negotiated, a hearing will be scheduled. Please note: If the plaintiff fails to appear for the mediation, the case may be dismissed. If the defendant fails to appear, a default judgment may be entered. The Resolution Services Center of Central Michigan handles all of 54-A District Court small claims cases.
How do I serve the defendant?
Any competent adult except the plaintiff can personally deliver the affidavit and claim to the defendant. The requirements for service of process are contained in the Michigan Court Rules.
Settlement Prior to the Hearing Date
The defendant may want to settle out of court before the hearing date. If the claim is paid before your hearing, file a voluntary dismissal with the court.
On the date the trial is set, plan to arrive at court a few minutes early. Bring all paperwork, witnesses and evidence to prove your case. The hearing will not be adjourned if you forget to bring what you need to present your case.
One of several things may occur on the scheduled date:
- The defendant may appear and file a demand that the case be transferred to the general civil division.
- The defendant may appear and consent to a judgment being entered on your behalf.
- The defendant may fail to appear. If plaintiff has proper service and plaintiff can prove to the court they have a proper claim, a default judgment will be entered.
- The defendant may appear, disagree with the claim, and the trial is held.
- If the plaintiff does not appear, the case is dismissed.
When your case is called, all parties and all witnesses will be sworn in. The hearing is an informal matter. State your claim as simply as possible. If necessary, refer to the papers or evidence you have brought with you.
The person you are suing will then have an opportunity to tell the Magistrate or Judge why they feel they do not owe you what you claim. After all testimony and evidence has been presented, the Magistrate or Judge will render a decision. If either party disagrees with the Magistrate's decision, they have 7 days to appeal.
Collecting Money from a Small Claims Judgment
It is your responsibility to collect a judgment. Because you have a judgment, you have ways of collecting that you would not have otherwise.
- If the other party has the money and is present at the trial, they can pay you immediately.
- If they do not have the money at that time and you both agree at the trial, the Judge or Magistrate can set up a payment schedule. If the defendant is not present at the trial, the court will send a copy of the small claims judgment to the defendant. The judgment will order the defendant to pay you in full within 21 days.
- If the defendant does not pay the judgment as ordered, you will have to collect your money through a request and order to seize property or a garnishment.
What is a Request and Order to Seize Property?
Request and order to seize property is a court procedure allowing the court officer to seize property belonging to the defendant which can be sold to pay for your judgment. If you want to file a request and order to seize property, you may use form MC 19, Request and Order to Seize Property.
You must wait 21 days after your small claims judgment was signed before you can get a request and order to seize property. Form MC 19, Request and Order to Seize Property, is used to start the process. Complete the Request and Verification portion of form MC 19 and file it with the court. The filing fee is $15.00. The court will issue the order by signing the form, and it will be executed by the sheriff or court officer.
What is Garnishment?
Garnishment is a court procedure allowing you to collect your judgment directly from the defendant's wages, bank account, or other source such as income tax refunds. If you want to file a garnishment, see the court clerk for the proper forms. Instructions are included with the forms.
You must wait 21 days after your small claims judgment was signed before you can get a garnishment. Form MC 12 or MC 13, Request and Writ of Garnishment, is used to start the garnishment process. There are three types of garnishments: periodic, non-periodic and income tax.
To get a request and order to seize property or a garnishment, you will first need to know where the defendant lives and works, what assets they have and where the assets are located, and any other information which identifies the defendant and their property.
If you have the information described above, you can start the process for a request and order to seize property or a garnishment.
If you do not have the information described above, you will need to order the defendant to appear in court for questioning through a process called discovery. You can start this process by filing a discovery subpoena.
How to File a Discovery Subpoena
You must wait 21 days after your small claims judgment was signed before you can file a discovery subpoena. Form MC 11, Subpoena (Order to Appear) can be used.
The court will issue the Subpoena by having the Judge sign it. Once the Subpoena is signed, it must be served on the defendant, by the process server or any legally competent adult who is not a party or an officer of a corporate party. The filing fee for a discovery subpoena is $15.00.
If your case against the defendant involved a traffic accident, you can ask the court for an abstract of judgment which suspends the defendant's Michigan driver license until they pay the judgment. You must wait 30 days after the judgment date before you get an abstract of judgment. You need to provide the defendant's full name, date of birth, and Michigan driver license number. There is no filing fee. The court clerk should have the necessary forms.
When payment or judgment is complete, either in full or to your satisfaction, you should file a Satisfaction of Judgment with the court, releasing defendant of said judgment.
***All forms are $1.00 each