Small Claims Cases
Small claims provides a forum for resolving money disputes up to $5,000. 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 what 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 satisfaction of the court that the person you sued owes you money. There are often cases where a judgment is not particularly difficult to obtain but the collection of the money is difficult, if not impossible. However, you do have (6) years to collect and a party's circumstances may change during that time.
Filing a Small Claims Lawsuit
To file a small claims lawsuit you must complete Affidavit and Claim, Small Claims (DC84). You may pick up a copy of this form at the district court. The court can mail the form to you upon receiving a self addressed stamped envelope and $1.00 for the form. The form contains four parts. You must completely fill out the entire form and have your signature notarized. You may bring the completed form into the district court and we will notarize you signature. You must also pay the appropriate filing fee which is determined by the amount of the claim you are seeking. See the table below for the various filing fee amounts.
While the staff of this court will try to help either party to an action, you must understand that:
Our clerks are not attorneys and they cannot give legal advice. The judges, who are attorneys, may not and will not give advice on matters they may have to rule on. This court can render money judgments only and has no power to force anyone to do something or to stop doing something.
By having your case heard in the Small Claims Division, 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 choose not to give up these rights. He/she may demand before or at the time of hearing that the case be transferred to the General Civil Division.
Who May File a Claim?
A party who sued another party is called the plaintiff. The party being sued is called the defendant. There can be more than one plaintiff or defendant in the same action. An example would be when a husband and wife sue another husband and wife.
The following has been prepared to help you determine if you are the proper person to file the claim.
You have knowledge or information about all of the facts in the matter and you are:
- The plaintiff
- A partner
- A full-time employee of the plaintiff
The plaintiff can be:
- An individual
- A partnership
- A corporation
- A sole proprietor
****IF YOU ARE NOT THE PLAINTIFF AND DO NOT HAVE DIRECT AND PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE OF THE FACTS IN THIS DISPUTE, YOU CANNOT COMPLETE THE FORM FOR THE PLAINTIFF.
****BEFORE COMING TO THE COURT TO FILL OUT AN AFFIDAVIT OF CLAIM, BE SURE YOU HAVE THE FOLLOWING:
- The filing fee. When filing by mail, send a check or money order made payable to the 54-A District Court. Mailing fees are subject to change due to postal increases. Include a self addressed stamped envelope to return your copy.
- Defendant's full and correct name.
- Defendant's current address (rout or post office box numbers are not enough when you want a process server to make personal service). If you furnish an incorrect address and the process server attempts service, he/she is allowed by law to charge you $10.00 for his/her time.
- Amount of claim and pertinent dates.
- A concise statement as to the nature of the claim.
- At the time of the hearing, you should have copies of all papers to support your claim such as bills of sale, receipts, guarantees, accident reports, leases, promissory notes, repair estimates, photos, etc.
When your claim is filed a hearing will not be set until your case is served upon the defendant and the court has received a proof of service. Your case may then be set for mediation or hearing within 4 to 6 weeks. If your case is selected for mediation, on the date scheduled for mediation, the mediator will review the case with you. Both sides will have an opportunity to discuss their views about the case. The mediator will assist in negotiations to find a solution that satisfies the needs of all parties. Mediators may speak with each party privately to explore alternatives, if it is reasonable or necessary. 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 Dispute Resolution Center of Central Michigan handles all of 54-A District Court small claims cases at the court. At the mediation either party may, after hearing the explanation of the mediation process, request a waiver of the mediation for good cause. If the mediation is waved, the parties will immediately be scheduled for a future hearing before the Magistrate and be given a printed notice of the date and time.
There are three ways to obtain proper service:
- Any competent adult (except the plaintiff) can personally deliver the affidavit and claim to the defendant. That person must complete a proof of service and return it to the court. It is helpful to know the Michigan Court Rules regarding service of process. The proof of service must be notarized, or signed in front of a clerk at the court.
- The plaintiff, on their own volition, can send the affidavit and claim by restricted certified mail from the Postal Service. The plaintiff is responsible for bringing the affidavit and claim to the Postal Service and paying the fees necessary for restricted certified mail. The defendant is the only one that can sign for the papers. The Postal Service will return the green signature card to the Plaintiff. The plaintiff is responsible for returning the green signature card along with the proof of service directly to the court to show that service was completed. Please keep in mind, that if the Postal Service allows anyone else to sign for the papers then service has not been made.
- A professional court officer/process server can deliver the affidavit and claim to the defendant. Court officers charge $20 plus mileage. The court clerk can give you the names of approved court officers.
IMPORTANT: Once your claim has been filed, always have the case number with you when phoning or coming to the court.
Settlement Prior to the Hearing Date
Often the defendant may want to settle out of court before the hearing date. If the claim is paid you should file a voluntary dismissal with the court.
On the date the trial is set, plan to arrive at the court a few minutes early. You must bring all paperwork, witnesses and evidence to prove your case. No adjournments will be granted to permit you to bring these at a later date.
One of several things may occur on the scheduled date:
- The defendant may appear, refuse to submit to the Small Claims Division and request a Demand and Order for Removal – Small Claims must be filled out. The case will then be transferred to the General Civil Division, which is the defendants right. The defendant must then file an answer in writing within 14 days of the transfer and a new date will be set.
- The defendant may appear, admit liability for your claim and a consent judgment will be entered.
- 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, agree to have it heard in Small Claims Division and the trial will be held.
If service has been made and:
- Neither the plaintiff or the defendant appear
- The defendant appears but the plaintiff does not, the claim will be dismissed by the court.
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