Suing in a North Carolina Small Claims Court
Small claims court is a limited jurisdiction court designed for handling things like small, non-criminal cases or minor disputes between two individuals or parties. In North Carolina, small claims recoveries are limited to $10,000 or less. Litigants seeking more than $10,000 must file their claim with one of several other courts.
To file in a North Carolina small claims court, you must be at least 18 years old. You do not have to have a lawyer to file a claim. In fact, small claims court is designed to cater to individuals who have a problem that needs to be addressed but may not be able to afford legal representation. That said, having the help of a North Carolina small claims lawyer is never a bad idea.
How to Take Someone to Small Claims Court
In addition to cases where litigants are seeking monetary rewards or a return of property valued under $10,000, small claims courts are also often used for eviction cases or for enforcing actions on motor vehicle liens. It’s worth noting that, while all of the cases above may also be filed in district court, small claims court is usually a much faster process.
The steps for filing a small claims case in North Carolina are as follows:
1. Fill out and submit the relevant paperwork.
Before you start on the forms, make sure you have all the details of your case and the name and address of the defendant handy. You can find North Carolina’s small claims forms here or you may be able to get them in person at your county’s court office. To submit your claim, you’ll need the following:
– Three copies of the appropriate complaint form (money, personal property recovery, eviction, etc.)
– Three copies of a Magistrate Summons
– TA Service Members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) Affidavit
2. Prepare your filing fees.
The North Carolina Judicial Branch website lists all current court fees. Additionally, if you can’t afford to pay your court fees, you can submit a form to file your case as an indigent.
3. File your paperwork.
In North Carolina, small claims cases must be filed in the county where the defendant lives, whether they are an individual or a business entity.
4. Serve the defendant.
The person or entity you’re filing a claim against needs to be informed of the case somehow. In North Carolina, most defendants are served either by an uninterested (adult) party or via certified mail with a confirmation signature. In general, defendants must be served at least five days before the court date, although this timeframe depends on the specific type of case being filed. Check with your local clerk court to find out exactly how far in advance the defendant must be served.
5. Obtain proof of service.
In order for your case to proceed, you must be able to prove to the court that you did, in fact, serve the defendant within the required timeframe. If you seek the help of a process serving company, they will provide you with proof of service once they have successfully served the defendant. If you serve the defendant via mail, you’ll need to fill out North Carolina’s Affidavit Of Service Of Process By Registered Mail/Certified Mail/Designated Delivery Service form and submit it to your local court clerk.
Don’t forget that you have a limited timeframe in which to file a small claims case. In North Carolina, the statute of limitations for small claims is typically three years, but that can change depending on the specifics of your case. A small claims attorney can help provide insight on the statute of limitations for your case and make sure everything is filed well in advance of the deadline.
How Small Claims Court Works
After filing, the court will assign a hearing date (typically in 30 days or less) that lets both parties know when to show up in court. If either party is unable to attend the hearing on the specified date, they may be able to request a continuance which, if approved by the court, would allow the hearing to be rescheduled. If both parties agree to settle out of court and obtain proof of this agreement in writing, they should notify the court ASAP so that the hearing may be canceled.
Small claims cases in North Carolina are typically overseen by a magistrate. Though they may be practicing attorneys, magistrates are not judges. Instead, they are typically civilian officers appointed by the state to rule over small matters, such as seen in small claims court or preliminary criminal trials.
On the day of the hearing, both parties should arrive early and come prepared with any and all evidence they can that may be helpful to their side of the case. This could include things like emails, pictures, text messages, social media posts, letters, and a variety of other documents. Once the hearing starts, both parties are sworn in before being given equal opportunity to present their case.
In general, the plaintiff (the person who filed the claim) will go first. They’ll present their evidence, be able to call witnesses, and may be asked questions by the magistrate, the defendant, or the defendant’s legal counsel. The defendant will then go through the same process. Remember, regardless of which side you’re on, always answer questions truthfully and as factually as possible.
Once they have heard the trial, the magistrate may either make their decision immediately. If they don’t, they have up to 10 days to make their decision, file it with the court, and notify the plaintiff and defendant in writing.
Appealing a Small Claims Decision
If either party is unhappy with the outcome of the trial, they may file an appeal. Appeals can be made orally and in person, if the magistrate announces their decision at the hearing, or by filing a Notice of Appeal to District Court. If either party chooses to file in writing, they must submit their notice of appeal to the court and provide the opposing party with a copy of the appeal within 10 days of when the magistrate files their judgment.
After the appeal is filed and court fees are paid (or a request to file as an indigent is approved), your case will be scheduled to be heard in district court. District court cases are typically overseen by a judge, but you may request for your case to be heard by a jury, as long as you do so within 10 days of the day the trial is scheduled.
In district court, the plaintiff and defendant may both file motions to go through discovery. The discovery process is when both parties exchange documents, evidence, and interrogation information relevant to the case. The process of appealing, discovery, and going to district court is essentially like starting from square one. It’s significantly longer and more complicated than small claims court, which is why many people choose to hire a lawyer to help them in district court.
Getting Your Small Claims Judgement
As a plaintiff, if you win your small claims case, the state requires that the defendant pay the judgment they owe within 10 days of the final decision in either small claims court or district court. Once paid, you must file a Certificate of Payment with the court so they may note it in their records.
If you do not receive a payment within 10 days, you should inform the court so that they can have a sheriff issue what’s known as an execution. This allows the sheriff to go to the defendant and demand payment. It also allows the sheriff to seize certain types of non-exempt property in the event that the defendant refuses to pay. In this scenario, the sheriff would turn the seized property over to the court who would, in turn, pay you the court-mandated judgment.
Do I Need a Small Claims Lawyer?
As we mentioned, many people choose to represent themselves in small claims court, and some of them do so successfully. Even so, seeking the assistance of a small claims attorney can only help.
The lawyers at Mulligan Attorneys are familiar with the law and small claims court system. We understand the process and know which legal arguments are most useful in a given scenario. If you think you have a case for small claims court and are seeking professional legal guidance to help increase the chances of maximizing your potential recovery, contact Mulligan Attorneys at 910-763-1100.