Is the small claims division right for you?Before you file a claim in the small claims division of the district court, you should decide whether it is the right "court" for you. There are a number of things to consider from the amount of your claim to your ability to "represent" yourself in court. The small claims division of the district court is a "court of limited jurisdiction."
The small claims division of the district court cannot award more than $6,000.00, except for court costs and interest, even if your claim is worth more. In the small claims division your case may be heard by a district court judge or a district court attorney magistrate. In a small claims case, the parties cannot have attorneys represent them.
You cannot have a jury trial. In addition, the district court judge's decision is final and cannot be appealed. However, if the case is heard by a district court attorney magistrate, the decision may be appealed to the district court judge for a new hearing in the small claims division. If either party objects to these conditions, the case will be transferred to the general civil division of the district court for a hearing. If that occurs, all parties may have attorneys.
Statutes and court rules
Statutes and court rules associated with small claims proceedings are: MCL 600.8401 through MCL 600.8427, MCL 600.8302, MCR 4.301 through MCR 4.306.
How to begin a small claims case
To start a case, an "Affidavit and Claim, Small Claims" form DC 84 must be filed with the clerk of the district court. Small claims cases should be filed either where the cause of action arose or where the person or business you are suing is located. If you are suing more than one person or business, the suit cannot be filed where the claim arose but must be filed in the district court where any of the persons live or where any of the businesses operate.
There is a fee for filing a small claims case. The cost of filing the lawsuit is $30 for claims up to $600, $50 for claims over $600 up to $1,750, and $70 for claims over $1,750 up to $6,000. The plaintiff is responsible for paying the filing fee and other required fees or costs (postage costs or fees for serving the claim on the defendant). The amount of the fees can be included as part of the judgment against the defendant if the judge decides in your favor.
The defendant may offer to settle out of court after learning you have filed a suit. If you settle the matter out of court, you can either voluntarily dismiss your lawsuit or obtain a judgment. If you want an enforceable judgment, the terms of your agreement must be spelled out in writing and signed by both you and the defendant. A copy of the agreement must be filed with the court. The small claims division can only handle certain kinds of claims, such as simple cases to recover money, perform a contract, set aside a contract, or change a contract.
For example, the small claims division can hear a dispute between a landlord and a tenant about the return of a security deposit, or it can hear a case involving a car accident where insurance did not cover the damages to a car. The small claims division cannot hear cases of fraud, libel, slander, assault, battery, or other intentional wrongs. See MCL 600.8424(1). Although the small claims division cannot hear these intentional wrongs, it may still hear some intentional wrongdoing cases such as actions for insufficient funds (bounced checks) MCL 600.2952(6), Consumer Protection Act actions MCL 445.901 and recreational trespass MCL 324.73109.
If you decide to go to court, the procedures for small claims are simple, but they have to be followed. For additional information about how to file a small claims case and what else you need to do, see the Michigan One Court of Justice Website Small Claims Self-Help Center at courts.mi.gov.gov.