What is the Small Claims Court?
Every municipal court and county court in Ohio has a small claims division, known as the "small claims court". The purpose of the small claims court is to resolve minor disputes fairly, quickly, and inexpensively. No one needs a lawyer in small claims court, but anyone can have a lawyer if he or she wishes. A company may file a small claim and
present its claim or defense through the owner or a licensed attorney at law. A corporation may file a small claim and present its claim only by a licensed attorney at law.
The procedure in small claims court is much simpler than in regular court. ("Regular court" includes the general division of municipal court or county court, and the general division of common pleas court.) In small claims court: hearings are informal; there is no jury; cases are decided either by the municipal court judge or county court judge, or by a
"magistrate" (a qualified attorney appointed by the judge); court costs are much lower than in regular court, etc. Many small claims courts hold evening sessions; small claims courts in large metropolitan areas may have neighborhood offices.
What cases can the court handle?
A small claims court can handle most claims for money damages of $3,000.00 or less, and counterclaims, and cross-claims of $3,000.00 or less. Be sure to ask the clerk of the court where you file a claim, or defend a claim against you, what the current dollar limits are when you file your claims or defend a claim brought against you. Defending a claim may include more than presenting your position. It may include the filing of a counterclaim, a cross-claim, or a third-party complaint.
Small claims cases are like other lawsuits, except the amounts involved are too small to make the expense of suing in regular court worthwhile. The kinds of claims filed in small claims court include, for example, claims by tenants to recover security deposits; claims by landlords for unpaid rent or damage to their property; claims by buyers for damages for defective merchandise; claims by business people and
trades people for unpaid bills; claims by automobile owners for damage sustained in minor accidents; claims by employees, babysitters, maids, and handypersons for unpaid wages. Also, government entities can file certain claims in small claims court. In summary, small claims court is a forum which can handle, and resolve, most common disputes which involve modest monetary claims.
There are limitations on the claims that small claims courts can handle. First, the claim must be for money only. For example a small claims court cannot issue restraining orders or injunctions, or grant divorces. Second, not counting court costs and interest, a claim cannot exceed $3,000.00 and, if filed, a counterclaim or a cross-claim cannot exceed $3,000.00. Third, regardless of the amount involved, a small claims court cannot handle certain lawsuits. For example, a small claims court cannot handle lawsuits based on libel, slander, and malicious prosecution; lawsuits seeking punitive or exemplary damages; or lawsuits brought by an assignee or agent. Fourth, claims against certain entities, for example, the agencies of the State of Ohio, or the United States government and its agencies, cannot be handled by a small claims court. Fifth, no person or business can file more than 24 cases in any one year (except to secure payment for a dishonored check). Sixth, where a counterclaim or cross-claim in excess of $3,000.00 is filed, the court will transfer the case to its regular court docket. Seventh, the court may transfer a case to regular court upon the motion (written request to the court) of a party against whom a claim, counterclaim, or cross-claim is made, or upon the motion of a third-party defendant (a person or entity not in the original case who was added to the case after the case started.)
Who can sue or be sued?
In general-but with important exceptions-anyone can sue or be sued. A person, or entity, committing, or receiving, a legal wrong or injury can sue or be sued. The general rule is that any individual, company, business, or organization can file a claim or have a claim filed against him, her, or it. A minor under 18 can use the court through his or her parent or guardian.
The person who files the claim is the "plaintiff", and the person against whom the claim is filed is the "defendant".
As noted above, claims against the agencies of the State of Ohio or against the United States government, or its agencies, cannot be handled by a small claims court.
In general, claims against the agencies of the State of Ohio may be handled by the Court of Claims of Ohio located in Columbus. The Court of Claims of Ohio has an administrative determination procedure for claims of $2,500 or less. Information about the Court of Claims of Ohio is available from the Clerk of the Court of Claims.
Many claims for civil wrongs against United States government agencies may be handled administratively under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Information about this procedure, including the form used to file such claims, is available from the federal agency involved.
Where do I file my claims?
Your claim must be filed in the small claims divisions of the municipal court or county having "jurisdiction".
A small claims court has "jurisdiction" if the transaction or incident on which your claim is based took place in that court's geographical territory. Regardless of where the transaction or incident took place, a small claims court also has jurisdiction if the defendant (or any one defendant, if there is more than one) lives, or has his, her, or its principal place of business in the court's territory.
Deputy Clerks in the Small Claims Division will help you file your claims Monday through Friday, 8
am. to 4:30 pm.