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​Small Claims - Self Help

 
The following information will take you through the steps necessary in a proceeding in the small claims division of the district court. Online help is also available from Michigan Legal Help to prepare forms through an automated interview process and to provide toolkits with legal articles, FAQs, procedure, and other resources
 

Statutes and Court Rules

Statutes and court rules associated with small claims proceedings are: MCL 600.8401 through MCL 600.8427, MCL 600.8302, and MCR 4.301 through MCR 4.306.
 

Using Court Forms

Court forms are available for use in small claims proceedings. These forms follow the procedures stated in the Michigan Compiled Laws and Michigan Court Rules and can be used without the assistance of an attorney. Instructions for completing and using some of the forms are included.
 
When completing a form online, you must print the number of copies you will need for filing with the court and serving on the parties. See the upper right-hand corner of each form for this information. If you do not provide the court with the correct number of copies, the court might reject the form for nonconformance under the authority of Michigan Court Rule 8.119(C). Unless specifically required by court rule or statute, the court is not responsible for making copies of forms for you.
 

How to Begin a Small Claims Case

If you cannot resolve your dispute through settlement negotiations or mediation, you can file a claim against the person or business in the small claims division of district court. To start the case, an "affidavit and claim form" must be filed with the clerk of the district court. Details about how to complete the form and who can complete it are included with the Affidavit and Claim, Small Claims (form DC 84). You can go to the court and tell the clerk you want to file a small claims case, and the clerk will give you an Affidavit and Claim form to complete. Or you can complete the form online through this website, print it, and bring it to the court.
 
Small claims cases should be filed either where the cause of action arose (for example, where the transaction or dispute took place), where the person or business you are suing is located (for example, where the defendant resides or is employed). 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 with the small claims division of the district court is $25 for claims up to $600, $45 for claims over $600 up to $1,750, and $65 for claims over $1,750 up to $5,000. 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 (the person you are suing) 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.
 

Sending Notice of the Claim to the Defendant

The court must make sure that the defendant receives a copy of the affidavit and claim form (DC 84) along with notice to appear and answer before a district court judge or district court attorney magistrate. The court must also notify the plaintiff to appear at the time and place specified in the notice. This notice must comply with MCR 4.303 and MCL 600.8404.
 

Getting the Affidavit and Claim to the Defendant

After the affidavit and claim form (DC 84) is filed and the clerk has prepared the notice, the court will serve the affidavit and claim and notice on the defendant by either certified mail or personal service. The plaintiff must pay for this service. See MCL 600.8405 and MCR 4.303 for information on service requirements.
 

What if you Get a Small Claims Affidavit and Claim

If you are served with an affidavit and claim from the small claims division of the district court, you are called the defendant. You have several ways to respond:
  • If you want to deny the claim, you must appear in court on the trial date, bringing with you any evidence you have to support your denial. Although not required, you can also file a written answer with the court. You can use DC 03 for this purpose.
  • If you want an attorney to represent you, you should tell the court before the trial, and the case will be transferred from the small claims division to the regular district court. See MCL 600.8408 and form DC 86.
  • If you want a jury trial, you must demand one before the trial, and the case will be removed from the small claims division to the regular district court. See MCL 600.8408 and form DC 86.
  • If you have a claim against the person who is suing you, you can also file a counterclaim. Your written counterclaim should be filed with the court and served by first-class mail to the person suing you.
  • If you want a judgment in excess of $5,000, you must demand that the case be removed from the small claims division to the regular district court. See MCL 600.8408 and form DC 86.
  • If you want to reserve the right to appeal any adverse decision to the circuit court, you must demand that the case be removed from the small claims division to the regular district court. See MCL 600.8408 and form DC 86.
 
If you fail to appear for the trial, the court will probably enter a default judgment against you. This means the judge may grant a judgment for the plaintiff without hearing your response to the claim.
 
The entry of a judgment against you may appear on your credit report.
 

Preparing for the Trial

On the trial date, any of the following may happen:
  • If both the plaintiff and the defendant appear, the judge may recommend that the parties go to mediation and the case may be adjourned. If either party does not want to attempt mediation, the trial will proceed.
  • Either party may request that the case be removed from the small claims division. In that situation, the trial will not be held and the small claims case will be treated like a regular civil case and decided later.
  • If the plaintiff does not appear and the defendant does appear, the case may be dismissed.
  • If the defendant does not appear, the plaintiff may ask for a "default" judgment. This means that if the judge decides the plaintiff has a good claim, the plaintiff can obtain a judgment without a trial because the defendant did not appear to challenge the claim.
 
When you go to court for the trial, take with you all the evidence you believe proves your claim. This might include a sales receipt, guarantee, lease, contract, letter or affidavit from a witness, or accident report. If a damaged article is too big to bring with you, photographs can be presented as evidence. Any witnesses you ask to speak on your behalf may write a letter or sign an affidavit, but it is best if they appear in court as well. See general information about hearings for directions on getting witnesses to appear.
 
Remember, a small claims case will be heard by a district court judge or district court attorney magistrate; you have no right to a jury trial, and the trial will not be recorded.
 

Removal from Small Claims

Either party has the right to ask that the case be heard in the general civil division of the district court. If you want to have the case moved to the general civil division of the district court, you can complete the Demand and Order for Removal, Small Claims (form DC 86), print it, and bring it to the court before or on the day of the trial. You must file the form with the court clerk. The court will notify the person filing the lawsuit if the defendant makes such a request.
 
In the general civil division of the district court, both the plaintiff and the defendant have the right to be represented by an attorney. Either party may also request a removal from the small claims division orally at the trial, without the need for a writing. See MCL 600.8408.
 

Attending the Trial

The trial will usually take place at the court where the claim was filed. It is important to be there on time; if you filed the lawsuit and are not in court when your case is called, the case will probably be dismissed. If you are the defendant and are not in court when your case is called, a default judgment may be entered against you. Bring all your relevant papers or other evidence and make sure your witnesses arrive on time.
 
The court clerk will call the case and both parties will appear before the district court judge or district court attorney magistrate. The judge or magistrate will ask the plaintiff to state his or her claim. When the plaintiff has finished, the defendant will have an opportunity to explain his or her side of the case. Each party should listen carefully. If either party thinks someone is leaving something out or is misstating facts, the party should be sure to tell the judge or magistrate. Both parties should take their time and tell what happened in their own words and why they think the judge or magistrate should order what they seek.
 
The plaintiff will be seeking the relief requested in the claim, while the defendant may ask the court to grant the relief requested, grant some other form of relief, or dismiss the claim altogether. Each party may present evidence to support his or her argument. Witnesses will be allowed to tell the court about facts that support this evidence. See general information about hearings. See also MCR 4.304 for details.
 
A judge's decision in the small claims division is final. Neither party can appeal to a higher court once the judge has made a decision in the small claims division. If the case is decided by a district court attorney magistrate, the case will be rescheduled before a district court judge and both parties will explain their case again.
 

Judgment of the Court

The court will prepare the Judgment, Small Claims (form DC 85), after the trial. The court will also make sure that the judgment is given or sent to both parties. See also MCR 4.305 and MCL 600.8410.
 

Collecting a Money Judgment

If you obtain a judgment against the defendant, the court will provide you with instructions regarding postjudgment collections. See the link, Collecting Money from a Judgment, to the left. The defendant may pay the judgment plus court costs immediately after the trial, but if he/she does not have the money to pay right away, the judge may allow a reasonable time to pay and may set up a payment schedule.
 
If the party owing the judgment fails to pay the judgment when ordered, you must go back to the court and file additional papers to collect on the judgment by having the wages or a bank account garnished or property seized. This cannot occur until 21 days after the judgment is entered. As part of the judgment, the party owing the judgment must provide information to the court and the other party for use in postjudgment collection efforts if the judgment is not paid within 30 days. See MCR 4.305, MCL 600.8409, and MCL 600.8410.
 
Settlement, alternative dispute resolution, or mediation are alternatives to filing a case. Many cases are settled even when attorneys are involved. If you settle, you can work out your own result with the other person instead of having a district court judge or district court attorney magistrate do it. Many courts are offering mediation as an alternative to filing a small claims case. You may want to contact the small claims clerk to see if a mediation program is available in your community.

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