section provides a general introduction to small claims courts in Ohio. It is designed to assist those who plan to
use the small claims court or who are parties to a small claims proceeding.
You should read this section in its entirety. Many questions, which occur to you as you
read, may be answered in the latter parts of this area. If you have any questions after you read
this section, you should ask the clerk of court where the claim will be filed,
or has been filed. However, the clerk
cannot give you legal advice. If your
question begins with “what do you think”, “what would you do” or “how should
I”, the clerk probably cannot provide you with an answer.
WHAT IS THE SMALL CLAIMS COURT?
Every municipal and county court in Ohio has a small
claims division, known as the “small claims court”. Its purpose is to resolve
minor disputes quickly and inexpensively, but fairly.
An individual does not need a lawyer in small claims, but
anyone can have a lawyer if they wish.
A corporation may be required to have a lawyer under certain
circumstances. The procedure is much
simpler than in a regular court and hearings are informal. There is no jury, and cases are decided
either by the municipal or county judge, or by a “magistrate”, a qualified
attorney appointed by the judge. Court
costs are much lower than in regular court.
STOP! DO YOU REALLY WANT TO
FILE A SMALL CLAIMS CASE?
Many people don’t realize that filing your small claims
case is only the first step in what can be a long and difficult process to
actually recover monies you are owed.
Even winning your case does not necessarily mean that you will ever get
paid what you are owed. If you are not
ready to be patient and persistent, you may be greatly disappointed by your
experience with small claims court.
Before you can win your case, you must prepare your case,
i.e., gather documents, estimates, witnesses, pictures, etc. You must come to court to file your case,
and you must return to court on your hearing date. This could mean taking time off from your place of
employment. Typically the court will
not award compensation for the time spent preparing your claim, filing your
claim, or presenting your claim in court.
You must be willing to absorb these costs.
When you file your claim, you must pay the court
costs. If you are awarded a judgment,
you will be awarded an amount “plus costs”.
This means that any court costs you have expended, such as filing fees,
can be recovered from your judgment debtor.
However, if you are unable to collect from your judgment debtor, you
will never recover the money you have expended as court costs.
Once the court renders a judgment in your favor, it is up
to you to collect the monies you have been awarded. The function of small
claims court is to determine whether or not you are entitled to the money you
have sued for, not to force the debtor to pay you these funds. The court will assist in processing the
paperwork necessary to “execute” on your judgment, such as a wage attachment,
bank attachment or debtor’s examination. It is important to understand that if
your execution is successful, it could still be weeks or months before your
judgment is paid in full. But it is up to you to choose the method of
execution, file the appropriate paperwork and pay the filing fees. Before filing a small claims complaint it is
helpful to have asset information about your debtor. Having a judgment against an uncollectable debtor usually means
that you have thrown good money after bad money. If this is what you are doing, do you really want to file a small
Sometimes the defendant will voluntarily pay you the
money that is owed. However, this is
not always the case. You must decide if
it is worth it to you to file your small claims case, in terms of time, effort
and advanced court costs. Once again,
after being awarded a judgment in your favor, you must pursue the collection of
your judgment, if your judgment debtor does not make payment voluntarily. If
you are prepared to be patient and persistent, using the small claims court can
be worth your while.
WHAT TYPES OF CLAIMS CAN THE
A small claims court can handle most claims for monetary
damages of $6,000.00 or less, and counterclaims and cross-claims of $6,000.00
or less. Be sure to ask when you file your claim, or defend a claim against
you, what the current dollar limits are of the court’s jurisdiction. Defending a claim may include the filing of
a counterclaim, or a cross-claim. Look
at the “I’ve been sued! What do I do now?” section of this guide.
Small claims cases are like other lawsuits, except the
amounts involved are too small to make the expense of suing in regular courts
worthwhile. Many suits are by tenants
seeking to recover security deposits.
Sometimes landlords sue for unpaid rent or damages to their
property. Frequently buyers sue for
damages for defective merchandise.
Businessmen may sue for unpaid bills.
The innocent parties in minor auto accidents may sue for injuries or
repair costs. Employees, baby-sitters,
maids, handymen and others may sue for unpaid wages. In short, the small claims court can provide a remedy for almost
any wrong or injury. Recovery of
personal property taxes is also permitted.
There are some limitations. First, the claim must be for money only because an award
of monetary damages is the only remedy a small claims court is allowed to
provide. The small claims court does not have the authority to order that
someone return a piece of property to you, nor can the small claims court order
someone to do something, for example, complete work on the deck you paid the
defendant to build for you. If your claim is based on the defendant’s failure
to complete work on your deck, and you really want this particular defendant to
complete the work, you should not file in small claims court. If the defendant won’t complete the work,
and you hired someone else to finish the deck at a certain additional cost, all
the small claims court can do is determine what dollar amount will compensate
you for the additional money you spent to have the work on your deck completed.
not including court costs and interest, a claim cannot exceed $6,000.00 and, if
filed, a counterclaim or a cross-claim cannot exceed $6,000.00. Where a counterclaim or cross-claim in
excess of $6,000.00 is filed, the court may transfer the case to its general
division court docket. The court may
transfer any small claims case to the general division docket 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 party or
entity not in the original case who was added to the case after the case
regardless of the amount involved, a small claims court can’t handle certain
special lawsuits such as those based on libel, slander and malicious
prosecution, those seeking punitive damages and other selected special
lawsuits. Similarly, regardless of the
amount involved, a small claims court can’t handle claims against certain
entities such as agencies of the State of Ohio, or the United States and its
while you do not have to have a lawyer in a small claims case, you are
responsible for your own case. The
court clerks cannot give you legal advice, nor should they tell you if you are
filing a claim, which the small claims court can’t handle. If you file the claim, and the small claims
court later determines at hearing that you have filed seeking a remedy that the
court can’t give, your case might be dismissed. If this happens, you will not
get your filing fees back.
WHO CAN SUE OR BE SUED?
While there are a number of important exceptions, the
general answer to this question is that anyone can sue or be sued. In general, if a person or organization is
able to do or receive a wrong or injury, he, she or it is able to sue or be
sued. Any individual, company, business
or organization can file a claim or have a claim filed against them. A minor under 18 can use the court through
his parent or guardian. The person who
brings the action is the “plaintiff” and the person against whom it is brought
is the “defendant”.
As noted above, claims against agencies of the State of
Ohio (departments, bureaus, etc.) cannot be handled by small claims court. The
Court of Claims of Ohio may handle such claims, which is located in Columbus,
Ohio. The Court of Claims of Ohio has
an administrative determination procedure for claims up to $2,500.00 against
agencies of the State of Ohio. While this procedure is somewhat similar to the
procedure in a small claims court, it is outside the scope of this guide. Information about the Court of Claims is
available from the Clerk of the Court of Claims. The telephone number of the Court of Claims of Ohio is (614)
WHERE DO I FILE MY CLAIM?
A small claims case must be filed in the small claims
division of the municipal court or county court, which has jurisdiction.
A court has jurisdiction if the transaction or incident
on which the claim is based took place in that court’s territory. Regardless of where the transaction or
incident took place, a court also has jurisdiction if the defendant (or any one
defendant, if there is more than one) lives or has his principal place of
business in the court’s territory.
It is necessary to
give the defendant notice that he is being sued. The clerk serving notice upon the defendant does this. In general, you must give the clerk the
defendant’s complete address. In some
instances, for example where you don’t know where defendant lives or works and
wish to serve notice by publication, you may have to file your case in the
general division of the municipal court or county court.
Municipal court and county court territories vary from
county to county, so be sure to check the territorial boundaries of the local
courts to determine the proper one in which to file your claim.
HOW DO I FILE MY CLAIM?
Before filing the claim, it is a good idea (but not
required) to make one last effort to resolve the dispute. Send the potential defendant notice of your
claim by certified mail, return receipt requested, indicating how you would
like the dispute to be resolved. The
defendant might pay the claim, or offer a reasonable compromise, saving you
both the trouble of a lawsuit.
Let’s use an example.
Suppose a friend borrowed your television set which you had purchased a
month ago for $279.00 from a local store.
Your friend lives in Bedford Heights, you live in Bedford. You have spoken to this friend several times
about getting the set back, but your friend either “forgets” or is “too
busy”. Now your friend won’t call you
back. Although your friend signed for
the letter you sent by certified mail, asking him to either pay the $279.00 or
return the television set to you, you’ve gotten no response to your
If the defendant declines to pay or settle the claim, you
must determine if your claim meets the jurisdictional requirements of the small
claims division of your local court. Is
your claim for money only? Is your
claim for $6,000.00 or less? Did the
incident occur within the court’s territorial jurisdiction, or do either you or
the defendant reside or have your principal place of business within the
court’s territorial jurisdiction? Are
you willing to spend the time and money to litigate your claim, knowing that
you might not be able to collect the amounts to which you feel you are
entitled? If you answer yes to these
questions, you are ready to prepare your claim for filing.
Before you file your claim is the time to gather and
review the evidence of your claim. If
your claim is based upon our television set example, do you have your receipt
or proof of the value of the television set?
Suppose your friend disputes that you even owned a television set. How will you prove this to the court? Just because you say it is true does not
necessarily mean the court will find in your favor. Do you have a picture of the television set in your home? Can someone, other than you, testify that
you owned this set? How will you prove
that your friend borrowed your television set?
These are just some of the questions that the court might ask. Having your proof lined up before you file
the claim is a good idea. Some examples of evidence are receipts, contracts,
leases, warranties, promissory notes, diagrams, photos, and correspondence.
Before you go to court to file your claim, you should
call to find out how much it will cost for filing fees, the hours the court is
open, and directions if you are unfamiliar with the court’s location. You should be ready to pay the filing fees
before the clerk’s office will accept your claim. If you plan to subpoena any
witnesses, you should be prepared to file your request for subpoena when you
file your claim, or alternatively, ask the clerk the cost, and how far in
advance of your hearing date you should request the subpoenas. You will need
the full name and proper address of any witness you intend to subpoena.
you go to file your claim, you will also need the full name (and business name,
if applicable), address and telephone number of the defendant. The court will ask if the defendant is on
active military duty.
lawsuit on a small claim is begun by filing a statement of the claim, which
contains a brief description of the nature and amount of the claim, plus
certain other information. Using the
television set example, instead of saying in your statement of claim that “The
defendant owes me $279.00”, you would say “The defendant refuses to return my
19” remote controlled Sony television set which is valued at $279.00. I am suing for $279.00, plus costs”. It’s not necessary to give all the details
in your statement of claim, but give enough to let both the defendant and the
court know why you are filing the claim.
courts will provide a form, which you must complete before filing your
claim. Be sure to fill in the form
completely, writing legibly, and using clear language. Under the heading “complaint”, state the
nature, circumstances, and amount of your claim as briefly as possible. Bedford Municipal Court requires that a
deputy clerk at the Court notarize a small claims complaint. You can find a small claims complaint form
in the FORMS/DOCUMENTS section of this web site. Complete the form BUT DO NOT SIGN IT, and bring it with you to
Court along with the filing fee.
If you want interest on your claim, and
reimbursement for court costs, be sure to ask for both interest and
reimbursement of court costs in addition to damages. You should not add court costs or accrued interest into the
amount of your damages. For example, if you are owed $279.00, ask for $279.00,
plus court costs. If the amount you are
suing for does not have a specified amount of interest, for example, if you are
seeking payment for plumbing services you performed for the defendant, Ohio law
provides that you can request simple interest at the rate of 10% per year from
the date the money was owed. Again, using our example, you would ask for
$279.00, plus court costs, plus interest at 10% per year from the date the
money was due. Interest will be
assessed on your judgment amount only, not on court costs or accrued interest.
WHAT DOES IT COST?
The filing fee is fixed by each municipal court and
county court. Thus, small claims filing
fees vary from court to court. Most
courts charge an additional amount if you are suing more than one
defendant. Make sure you call the court
before you go to find out what the filing fee will be in your particular case,
or you can refer to the “Court Costs” section of this website. You should also find out about the cost for
requesting a subpoena if you intend to subpoena any witnesses. For more information about civil court costs,
go to that section of this web site.
the original filing fee will not cover all the costs in the lawsuit. For example, costs may be higher for
different types of service of process.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER I FILE MY
the clerk accepts your claim for filing, your small claims case will be
assigned a case number and court date.
The court will prepare the case file, which includes the complaint and
any other documentation you may have filed.
Then the complaint will be “served upon” (sent to) the defendant. No
hearing can be held unless the defendant has been properly served with notice
of your complaint and the hearing date.
the court will serve your complaint, along with the scheduled court date, upon
the defendant by means of certified mail, return receipt requested. In order for your small claims hearing date
to go forward, the court must have received the return receipt from the post
office indicating that either the defendant or some other responsible person
signed for the complaint. Sometimes,
unfortunately, the court never receives the return receipt back from the post
office. If the court does not receive the return receipt back, the court cannot
establish whether or not the defendant has been served or not. If this happens, the hearing may or may not
go forward as scheduled. Be aware that
if there is no return of service, the court will determine at the time of
hearing if the hearing will proceed.
certified mail has been returned with a notation of either a bad address, or
addressee unknown, or if the return receipt has not be returned by the post
office, you must request the court to re-issue certified mail service. You might be required to provide the court
with another address at which to serve the defendant. The process will then begin again, and a new date will be
scheduled for hearing.
the certified mail comes back unclaimed, service can be issued by means of regular mail. You were probably asked when you filed your complaint to sign a
form indicating that if certified mail came back as “unclaimed” by the
defendant, you wanted the court to serve the complaint by regular mail. If this form is in the file, and the
certified mail comes back unclaimed, the court will automatically re-issue
service. Every attempt will be made to
re-issue service in sufficient time to keep the hearing date as originally
If you cannot perfect service through the mail, you may
want to discuss alternative methods of service with the clerk of court where
the claim is filed. Be sure to inquire
as to the filing cost of each such alternative method of service.
I’VE BEEN SUED! WHAT DO I DO
If you receive notice that someone has filed a claim
against you in small claims court, you have several options depending upon the
circumstances. For example, if the
plaintiff’s claim is fair, you may pay him the full amount plus court costs and
that will be the end of the matter. If
part of his claim is fair, you may admit that part of the claim and deny the
rest. If the claim is completely
unfair, you may deny that you owe anything.
If, rather than you owing plaintiff money, you believe plaintiff owes you
money, you can answer the claim with a claim of your own called a
If you believe an additional party, or parties, should be
brought into the suit then you must file a claim bringing that individual in as
a new party defendant. You can request that the court bring in such other
person or entity by filing a cross-claim against that person or entity. A cross-claim is generally a claim by one
defendant against. If you believe that
there are other persons who have not been named as parties who are necessary
for a complete determination of the controversy, you can have them brought in
as parties. You should file your claim with the clerk of courts office, paying
any filing fees that might be required. Be sure to state the complete name and
address of each additional person or entity that should be brought into the
suit and your reasons why such person or entity should be brought into the suit. For example, there may be other persons who
are liable for all or part of the claim – either along with you or instead of
you – and it would be proper to have them brought in as defendants.
You may prefer not to have the claim handled in small
claims court, and you might have it moved to the regular general division
docket of the court. If the claim is
moved to the general docket, the court costs will be higher and you will
probably need an attorney. Further, if
a jury is demanded, the costs will skyrocket.
The loser is typically responsible for paying court costs. Generally,
each party must pay his own attorney, win or lose. Where a defendant moves a claim to the general division docket by
filing a sham or frivolous pleading, the court may order the defendant to pay
the plaintiff’s attorneys fees.
Similarly, if you file a cross-claim, consider asking for interest and
all court costs, including those incurred in enforcing a judgment upon the
Ohio law and local court rules require that any
counterclaims and cross-claims be filed with the court and served upon all
other parties at least seven days prior to the date of trial on plaintiff’s
original claim. If your counterclaim or
cross-claim deals with an original party to the complaint, you are responsible
to serve the parties. However, if the
action you are taking brings a new party into the action, the clerk will be
responsible for service.
WHAT IF THE CLAIM IS SETTLED
If you have filed a small claims case, and you decide for
any reason not to go through with the trial, you should notify the court, in
writing, that you are dismissing the case. It is the plaintiff’s responsibility
to notify the court whenever a claim is called off. If the defendant has filed a counterclaim, in order for the whole
case to be dismissed, the defendant must notify the court that the counterclaim
is also being dismissed. If plaintiff notifies the court that the complaint is
being dismissed, but the defendant does not notify the court that the
counterclaim is also being dismissed, the hearing will go forward; but only on
the defendant’s claim. Make sure you
include your case number in your notice.
For a sample “Notice of Dismissal”, go to the FORMS/DOCUMENTS section of
this web site.
Generally, plaintiffs are responsible for court costs
where claims are dismissed. If you are
considering dismissing a claim because the defendant has offered to pay in
full, you should consider including the court filing fees in the amount you
demand. Of course the plaintiff is
always free to accept a payment, which does not include court costs in order to
compromise or settle the claim.
HOW DO I PREPARE MY CASE?
Whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant, it is
your job at trial to give the judge or magistrate all the facts, and convince
him or her that he/she should rule in your favor. You should assemble your evidence and line up your
witnesses. You may want to make yourself
an outline of your case before trial.
This outline is not evidence, and will not be accepted as an exhibit,
but it may be helpful to you in organizing your case.
As you assemble your evidence, or review anticipated
testimony, remember that the judge or magistrate is totally unfamiliar with
these circumstances. Ask yourself, what
piece or pieces of evidence would convince me to rule the way I want if I were
the judge? Evidence can include
anything in writing, or any tangible thing such as a picture, or the faulty
merchandise on which your claim, defense or counterclaim is based. It may include photos or diagrams of the
damage or the scene of the incident.
Using our television set example, it may be your receipt showing proof
of payment, warranty information evidencing model, date of purchase, price,
etc., and perhaps a photo of the television set in your home.
Testimony, including yours, is also evidence. Certain types of testimony may be especially
helpful. For example, a professional repairman is a good witness when poor or
incomplete workmanship is an issue.
Friends, neighbors, or bystanders who are familiar with the incident or
transaction or some aspect of it may be witnesses. Whoever your witnesses are, contact them before trial, get them
to agree to appear, and make sure they know when and where to show up. If a witness will not appear voluntarily,
you can ask the court to issue a subpoena to force his appearance at your
hearing, but this must be done well before that scheduled date for hearing.
The time to present your evidence and testimony is the
day of the hearing. You must have all
your witnesses present, and all your documentation and tangible evidence with
you on the day of your hearing. Don’t
tell the court that your witness is not present
”but you can call him”. If you don’t have your evidence with you, the court
will generally not let you “bring it later”.
Anything that can support your case may be useful as evidence, but
whatever it is, get it together and have it ready the day of hearing.
A good way to present your version of the incident or
transaction is in the order it actually happened. Present your evidence, including any testimony, just like you
would tell a story. Remember that it is
your job to give all the facts to the judge or magistrate who knows nothing
about your case until you tell the story.
Start at the beginning, tell your story, and end your case by telling
the court what you are asking for. In this way, the separate bits of evidence
and testimony will fit together to make a complete, easily understandable
WHAT DO I DO AT THE TRIAL?
The trial is your day in court – your opportunity to
present your claim, defense, counterclaim and/or cross-claim.
Again, bring your witnesses and your evidence with
you. Step forward when your case is
called. Listen carefully to any
instructions from the judge or magistrate.
The plaintiff will be asked to present evidence and testimony first, and
then the defendant will be given an opportunity to explain his side. Be brief and stick to the facts. Emphasize the points in your favor, and
explain any points against you. Be
prepared that the judge or magistrate may interrupt you with questions. Answer
these questions directly and to the best of your knowledge.
Be polite – not just to the court, but also to the
witnesses, and to your opponent.
Whatever happens, don’t lose your temper. Being loud or angry rarely sways the judge to your side. Good manners and cool heads promote the fair
and efficient conduct of the trial, and make a good impression.
Try not to be too nervous. Almost everyone is a bit nervous in court. Remember that trial in small claims court is
informal. Don’t stoop to cheap dramatics
or try techniques that you saw on television – such antics are out of place and
may make you look foolish. Just relax,
be yourself, and present your case in the way that comes most easily to
you. The judge knows that you aren’t a
lawyer, and will make some allowances.
or magistrate will make a decision after hearing both sides. Whether you win or
lose, you can be assured of a fair hearing.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I WIN – OR
Small claims courts have various ways of letting you know
how your claim was decided. Sometimes
you will be told of the decision before you leave court. Sometimes you will
receive a decision from the court through the mail.
If you disagree with the decision, or “judgment”, you
should consider whether you wish to appeal the judgment or take other
action. If a magistrate heard your
case, you may have an opportunity to object to the magistrate’s decision. If you decide to file an objection, or an
appeal, you should be aware that there are very strict rules governing the
timing of any such filings. You should contact the court to determine the cost
of filing an action to appeal the decision.
Once you have this information, you can evaluate the situation.
If the defendant has not made a counterclaim, a judgment
in favor of the defendant ends the case, subject to objections or appeal. If plaintiff is awarded a judgment for all
or part of his claim, or if the defendant is awarded a judgment on all or part
of a counterclaim, the loser becomes a “judgment debtor” and additional action
can be taken against him if the debt is not paid or discharged promptly.
HOW DO I GET MY MONEY?
It is important for you to know that winning judgment in
your favor does not necessarily mean that you will collect the money you are
owed. A judgment in your favor simply
means that the court agreed that the other party owed you money. It does not mean that the court can or will
make that other party pay you the money.
Once you have your judgment it is up to you to collect, or “enforce”
your judgment. The court will process the paperwork necessary to enforce your
judgment, but it is up to you to determine which method you will use. Once you complete the paperwork, you must
pay the appropriate filing fee, which will ultimately be assessed against the
Defendant as court costs. However, if
you never collect from your debtor, you will never recover your court costs.
The best way to collect your judgment is to arrange for
voluntary payments by the judgment debtor. If the debtor was not present in
court on the day of hearing, or if voluntary payment arrangements could not be
made on the day of court, you should send a copy of your judgment to the debtor
requesting payment. If after 30 days
you have not received your money, you must decide if you want to “execute” on
your judgment, i.e., enforce payment through the court. Each method of execution requires that you
complete certain paperwork appropriate to the method of execution you have
selected. The paperwork can be obtained from the court. Once the paperwork is filed, and the filing
fees paid, the court will process the paperwork.
There are several types of execution, such as
garnishment, levy or lien. A
garnishment can either be filed against a debtor’s wages, if you know his/her
place of employment, or against a bank account, if you have banking
information. Under the law, once a wage
garnishment is filed with the debtor’s place of employment, it will continue
until the balance is paid, unless the debtor is being garnished by more than
one creditor. If more than one creditor
is involved, the first creditor to file will have 182 days of continuous garnishment,
at which time the next creditor to file will have the next 182 days, and so
on. By law, a garnishment can attach
25% of the debtor’s disposable income. There are some types of garnishments
that are called “super garnishments”, for example child support and IRS
attachments, that take precedence over civil judgment garnishments. If your debtor has one of these, you may get
nothing on an attachment, or you may get only a nominal amount. However, most
wage garnishments take some time to pay the judgment balance in full, so you
will need patience and persistence.
A garnishment of the debtor’s bank account, in most
instances, will attach all funds in the account at the time the court serves
the completed form on the debtor’s bank.
But you must indicate the bank or banks, which you want the court to
serve with your paperwork. The more
banks you want to serve, the more the garnishment will cost. A bank attachment is not continuous, once
the bank sends monies in the account to court in response to a bank attachment,
the attachment ends. If you wish to
file against that same bank account a second time, you need to re-file the bank
attachment, once again paying the required filing fees.
A levy on personal property means the court’s bailiff
will go out and “tag” certain property belonging to the judgment debtor for
future sale by the court. Depending on
the circumstances, a levy can be complicated and while you can apply for a levy
on the judgment debtor’s property, you might want the assistance of an
attorney. Again, typically the debtor
will not be responsible for your attorneys fees incurred in collection efforts.
judgment lien attaches to the debtor’s property located in the county in which
you file the lien. The initial form,
“certificate of judgment for lien” is obtained from the court, which rendered
the judgment; you must then file that form with the appropriate Common Pleas
Court. A judgment lien will not recover
any monies by itself, but once your lien is properly filed, the judgment debtor
will not be able to sell the property or refinance the property without you
being paid first. In order to use your
lien as a direct method of getting your money, you will have to foreclose the
lien, just like foreclosing on a mortgage. This is a complicated, and costly
process for which you will need an attorney, and again, in most cases you will
not be able to recover fees you pay an attorney to foreclose on your lien. Foreclosing on a lien should probably be used
as a last resort.
HOW CAN I FIND PROPERTY TO
GARNISH OR ATTACH?
Hopefully you will have some information about where your
judgment debtor works, or where there is a bank account or other property to
attach before you file your small claims complaint. If you don’t have this information, after you obtain judgment,
you can ask the court to file either a judgment debtor’s exam, which requires a
court appearance by both parties, or a notice to judgment debtor, which the
judgment debtor is instructed to complete and return through the mail.
judgment debtor’s exam is served by the court.
It instructs the debtor to appear at court on a certain date and time so
that you may ask questions of the debtor about his or her assets, liabilities
and personal earnings under oath.
notice of judgment debtor is a standardized form prepared by the court sent to
the debtor with instructions to complete and return the form within one
I’M IN DEEP FINANCIAL TROUBLE.
WHAT CAN I DO?
If you are overwhelmed by debts or lawsuits, there are
several possible solutions. The most common are a trusteeship, a debt
scheduling agreement, a wage earner plan, or bankruptcy.
A trusteeship is an arrangement made through the
municipal court or county court where you live (or where you work, if you don’t
live in Ohio), in which part of your earnings is regularly divided and applied
to your debts until they are paid off.
To be eligible, you must have received a “15 day demand” (also called
“Notice of Court Proceedings to Collect Debt”), which is the first step in a
garnishment of your wages. If you enter
trusteeship, the garnishment will be stopped and your creditors will generally
be held off as long as you faithfully follow the trusteeship plan. (In some instances, trusteeship does not
prevent creditors from taking certain actions.)
A debt scheduling agreement developed through a consumer
credit counseling service is, in general, similar to a trusteeship. One important difference is that a person
who is having financial trouble can establish a debt scheduling agreement
before he/she becomes a judgment debtor.
Eligibility is not dependent upon receipt of the “15-day demand”
mentioned above. However, a person who
receives a “15-day demand” may establish a debt scheduling agreement. In summary, the person who wishes to
establish a debt scheduling agreement enters into an agreement with a consumer
credit counseling service to pay the non-essential portion of his income to the
service and the service distributes such income to the person’s creditors. In general, creditors are held off as long
as the person faithfully follows the agreements. (As with trusteeships, debt scheduling agreements do not prevent
creditors from taking certain actions.)
Bankruptcies are administered by the federal courts. In bankruptcy, your property will be divided
among your creditors and most of your debts completely discharged, even though
your property isn’t enough to pay them off.
WHERE CAN I GET MORE
If you need more information or assistance on filing or
defending a small claim or on collecting a judgment on a small claim, contact
the clerk of the court where the claim will be filed, or has been filed. The clerk may be able to provide you with
information that will help. However, it
is important to remember that the clerk cannot give you legal advice. For legal
advice, you must contact an attorney.
You can always contact the local bar association for the name of an
attorney, or you can contact your local legal aid society.
If you need information or assistance on filing for
trusteeship, or entering a debt scheduling agreement, contact the clerk of the
municipal court or county court. If you
need assistance on filing for a wage earner plan or for bankruptcy, contact a
lawyer, or contact the legal aid society in your area.