Small Claims Court
Judge Sean P. Kavanagh
Judge Kathleen J. McCann
Magistrate Barbara J. Scherr
Before filing your claim, you should have some idea what your chances are of collecting the judgment if you are successful. A judgment does not mean automatic payment. It simply means you have proven to the satisfaction of the court that the person you sued owes you money. There are often cases where a judgment is not particularly difficult to obtain but the collection of money is difficult, if not impossible.
The party you have sued may be penniless or bankrupt; may have gone out of business or left town; may not earn enough for you to garnishee wages; or for other reasons it may be impossible to make the defendant pay. Income such as welfare, unemployment, social security, etc., cannot be garnished. If you cannot collect, a judgment in your favor may turn out to be a hollow victory. However, you do have (6) years to collect and a party’s circumstances may change during that time.
Who May File a Claim in Small Claims Court
A party who sues another party is called the Plaintiff. The party being sued is called the Defendant. There can be more than one plaintiff or defendant in the same action. An example would be when a husband and wife sue another husband and wife.
The following table has been prepared to help you determine if you are the proper person to file the claim.
Plaintiff is - Who may file and appear in court
Individual - Any adult may file and appear on his own behalf
Partnership - Any partner or full-time employee
Proprietorship - The proprietor or full-time employee
Corporation - Any officer or full-time employee
Points to Consider
The Court is only a tool that is available to you for settling disputes or establishing and reducing your claims to judgment. You are responsible for locating the parties, determining your course of action, gathering your witnesses and evidence.
While the staff of this Court will try to help either party to an action, you must understand that:
- Our clerks are not attorneys and they cannot give legal advice.
- The Judges/Magistrate, who are attorneys, may not and will not give advice on matters they may have to rule on.
- This Court can render money judgments only, and has no power to force anyone to do something or to stop doing something.
By having your case tried in Small Claims Division, you give up the following rights:
- The right to have an attorney.
- The right to appeal to a higher court.
- The right to a jury trial.
However, the defendant may not choose to give up these rights. If he refuses, he can demand before or at the time of the hearing, that the case be transferred to the General Civil Division. Then, either side may hire an attorney, request a trial, and have the right of appeal. (Note: If matter is removed from Small Claims, Corporations and Partnerships must be represented by an Attorney.)
Starting a Small Claims Suit
The maximum amount you sue for in the Small Claims Division is $6000.00, plus costs. The limit for auto accidents may be less - contact the court for further information. The costs may be added by the Judge/Magistrate at the time of judgment. Do not include your costs in the amount of your claim. To file a claim in the 16th District Court, the business or person you are suing must do business or live in the City of Livonia, or the event giving rise to the dispute must have occurred in the City of Livonia.
The necessary forms may be purchased at the court (see fee schedule) or downloaded from The Michigan Supreme Court website http://courts.mi.gov/
Before coming to the court to fill out an affidavit claim, be sure you have the following:
- The filing fee, plus service fee for certified mail (see fee schedule). When filing by mail, send a check (Michigan banks only) or money order made payable to the 16th District Court. Mailing fees are subject to change due to postal increases.
- Defendant’s full and correct first and last name.
- Defendant’s current address (route or post office box numbers are not enough when you want a process server to make personal service).
- Amount of claim and pertinent dates.
- A brief and concise statement as to the nature of the claim. The responsibility is yours to provide two things to the court: liability and damages. Liability-why it is the defendant’s obligation or responsibility to pay the money you claim. Damages-The exact amount of the money owed. Remember, it is your word against the defendant’s. It is not the Judge’s/Magistrate’s fault if he has to rule against you because you were not prepared to prove your case.
When your claim is filed, a hearing date is set 4-6 weeks away. This generally allows enough time for the defendant to receive the notice no later than the required seven days before the hearing date. This is done in one of two ways:
- The notice is mailed by certified mail with a return receipt requested (see fee schedule.) If certified mail is not picked up by the defendant you may want to have a process server try to make service after a new hearing date is scheduled. Unless the court has proof the defendant has received notice; it cannot proceed with the case.
- A copy is left with him personally by a process server or any legally competent adult who is not a party or an officer of a corporate party.
Important: Once your claim has been filed, you must have your case number with you when phoning or coming to the court.
Settlement Prior To Hearing Date
Settlement prior to hearing date is greatly encouraged by the Court. Often the defendant may want to settle out of court before the hearing date. If the claim is paid, you must notify the court in writing that you want to dismiss the case. Please include your case number.
Plan to arrive at the Court a few minutes early. Your case # and name will be listed on the bulletin board. You must bring all paperwork/evidence to prove your claim such as bills of sale, receipts, guarantees, accident reports, leases, promissory notes, repair estimates, photos, etc. A copy must be provided for each defendant and a copy for the court file.
No adjournments will be granted to permit you to bring this at a later date.
One of several things may occur on the hearing date:
- The defendant may appear, refuse to proceed in the Small Claims Division or request that the case be transferred to the Civil Division. This is his legal right. He must then file an answer in writing within 14 days of the transfer and a pre-trial date will be set.
- The defendant may appear, and admit liability for your claim. A consent judgment will then be entered.
- The defendant may fail to appear. If he has had proper service and you can prove to the court you have a proper claim, a default judgment will then may be entered.
- The defendant may appear, disagree with the claim, agree to have it heard in the Small Claims Division and trial will be held.
- If service has been made and 1) neither the plaintiff nor the defendant appear, or 2) the defendant appears but the plaintiff does not, the claim will be dismissed by the court.
All small claims are scheduled for the same time. The Judge/Magistrate may have several or very few cases to hear. This is difficult to determine prior to hearing time. If you arrive on time and have all your witnesses and evidence ready, it will help him settle your claim promptly.
When the Judge/Magistrate calls your case, the defendant and all witnesses will be sworn in. The hearing is an informal matter. Do not try to play lawyer; just state your claim as simply as possible. If necessary, refer to the papers or evidence you have brought with you. If you furnished copies for the court file, the Judge/Magistrate can follow along.
The person you are suing will then have an opportunity to tell the Judge/Magistrate why he feels he does not owe you that claim. After all the testimony and evidence have been presented, the Judge/Magistrate will render his decision. If either party disagrees with the Magistrate’s decision, they have 7 days to appeal.
Collecting Money From A Small Claims Judgment
If you sued someone for money and received a judgment against that person, you have the right to collect the money.
How Much Can I Collect?
You can collect the amount stated in your small claims judgment (form DC 85) plus any interest that accumulates during the time the other party pays off the judgment.
How Can I Collect My Money?
There are several ways you can collect your money.
- If the other party(defendant) has the money and is present at the trail, s/he can pay you right then.
- If s/he does not have the money at that time and you both agree at the trail, the judge can set up a payment schedule. If the defendant is not present at the trial, the court will send a copy of the small claims judgment to the defendant. The judgment will order the defendant to pay you in full within 21 days.
- If the defendant doesn't pay the judgment as ordered, you will have to collect your money through an request and order to seize property or a garnishment..
What Is Request and Order to Seize Property?
Request and order to seize property is a court procedure allowing the court officer to seize property belonging to the defendant which can be sold to pay for your judgment. If you want to file a request and order to seize property, you may use form MC 19, Request and Order to Seize Property.
What is Garnishment?
Garnishment is a court procedure allowing you to collect your judgment directly from the defendant's wages, bank account, or other source such as income tax refunds. If you want to file a garnishment, see the court clerk for the proper forms. Instructions are included with the forms.
How Do I Get A Request And Order to Seize Property or A Garnishment?
To get a request and order to seize property or a garnishment, you will first need to know where the defendant lives and works, what assets s/he has and where the assets are located, and any other information which identifies the defendant and his/her property.
- If you have the information described above, you can start the process for a request and order to seize property or a garnishment.
- If you don't have the information described above, you will need to order the defendant to appear in court for questioning through a process called discovery. You can start this process by filing a discovery subpoena..
Filing a Discovery Subpoena
You must wait 21 days after your small claims judgment was signed before you can file a discovery subpoena. Form MC 11, Subpoena (Order to Appear) can be used.
Contact the court for an appearance date before putting the date and location on the form. Complete both the front of the Subpoena and the Affidavit for Judgment Debtor Examination on the back. The filing fee is $15.00.
The court will issue the Subpoena by having the Judge sign it. Once the Subpoena is signed it must be served on the defendant, by the process server or any legally competent adult who is not a party or an officer of a corporate party.
Filing a Request and Order to Seize Property
You must wait 21 days after your small claims judgment was signed before you can get an request and order to seize property. Form MC 19, Request and Order to Seize Property, is used to start the process. Complete the Request and Verification portion of form MC 19 and file it with the court. The filing fee is $15.00.
The court will issue the order by signing the form, and it will be executed by the sheriff or court officer.
When do I get my money from a request and order to seize property? Any property that is seized will be sold and the money given to you. The sheriff or court officer is entitled to fees which will be deducted from the sale of the property.
Filing a Request for Garnishment
You must wait 21 days after your small claims judgment was signed before you can get a garnishment. Form MC 12 or MC 13, Request and Writ of Garnishment, is used to start the garnishment process. There are two types of garnishment: 1) periodic, and 2) non-periodic.
A periodic writ of garnishment (MC 12) is used to garnish the defendant's wages, rent payments, land contract payments, or other debt which is paid to the defendant on a periodic basis. A periodic garnishment is valid for until the judgment, interest, and costs are paid off.
A non-periodic writ of garnishment (MC 13) is used to garnish the defendant's bank account or other property. Once money has been garnished under the non-periodic writ, the writ is no longer valid. If there is a remaining balance on the judgment, you must get another writ to collect more money.
Fill in the names and addresses of both the defendant and the garnishee on the Request part of the form. The garnishee is the person or business who has control or possession of the defendant's money. Once you complete the Request, you must file it with the district court that entered your small claims judgment. The filing fee is $15.00.
The court will issue the Writ (order) by signing the form. The Request and Writ must be served on the garnishee along with the Disclosure form MC 14. If the garnishment is for periodic payments, include a $35.00 disclosure fee with the forms.
When do I get my money from the garnishment?
The garnishee has 14 days after the Writ is served to let you, the court, and the defendant know if any money is available for garnishment. This information will be provided on form MC 14, Garnishee Disclosure. If you are trying to garnish wages, you will only received part of the wages based on a federal formula.
If money is available, it will be withheld from the defendant right away. However, this money will be held for 28 days to allow the defendant time for objections. If there are no objections, the withheld money will be automatically sent to you after 28 days. If the garnishment is for periodic payments, money will continue to be sent to you as payments become due to the defendant until the writ expires.
What Else Can I Do?
If your case against the defendant involved a traffic accident, you can ask the court for an abstract of judgment which suspends the defendant's Michigan driver license until s/he pays the judgment. You must wait 40 days after the judgment date before you can get an abstract of judgment. You need to provide the defendant's full name, date of birth, and Michigan driver license number. There is no filing fee. The court clerk should have the necessary forms.
When payment or judgment is complete, either in full or to your satisfaction, you should file a satisfaction of judgment with the court.
All forms: $1.00 each