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Small claims for defendants

Learn more about the small claims process if you are being sued

The person or business filing the claim is called the “plaintiff.” The person or business being sued is called the “defendant.”

Notifying you of a claim

After the plaintiff files a small claim against you, you will be sent a copy of the "Statement of Claim and Notice of Trial" by first class mail. If you live out of state, you will be notified by certified mail. Both types of notices will be provided by the court, after the "Statement of Claim and Notice of Trial" form is filed.

You will need to receive notice for the case to go forward. If the Post Office is unable to notify ("serve") you and the letter is returned to the court, the case cannot go forward. If the letter is not returned, but is later shown to have never been delivered, or to have been sent to the wrong address, any judgment against you may be vacated.

Answering a claim and counterclaims

You may file with the court a form called Small Claims Answer (see additional resources below) or send a signed letter to the court, stating clearly and simply why the plaintiff should not win. This "answer" should state those specific parts of the claim that are denied. However, you are not required to file an answer. If you choose to file an answer, you must send a copy to the plaintiff.

If you believe that the plaintiff owes you money, you should indicate in your answer, or tell the court and then reduce to writing, why the plaintiff owes you money. The plaintiff's original claim and the defendant's claim against the plaintiff (called a "counterclaim") may be treated as one case and tried on the date the original claim was scheduled. In the signed letter answer, or in a separate letter to the court, or on a form called Small Claims Counterclaim (see additional resources below), you may set forth in writing any claim against the plaintiff within the jurisdiction of small claims court. If you file a written counterclaim, you must send a copy to the plaintiff.

You may set forth in writing any counterclaim against the plaintiff within the jurisdiction of small claims court. A counterclaim may be included in the written answer, if you file one, or in a separate letter to the court. The magistrate may also permit a counterclaim to be made orally and subsequently reduced to writing. Both claims will be treated as one case if the defendant mails a copy of his or her claim to the plaintiff at least ten days before the scheduled trial date, or if the magistrate orders that they be so treated. Such counterclaims are not required. The plaintiff does not need to file a written answer to your counterclaim.

Additional Resources for Answering a claim and counterclaims

Payments

If you agree to the money owed, you should contact the plaintiff and arrange to make payment. If you agree to the money owed, but need time to pay, you should contact the plaintiff and try to reach an agreement for a payment schedule.

You are not required to make any payments from exempt income. If full payment is not made before the trial date, both the plaintiff and defendant must appear in court on the trial date unless they submit to the court before the trial date an Agreement for Judgment and for Payment Order (see additional resources below) signed by both parties. Both the plaintiff and defendant must appear in court on the trial date unless they submit to the court before the trial date an Agreement for Judgment and for Payment Order signed by both parties.

The court will accept an agreement between the parties only if it is submitted on the official “Agreement for Judgment and for Payment Order” form. If the plaintiff and defendant reach an agreement only on the trial date, they should then submit to the court an “Agreement for Judgment and for Payment Order” form signed by both parties.

If the parties are unable to reach an agreement for a payment schedule, you must complete a Financial Statement of Judgment Debtor (see additional resources below) and explain to the magistrate your reasons for requesting time to pay.

If you do not agree to the money owed, or do not agree to the entire amount of money owed, you must appear in court on the trial date. You will be able to challenge how the plaintiff arrived at the amount claimed.

Get more information on payment orders, exempt income and payment hearings.

Additional Resources for Payments

Other options

See What to do if you win your small claim and What to do if you lose your small claim for more information.

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