What to do if you lose your small claims case

If you lost your original case, there may be other options for you to continue your small claim.

If you sued the other party and lost and the magistrate didn’t award you any money, that decision is final. You can’t appeal the magistrate’s decision against you.

If you were sued by the other party and lost and the magistrate ordered you to pay money to the other party, you must either:

  1. Pay the full judgment within the time ordered
  2. Ask the magistrate to set a payment plan
  3. Appeal to a judge or jury, or
  4. File a motion to vacate (void) the judgment

Pay the full judgment within the time ordered

You must pay the full amount of the judgment if you’re financially able. You aren’t required to pay the judgment from income that’s exempt by law. If you don’t pay the amount required even though you’re able to, you may be held in contempt of court and imprisoned or given additional costs.

Pay the full amount directly to the other party (the "judgment creditor") unless the magistrate has ordered otherwise. The judgment creditor must notify the court in writing within 10 days after the judgment has been fully paid. You may want to be sure that this is done to protect your credit record. If the judgment creditor refuses to do this, you may ask the court to enter this on the case docket.

If the magistrate ordered you to turn over property to the judgment creditor, you must do so.

Ask the magistrate to set a payment plan

If the magistrate has scheduled a payment hearing, you can ask the magistrate to order a payment plan you can afford, or to determine that you’re unable to pay anything right now at the hearing. If you’re requesting a payment plan or payment delay, fill out a Financial Statement of Judgment Debtor form and bring it to the hearing, along with any documentation you have regarding your financial status (tax return, salary stub, etc.).

Certain income is exempt from any payment order by the court. If your income is from any of these sources, you should bring some evidence of that to the payment review hearing. It’s possible that a person who has exempt income may also receive wages from employment, which could be subject to a payment order. Even if a person is currently unable to pay, a judgment is enforceable for 20 years if that person’s financial condition improves during that time.

If the magistrate hasn’t scheduled a payment hearing and you want to request a payment plan or a payment delay, or all of your income is from exempt sources, ask the clerk’s office to schedule your request for hearing before a magistrate — don’t wait until you’re required to come to court or you’ll be liable for additional costs.

The judgment creditor can’t get a Writ of Execution to seize and sell your property until after the initial payment hearing (or, if no payment hearing is scheduled, until 30 days after the judgment). After that, the judgment creditor may do so, even if you’re making periodic payments, unless you both agree that they won’t do this while you’re making payments. Many of a person’s assets may be seized and sold to satisfy a judgment, even if that person has exempt income.

Additional Resources for Ask the magistrate to set a payment plan

Appeal to a judge or a jury

If you appeared at the trial before the magistrate and you disagree with the magistrate’s decision on the other party’s claim, you may appeal for another trial by either a judge or a jury. To do so, within 10 days after you receive written notice of the magistrate’s decision, you must file your Defendant’s Claim of Appeal form with the clerk’s office indicating whether you want a trial by judge or before a jury, along with the $25 appeal fee (which is non-refundable) and a $100 appeal bond or deposit (which is refundable if you win on appeal, or is credited against what you owe if you lose on appeal). The appeal bond or deposit is larger if you’re a landlord being sued for the return of a residential tenant’s security deposit.

The appeal fee and bond may be reduced or waived if you’re indigent. On appeal, the judge or jury will reach a new decision, but may take into account that the magistrate previously decided the claim against you.

If you didn’t appear at the trial before the magistrate (this is called a default), you may not appeal the magistrate’s decision on the other party’s claim.

Additional Resources for Appeal to a judge or a jury

File a motion to vacate the judgement

Whether or not you appeared at the trial before the magistrate, you may ask the magistrate to vacate (cancel) the judgment if you have a good reason. You must request this within 1 year unless it’s based on not having received notice of the small claim. To make this request, ask the clerk’s office to help you to file and schedule a Motion to Vacate Judgment form.

Additional Resources for File a motion to vacate the judgement

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