Small claims court

In 1968, our Michigan legislature created the District Court to hear both criminal and civil cases.

The District Court is sometimes referred to as “The People’s Court” for a number of reasons, including the fact that in many cases litigants represent themselves instead of hiring an attorney. Small claims court is one of the best examples of this because attorneys are simply not allowed.

Here’s how it generally works.

Michigan has a statute, which provides that a complaint may be filed in the District Court as a small claims if the amount in controversy does not exceed $6,000. Over the years, this amount has steadily increased and is scheduled to go up to $6,500 on Jan. 1, 2021. Claims cannot be filed for intentional harm such as fraud, libel, and assault and battery.

When there is a trial, the judge first informs both parties, orally or in writing, that either of them has the right to remove the case to the general civil division and if the case remains in small claims court, they waive their right to an attorney, a jury trial, and to appeal the court’s decision.

If the case is heard in small claims, the statute also provides that the trial is to be conducted in an informal manner to do substantial justice between the parties according to substantive law.

The procedural rules of practice, procedure, pleading, and evidence do not apply except for privileged communications.

The sole object of the trial is to dispense expeditious justice between the parties.

The witnesses are sworn and testimony is taken from the parties and any witnesses they may have. The judge then makes a decision based on the evidence.

If a judgment is granted, the plaintiff may attempt to collect it as any other civil judgment including setting up an installment payment plan for the defendant to pay it off over time.

Over the past 50 plus years, small claims court has been proven to be a successful alternative to traditional court proceedings and has been structured to be a quick, informal, and inexpensive way of resolving disputes.

For a more in depth explanation of small claims practice and procedure, I recommend going to the “Michigan Legal Help” website under “small claims.”

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