Small Claims – General – Connecticut
Note: This summary is not intended to be an all inclusive discussion of the law and procedures of small claims in Connecticut, but it does contain basic and other information. This summary only discusses civil claims (property and money claims that may be filed in small claims court). Criminal charges are not discussed.
Definition – Small claims courts, also sometimes called “Peoples Court”, is a court of limited jurisdiction. Limited jurisdiction means only certain matters may be filed and heard by the small claims court. There is also a maximum claim amount limitation. Small claims court offer a quick, informal and inexpensive way of resolving many types of disputes you may have with particular individuals or companies.
Maximum Amount of Claim Small Claims Court may hear in Connecticut: $3,500.00
Which Court hears small claims in Connecticut? The small claims court is a division of the Superior Court of Connecticut which has jurisdiction over cases that do not exceed $3,500.00.
Who hears the claims in small claims court? The claim will be heard by a magistrate.
Claims over which the Small Claims Court has Jurisdiction:
The small claims court in Connecticut may hear any of the following claims if the amount in controversy does not exceed $3,500.00:
1. unpaid debt
2. back rent
3. broken or damaged property
4. doctor bills for treatment of personal injuries
5. The above list is not exhaustive but does contain most of the common claims. The following claims MAY NOT be filed in small claims court: damage to a reputation, name calling, or any claim over $3,500.00.
Who may file a claim in small claims court? An individual, partnership or corporation (or LLC) may file a claim against another individual(s), partnership or corporation (or LLC) in small claims court if jurisdiction exists to hear the claim and the amount of the claim or property involved does not exceed $3,500.00.
Must you be represented by an attorney? Each party may be represented by an attorney if they wish to do so.
Things to do before you File a Claim: Get the facts straight so you can complete the forms correctly and answer any questions court personnel may need to know. Be sure to obtain the correct legal name of the defendant, correct address and place/address of employment. If the defendant is a Corporation or Limited Liability Company you would use the legal corporate or LLC name as the defendant. If the defendant is a Corporation or LLC, you may need to contact the secretary of state in your state and obtain the proper name and address to serve with a copy of the suit. This person is called a registered agent and is designated by the corporation to receive process or summons when the corporation is sued. Be sure to also contact the small claims court to determine the filing fee for filing the claim.
How to File the Claim: To start a claim, the plaintiff must fill out Small Claims Writ and Notice of Suit form which can be obtained from the court clerk. The claim must be brought where the party being sued resides or conducts business or where the transaction or injury occurred. If the claim is landlord-tenant matter, you must file in the court location where the premises are located. Return the completed “Small Claims and Notice of Suit” form to the appropriate court with all copies and carbons intact, after having signed it under oath. If the plaintiff is unable to have the claim form notarized, the clerk can take the oath in person. The plaintiff must also enclose the entry fee, which will be added to the amount of the judgment against the defendant if the plaintiff wins.
Who serves the Defendant with summons or process and how is the defendant served: Services may be accomplished by the sheriff, a process server, a friend that is familiar with the technical rules of service, or certified mail with a return receipt requested. The certified mail option must be conducted by the court clerk. If the defendant is not served within 120 days of the original answer date, the plaintiff’s case may be subject to dismissal.
Return of Summons: The sheriff, constable, or other process server shall, after effecting service, must endorse that fact on a copy of the summons and return it to the court clerk who will make the appropriate entry on the docket sheet of the action.
If you are the Defendant, what should you do after being served with a Statement of Claim? Once the defendant has received notice of the small claims suit and wishes to defend against it, the defendant must file an answer. There is a specific form in the small claims notice of the answer. An answer is the statement responding to the plaintiff’s claim. If the defendant is denying the plaintiff’s claim, he/she must explain why he/she does not owe the money. This answer does not have to be in great detail because the defendant will have an opportunity to explain his/her case at the trial. The defendant must also supply sufficient copies of any documentation for the court and all plaintiffs.
Removal to another Court:A case entered on a small claims docket shall be transferred to the regular docket of the superior court or to the regular housing docket, respectively, if the following conditions are met:(1) the defendant or the plaintiff if the defendant has filed a counterclaim, shall file a motion to transfer the case to the regular docket. This motion must be filed on or before the answer date. The motion to transfer must be accompanied by a counterclaim in an amount greater than the jurisdiction of the small claims court or an affidavit stating that a good defense exists to the claim and setting forth with specificity the nature of the defense, or stating that the case has been properly claimed for trial by jury.
The party who has filed the motion shall pay all necessary statutory fees at the time the motion to transfer is filed, including jury fees if a claim for trial by jury is filed. When a defendant or plaintiff on a counterclaim has satisfied one of the conditions previously mentioned above, the motion to transfer to the regular docket shall be granted by the court, without the need for a hearing unless an objection is filed within seven days after the answer date.
How are hearings scheduled? The clerk of the court will provide you with the procedure to set the case for trial or hearing at the time you file your claim.
Subpoena of Witnesses:If witnesses are required but unwilling to voluntarily attend unless they are subpoenaed, you may obtain a subpoena issued by the court clerk for service on the witness. The subpoena is an order for the witness to appear at the hearing and testify. Some employers may require that an employee be subpoenaed in order to be excused from work.
Trial Procedures: The trial procedure is generally informal than other courts although the formality will vary from county to county and judge to judge. The case will usually be called in open court and you will respond that you are present and ready to proceed. You will then be advised when to present your claim. Be prepared to present your claim in your own words. Be prepared to question witnesses if witnesses are needed.
If you are the Defendant, what should you do after being served with a Statement of Claim? If you are the defendant, you must file an answer on or before the answer date that appears on your Notice of Suit. If you disagree with the claim or the amount of money, check the box that says you disagree and explain briefly in writing why you believe you do not owe the money. Attach any documents that support your claim. For example, receipts, letters, contracts or leases.
What happens if the defendant does not appear at trial? Usually, if the defendant does not appear at trial, a default judgment will be entered in your favor for the amount of the claim or other relief.
Judgment: If the defendant fails to appear, or if the court rules for you after the hearing, a judgment will be entered by the court for the amount of the claim, or other relief sought.
Appeal: After judgment is entered, neither party can appeal the decision of the judge. However, if either party believes the judgment was entered in error, or if there were good reasons for one of the parties not appearing in court, that party may request the court to set aside, or vacate, the judgment. The court will review the motion and notify both parties of its decision. At the district level, attorneys are permitted
Collection of Judgment: After the judgment is obtained and the appeal time expired, you may seek to collect the judgment by acceptable means of collection. The winning party may request a Writ of Execution. The most important thing to remember is that the court cannot collect the money for you. The court’s purpose is to hear the case, make the decision, and give you the necessary permission to have its order enforced. If you have sued an individual the court may set an order for periodic payments. The “Notice of Judgment” will specify how much is to be paid to you each payment period and when the payments are to begin. If, for some reason, you feel the other party is able to make higher periodic payments and you have evidence of his or her wages, you may ask the court for an increase in the amount of the periodic payments. If you have sued a corporation, the court will enter judgment for the full amount. No order of periodic payments will be made. If you have any questions, ask the small claims clerk.
If the judgment debtor is not able to pay the periodic payment ordered by the court, the person may request that the court reduce the amount. The judgment debtor’s failure to make these payments may result in the attachment of the wages, bank account or property of the judgment debtor.
If payment is not made according to the terms of the judgment, there are several options which may be pursued to collect the judgment. These include obtaining the writ of execution to attach wages, personal property, or bank accounts. In order to have an execution served, you must know where the assets are located. If you do not know where the debtor’s assets are located, one option available to you to obtain this information is to request the clerk’s office to send by certified mail, a Post Judgment Remedies Interrogatories form ordering the debtor, the debtor’s employer, any financial institution or any third person who may be in possession of the debtor’s assets to disclose where those assets, if any, are located. A small fee is charged for this service.
Are Motions allowed? Motions are allowed by the parties on a limited basis.
Continuances: If it is impossible for you to come to the court on the day assigned, you should first call the other party or that party’s attorney and explain the problem. If the person you called agrees to have the case postponed, you must call the small claims clerk’s office and ask for a continuance. Tell the clerk that the other party (or that party’s attorney) has agreed. The clerk will then set a new hearing date and notify all parties. If the other party objects to a continuance of the case, you should still call the clerk and request a continuance. You should explain your reasons for the request and tell the clerk that the other party does not agree. It is recommended that if time permits, you should send a letter requesting the continuance to the clerk’s office. Copies of the request should also be sent to all other parties. Each party will be granted one continuance, if it is by agreement. Any other requests will be referred to the court for a decision.
Out-of-Court Settlement: If the parties settle before trial, they must inform the court clerk.
When Payment is Received: When the judgment has been satisfied, the receiving party must send written notice to the court that the judgment has been satisfied.
Cross-Claims, Counterclaims, and Third-Party Claims: The defendant may file a counter suit against the plaintiff. If the defendant files a counterclaim he/she must be specific as to the amount and the basis of the counterclaim and label it clearly on the answer as a counterclaim. If the amount of the counterclaim is more than the amount allowable in small claims, then a transfer is necessary.
What happens if a defendant has filed bankruptcy? If the plaintiff has filed a claim against the defendant and the plaintiff is aware that the claim is listed as a debt in a bankruptcy proceeding, federal law prohibits the plaintiff from pursuing the claim in small claims court.
Common Forms used in Small Claims Court:
Return of Summons
Abstract of Judgment
For more information on small claims court frequently asked questions please see http://www.jud.state.ct.us/faq/smallclaims.html#q1.
For the addresses and phone numbers of the small claims courts of Connecticut please see http://www.jud.state.ct.us/directory/directory/smallclaims.htm.