Small Claims – General – Louisiana
Note: This summary is not intended to be an all inclusive discussion of the law and procedures of small claims in Louisiana, 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 Louisiana:$3,000.00
Which Court hears small claims in Louisiana? The small claims court is a department of the Civil Division of the City Court. Those cases with a maximum amount of $3,000.00 may be heard in small claims court in Louisiana.
Who hears the claims in small claims court? The claim will be heard by a judge.
Claims over which the Small Claims Court has Jurisdiction:
The small claims court in Louisiana may hear any of the following claims if the amount in controversy does not exceed $3,000.00:
1. monetary disputes
2. defective products
3. deposit dispute
4. failure to receive wages
5. seeking possession of personal property
6. The above list is not exhaustive but does contain most of the common claims. However, the following entities may not file a lawsuit in small claims court: domestic issues, suits against a state agency, eviction of tenants, suits where more than 10 parties are are joined as plaintiffs in the same action, and class action suits.
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 $3,000.00.
Must you be represented by an attorney? Parties may not be represented by an attorney. An officer of a corporation may may file suit on behalf of the corporation, otherwise, a license attorney will be needed to represent the corporation.
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: The plaintiff must complete a Statement of Claim and Citation. The form must include a simple statement as to why the plaintiff is suing. Next, the form must be returned to the court clerks office with the appropriate fee.
Who serves the Defendant with summons or process and how is the defendant served: If the defendant is within the city limits, the clerk’s office will forward the defendant’s copy of the complaint to the city constable for service. If the service is out of the city limits, the clerk’s office will mail the defendant’s copy by certified mail, return receipt requested. The plaintiff may also request a private process server.
Return of Summons: If and when the defendant is served, the Clerk’s Office will mail service information to the plaintiff. If the Constable/Sheriff makes a return certifying that they are unable to make service, the plaintiff may request a Motion to Appoint a Private Process Server.
If you are the Defendant, what should you do after being served with a Statement of Claim? If you have been served with a Citation, you are referred to as the “DEFENDANT” in the matter. Most importantly, DO NOT IGNORE the Statement of Claim and Citation and Attention Sheet if you wish to contest the claim against you. Initially, you must decide if you desire to hire an attorney to represent you. Secondly, you must decide whether you wish to transfer the case to the regular civil docket. There is a $10.00 fee for transfer to the regular civil docket. Transfer would enable you to preserve your right to appeal any unfavorable judgment. However, you should be aware that the appeal process can be lengthy and costly and may require that you hire an attorney.
If you decide to contest the case over any issue, you SHOULD file your answer IN WRITING with the Clerk’s Office within the ten (10) day period allowed by law. IF YOU DO NOT DO SO, A DEFAULT JUDGMENT MAY BE ENTERED AGAINST YOU. This means that you would lose without a chance to tell your side of the story. Your answer should be truthful and contain every defense you intend to raise. IF TEN (10) DAYS HAVE PASSED BUT THE PLAINTIFF HAS NOT OBTAINED A JUDGMENT, YOU MAY STILL FILE AN ANSWER.
Possible defenses include:
Contributory negligence (negligence on the part of the plaintiff);
No jurisdiction or improper “venue” (wrong court);
Discharge in bankruptcy;
Error or mistake;
Fraud or illegality on plaintiff’s part;
Previous compromise or payment of an obligation;
Excessive damages claimed.
Your written answer must be delivered to the plaintiff. You can request in writing to the court for the plaintiff to be served and provide the name and address for service, or you can mail a copy of the answer to the plaintiff. If mailed, you must file a written certificate with the court stating that you mailed a copy of the answer to the plaintiff.
Removal to another Court: A lawsuit will be removed from small claims court if the amount in controversy exceeds $3,000.00. The defendant has a right to request that the action be transferred from the small claims division to the regular civil docket. Transferring the case to the regular docket will preserve the parties rights to an appeal.
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.
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: In small claims court, the parties have no right to appeal.
Collection of Judgment:It is not the duty or the function of the court to automatically pay or collect what is owed to you. IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO TAKE ANY AND ALL LEGAL ACTION NECESSARY TO COLLECT ON YOUR JUDGMENT. In order to collect, you may have to take further action; such as a garnishment of the losing party’s bank account or wages, or “seizure and sale” of certain non-exempt property belonging to the defendant. Additional court cost deposits are required for these actions, which, like other costs of court, are recoverable from the losing party. For assistance, you may contact an attorney or use one of the services listed on the last page of this pamphlet. If you do not know of any assets belonging to the losing party that you could seize, you may request a “JUDGMENT DEBTOR EXAMINATION” for an ORAL EXAMINATION as to the existence and whereabouts of the defendant’s assets. The advance court cost deposit is $70.00 for filing this action, and it is not a new trial or hearing. You will be allowed to orally examine the defendant who will be under oath regarding his assets, employment, etc., at a place suitable for such examination, usually just outside the courtroom. This information may help you in finding other legal means for collecting on your judgment.
Are Motions allowed? Motions are allowed by the parties on a limited basis.
Continuances: A continuance will only be granted for good cause.
Out-of-Court Settlement: If the parties decide to settle out of court, the court clerk must be notified.
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 counterclaim against the plaintiff. The defendant is responsible for paying the filing fee for this service.
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
Other information concerning the Small Claims Court procedure in Louisiana may be acquired by contacting the following agencies:
Capital Area Legal Services Corp.
200 N. 3rd Street
Baton Rouge, LA 70801
Phone (225) 387-5173
Consumer Credit Counseling Services
615 Chevelle Ct.
Baton Rouge, LA 70806
Phone (225) 923-2227
Lawyer Referral Service
850 North Boulevard
Baton Rouge, LA 70802
Phone (225) 344-9926
Small Claims support glossary:
agent – a person or party acting legally on behalf of another person, party or corporation.
arbitrator – a licensed attorney who resolves disputes between parties.
defendant – the party or person who is being sued.
domiciliary service – when the properly addressed certified mail return receipt reply form is signed at the residence by someone other than the defendant, then service shall be considered as domiciliary service.
garnishee – defendant’s employer or someone who has money or property in his possession belonging to defendant, such as a bank where defendant has funds.
incorporated – formed into a legal corporation under applicable state law.
jurisdiction – is the legal power and authority of a court to hear and determine an action and to grant parties the relief to which they may be entitled.
personal service – when the properly addressed certified mail return receipt reply form is signed by the addressee/defendant, then service shall be considered as personal service.
plaintiff – the party who is filing suit against another party.
service of process – the act of presenting a copy of a legal document such as a Statement of Claim and Citation to a party by a duly authorized court officer, thereby putting the receiving party on legal notice of the action.
suit number – the number assigned to your law suit at the time of its filing by the Clerk of Court. (Any correspondence or other inquiry about your case should contain this number.)
tendered – when a properly addressed certified mail return receipt reply form is returned and marked “refused” or “unclaimed” by the addressee, then service of process is regarded as tendered and shall be considered as domiciliary service.
venue – as opposed to jurisdiction, is merely the parish or city (physical location) in which an action or proceeding may be properly brought and tried. It relates to the geographical location where a case maybe tried.
1. Does claim fall within jurisdiction of Small Claims Division?
2. Are you suing the proper party defendant?
3. Do you have the defendant’s proper legal name(s) and address(es)?
4. Did you fill out a complete statement of why you are suing? Include amount of money you seek to recover, date and locations related to your claim.
5. Did you include copies of written evidence with your Statement of Claim and Citation?
6. Did you state a complete name, address, phone number and signature?
7. Did you familiarize yourself with this guide?
1. Do you want to contact an attorney?
2. Do you wish to transfer the case to the regular docket? Must file request within 10 days.
3. Do you wish to contest claim? Must file written answer within ten (10) days or anytime prior to a default judgment being signed. In your answer, consider:
Is this the proper court?
Has debt been discharged in bankruptcy?
Was there negligence on part of the plaintiff?
Has there been a compromise or payment?
Was there fraud, illegality, error, or mistake present?
Is the plaintiff seeking excessive damages?
4. Do you wish to “counterclaim” against the plaintiff?
To review the Louisiana Revised Statutes which pertain to Small Claims procedures, please see http://www.legis.state.la.us/lss/lss.asp?doc=77959. The appropriate statutes range from Title 13 Section 5200 – Title 13 Section 5213.