Small Claims – General – Georgia
Note: This summary is not intended to be an all inclusive discussion of the law and procedures of small claims in Georgia, 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 Georgia: $15,000.00
Which Court hears small claims in Georgia? Small claims cases are heard in the Magistrate Court.
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 Georgia may hear any of the following claims if the amount in controversy does not exceed $15,000.00:
1. landlord/tenant disputes
2. personal property disputes
3. damages to personal property
4. faulty workmanship
5. The above list is not exhaustive but does contain most of the common claims. The following claims MAY NOT be heard in small claims court: libel, slander, professional malpractice, assigned claims, and punitive damages.
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 $15,000.00.
Must you be represented by an attorney? A party may hire an attorney at his or her expense. Mediation is required in some counties before a judge will hear the case.
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 file a sworn statement with the clerk of the appropriate Magistrate’s Court describing the charges made by the plaintiff against the defendant. If the defendant is a person, the claim must be filed in the county where the defendant resides. If the defendant is a corporation, the claim must be filed in the county of the registered agent.
Who serves the Defendant with summons or process and how is the defendant served: After the claim has been filed, the Magistrate Court will serve the defendant with a copy of the complaint and a summons to appear in court.
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.
Removal to another Court: The case may removed from small claims court if the amount in controversy exceeds $15,000.00
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: An unsatisfied party has the option of appealing to either the state or superior court.
Collection of Judgment: The prevailing party may place a lien on the judgment debtor’s property, garnish his or her bank account, or file a post judgment interrogatory.
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 parties 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. The counterclaim must not exceed $15,000.00.
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
Official Code of Georgia Statutes:OCGA 15-10-43:
(a) Actions shall be commenced by the filing of a statement of claim, including the last known address of the defendant, in concise form and free from technicalities. The plaintiff or his or her agent shall sign and verify the statement of claim by oath or affirmation. At the request of any individual, the judge or clerk may prepare the statement of claim and other papers required to be filed in an action. The statement of claim shall include the address at which the plaintiff desires to receive the notice of hearing.
(b) A copy of the verified statement of claim shall be served on the defendant personally, or by leaving a copy thereof at the defendant’s dwelling or usual place of abode with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein, or by delivering a copy of the claim to an agent authorized by appointment or by law to receive service of process, and such service shall be sufficient. Service of said process shall be made within the county as provided in this Code section. Service outside the county shall be by second original as provided in Code Section 9-10-72. Said service shall be made by any official or person authorized by law to serve process in the superior court, by a constable, or by any person sui juris who is not a party to, or otherwise interested in, the action, who is specially appointed by the judge of said court for that purpose. When the claim and notice are served by a private individual, such individual shall make proof of service by affidavit, showing the time and place of such service on the defendant.
(c) An answer to the claim must be filed with the court or orally presented to the judge or clerk of the court within 30 days after service of the statement of claim on the defendant to avoid a default. The answer shall be in concise form and free from technical requirements, but must admit or deny the claim of the plaintiff. The answer shall contain the address at which the defendant desires to receive the notice of hearing. If the answer is presented to the judge or clerk orally, the judge or clerk shall reduce the answer to writing. A copy of the answer shall be forwarded to the plaintiff and defendant with the notice of hearing. If an answer is timely filed or presented, the court shall within ten days of filing or presentation of the answer notify the defendant and the plaintiff of the calling of a hearing on the claim. The notice shall include the date, hour, and location of the hearing, which date shall be not less than 15 nor more than 30 days after the date the notice is given. The notice shall be served on the plaintiff and the defendant by mail or personal service to the address given by the plaintiff at the time he or she files his or her claim and the address given by the defendant at the time he or she files or presents his or her answer. The date of mailing shall be the date the notice is given. The clerk shall enter a certificate of service.
(d) Upon failure of the defendant to answer the claim within 30 days after service of the statement of claim, the defendant shall be in default. The defaulting party may open the default upon filing an answer and upon payment of costs within 15 days of default. If the defendant is still in default after the expiration of 15 days after the answer is due, the plaintiff shall be entitled to a default judgment without further proof if the claim is for liquidated damages. When the claim is for unliquidated damages, the plaintiff must offer proof of the damage amount. Separate notice of the date and time of the unliquidated damages hearing shall be sent to the defendant at his or her service address. The defendant shall be allowed to submit evidence at that hearing on the issue of the amount of damage only.
(1) When a hearing is scheduled pursuant to subsection (c) of this Code section, upon failure of the defendant to appear for the hearing, the plaintiff shall be entitled to have the defendant’s answer stricken and a default judgment entered. If the claim is for liquidated damages, the plaintiff shall be entitled to take a judgment in the amount set forth in the complaint without further proof. If the claim is for unliquidated damages, the plaintiff shall proceed to prove his or her damages and take judgment in an amount determined by the judge.
(2) When a hearing is scheduled pursuant to subsection (d) of this Code section, upon failure of the defendant to appear, the plaintiff shall be entitled to submit proof of the damages and take judgment in an amount determined by the judge.
(3) If the plaintiff fails to appear for a hearing scheduled pursuant to either subsection (c) or (d) of this Code section, the court on motion of the defendant, or on its own motion, may dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint, with or without prejudice, in the discretion of the court.
(f) At any time before final judgment, the court, in its discretion, upon payment of costs, may allow the default to be opened for providential cause preventing the filing of required pleadings or for excusable neglect or where the judge, from all the facts, shall determine that a proper case has been made for the default to be opened, on terms to be fixed by the court. In order to allow the default to be thus opened, the showing shall be made under oath, shall set up a meritorious defense, shall offer to plead instanter, and shall announce ready to proceed with the trial.
(g) Notwithstanding the provisions of Code Section 15-10-42, the magistrate court may grant relief from a judgment under the same circumstances as the state court may grant such relief. Requests for relief from judgments in the magistrate court shall be by filing a new action pursuant to this Code section. The procedure shall then be the same as in other cases except the court may assess costs as seem just.
(h) A complaint in equity to set aside a judgment of the magistrate court may be brought under the same circumstances as a complaint to set aside a judgment in a court of record.
(i) Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to prohibit an employee of any corporation or other legal entity from representing the corporation or legal entity before the magistrate court.
(a) The trial shall be conducted on the day set for the hearing, or at such later time as the judge may set. Immediately prior to the trial of any case, the judge shall counsel the parties to make an earnest effort to settle the controversy by conciliation. If the parties fail to settle their differences without a trial, the judge shall proceed with the hearing on its merits.
(b) The judge shall conduct the trial in such manner as to do substantial justice between the parties according to the rules of substantive law. All rules and regulations relating to pleading, practice, and procedure shall be liberally construed so as to administer justice.
(c) If the plaintiff fails to appear, the action may be dismissed for want of prosecution, the defendant may proceed to a trial on the merits, or the case may be continued as the judge may direct. If both parties fail to appear, the judge may continue the case, order the same dismissed for want of prosecution, or make any other just and proper disposition thereof, as justice may require.
This summary contains some of the provisions from the Georgia Official Code, but does not include a comprehensive discussion of all the sections which apply to the small claims court.
The following is a list of Magistrate Court phone numbers for metro Atlanta countie. If your case would be in any other county in Georgia, look in the white pages of the local phone book, under the name of the county, for Magistrate Court.
Carroll County 770-830-5874
Cherokee County 770-479-0544
Clayton County 770-477-3443 770-528-8913
Coweta County 770-254-2610
Cobb County 404-371-4766
Douglas County 770-920-7259
Fayette County 770-461-2116
Forsyth County 770-781-2211
Fulton County 404-730-5045
Gwinnett County 770-822-8100
Hall County 770-531-6912
Henry County 770-954-2111
Newton County 770-784-2050
Paulding County 770-443-7533
Rockdale County 770-929-4014
Spalding County 770-467-4320
Walton County 770-267-1349