Small Claims – General – Illinois
Note: This summary is not intended to be an all inclusive discussion of the law and procedures of small claims in Illinois, 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 Illinois: $10,000.00
Which Court hears small claims in Illinois? In Illinois, the small claims court is under the jurisdiction of the Clerks of Court Act and Supreme Court Rule 282. Fees are based on the population of the county and designated by county boards.
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 Illinois may hear any of the following claims if the amount in controversy does not exceed $10,000.00:
1. breach of contract
2. property damage
3. personal injury
5. repossession of property
6. garnishment to enforce judgments from funds owed by debtors
7. 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: libel, slander, professional malpractice, assigned claims, and punitive damages.
Who may file a claim in small claims court? An individual (18 or older), 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 $10,000.00.
Must you be represented by an attorney? The parties may hire attorneys if they wish.
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 small claims form which can be obtained from the court clerk. On the form, the plaintiff must list his or her name as the plaintiff, name and address of the person or corporation being sued, the amount of damages requested, and a brief explanation concerning why the suit is being filed. The clerk will assign a number to each small claim case.
If you are the Defendant, what should you do after being served with a Statement of Claim?
If you are sued, you will be notified when you receive a copy of the Small Claims Complaint and summons in one of two ways: by certified mail or by hand delivery from the Sheriff to you or a member of your household.
The complaint will tell you the reason you are being sued and the amount claimed. The summons will tell you when and where to file your “Appearance” if you contest the claim. DO NOT IGNORE THE SUMMONS. If you do nothing in response to the summons, the Court will probably award the plaintiff the amount claimed in the complaint plus court costs.
When sued, you may choose to do any one of the following things: admit you owe the plaintiff all of the amount claimed, deny you owe the plaintiff all or part of the amount claimed by filing an “Appearance” with the clerk before the “Return Day” and mailing a copy to the plaintiff, file a lawsuit against the plaintiff called a counterclaim, if you believe the plaintiff owes you money in connection with the reason he claims you owe him money and settle the dispute out of court.
If you admit owing the amount claimed and you can pay the plaintiff before the trial date, you may be able to avoid a Judgment being entered on the court records against your name. Contact the plaintiff immediately if you admit the claim. If you can’t pay the whole amount in one lump sum, perhaps you both can agree to installment payments. If you contest the plaintiff’s claim in whole or in part, you must file an “Appearance” with the Clerk of the Court and pay the “Appearance” fee before the “Return Day”. IMMEDIATELY MAIL A COPY OF YOUR “APPEARANCE” TO THE ATTORNEY FOR THE PLAINTIFF, OR IF NONE, TO THE PLAINTIFF. You are not required to appear in person in court on the “Return Day” if an appearance has been filed. The purpose of the “Return Day” is to see if the claim is contested or uncontested, and if contested to put the case on the trial call 14 days later. The trial is AUTOMATICALLY set for the 14th day after the “Return Day”. On the trial day a Judge will listen to both sides of the case and render a decision.
If you claim that the plaintiff (person who filed suit against you) owed you money as a result of the same transaction on which he bases his claim, you may file a lawsuit called a counterclaim against him. This is done by filling out a standard Small Claim Complaint form and giving it to the clerk along with the filing fee. The person filing the counterclaim is known as the counter-plaintiff and the person being sued is known as the counter-defendant. The title on the standard complaint form should be changed to so name the parties. The counter-plaintiff need not serve a summons on the counter-defendant but must notify him by mailing a copy of the counterclaim as soon as possible and be prepared to prove the mailing (for example: certified mail, return receipt requested). The original complaint and counterclaim will be heard at the same time. The Court may postpone such a trial so everyone has an opportunity to be prepared.
You may contact the plaintiff to attempt to settle the dispute out of court. The fact that you offered to settle the case will not be considered against you at trial. If you settle out of court after being served with a complaint and summons, you would be wise to have your settlement in writing. The settlement agreement need not be complicated but should be sufficiently detailed to be enforceable in court if there is a later misunderstanding between the parties. Always notify the clerk of any settlement so that case may be removed from the court calendar. The plaintiff should write and sign a short note to the clerk advising of the settlement.
If you do not settle out of court, or file an “Appearance” before the “Return Date”, a Judgment By Default may be entered against you for the amount claimed plus the court costs.
Return of Summons: The return receipt, when returned to the clerk, shall be attached to the original summons, and, if it shows delivery at least 3 days before the day for appearance,shall constitute proof of service. The clerk shall note the fact of service in a permanent record.
Removal to another Court: The case will be removed out of small claims court if the the amount in controversy exceeds $5,000.00
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 the plaintiff after the hearing, a judgment will be entered by the court for the amount of the claim, or other relief sought.
Appeal: A party that is dissatisfied with the judgment may file an appeal.
Collection of Judgment: The court will order the judgment debtor to provide a disclosure statement to the plaintiff or to the court clerk within 15 days of the judgment. If this is not effective, the court may order garnishment proceedings.
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: An individual should never lose sight of one option that remains open throughout the dispute resolution process–settlement. Often the client needs to keep settlement in mind because most lawyers are trained to solve problems in court rather than out of court. A lawyer who has invested time and energy in preparing for trial may be unlikely to recommend settlement. In addition, lengthy litigation usually means higher fees for the lawyer. Human nature being what it is, lawyers may not be quick to point out when their own services are no longer necessary. The client may need to remind his or her lawyer that the primary objective is a satisfactory resolution of the dispute as soon as possible, not necessarily total victory at any cost.
It is a wise idea to include settlement strategies, including alternative dispute resolution, in early discussions with the attorney one hires to handle a matter. As time passes and legal fees mount, settlement may become an increasingly attractive option to proceeding to court. If clear goals are set from the start, and those goals are periodically reviewed, it will often be easier to settle later. If the parties do reach a settlement agreement, each side’s attorney(s) should be involved in drafting and reviewing the settlement papers before signing. It is possible for a party to agree to settle a matter without admitting fault and without compromising its position in any other disputes.
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 is entitled to file a counterclaim against the plaintiff.
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.
Will I need an expert witness? Depending on the matter pending before the court, it may be helpful to have an expert testify.
Common Forms used in Small Claims Court:
Return of Summons
Abstract of Judgment
Illinois Attorney General: Chicago phone: (312) 814-3000, Springfield phone: (217) 782-1090, toll-free: 1-800-252-8666.
The Consumer Fraud Bureau at the Office of the Illinois Attorney General publishes a free pamphlet describing the small claims court process.
Small Claims Rules: This summary contains some of the provisions from the Illinois Small Claims Rules but does not include a comprehensive discussion of all rules.