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Iowa Small Claims Law

Small Claims – General – Iowa

Note: This summary is not intended to be an all inclusive discussion of the law and procedures of small claims in Iowa, 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 Iowa: $5,000.00

Which Court hears small claims in Iowa? The Magistrate Court of Iowa will hear all small claims actions.

Who hears the claims in small claims court? The claim will be heard by a judicial magistrate.

Claims over which the Small Claims Court has Jurisdiction:

The small claims court in Iowa may hear any of the following claims if the amount in controversy does not exceed $5,000.00:

1. money debts
2. forcible entry and detainer
3. action of replevin
4. 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, 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 $5,000.00.

Must you be represented by an attorney? The parties need not be represented by an attorney.

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 standard form which sets forth the cause of action against the defendant.

Who serves the Defendant with summons or process and how is the defendant served: The court clerk will serve the defendant via certified mail, restricted delivery, return receipt requested. The court clerk may also order personal service upon the defendant.

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 claim may be removed from small claims court if the amount in controversy exceeds the statutory limit.

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 the decision of the judge. The losing party may give oral notice of the appeal at the end of the hearing or file a written notice of appeal with the clerk within 21 days after the decision is rendered.

Collection of Judgment: A party may collect using the following methods: a judgment lien or garnishment.

Other Matters:

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 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.

Common Forms used in Small Claims Court:

Claim Statement/Complaint
Return of Summons
Abstract of Judgment

Iowa Code:

631.2  Jurisdiction and procedures.

1. The district court sitting in small claims shall exercise the jurisdiction conferred by this chapter, and shall determine small claims according to the statutes and the rules prescribed by this chapter. Except when transferred from the small claims docket as provided in section 631.8, small claims may be tried by a judicial magistrate, a district associate judge, or a district judge.

2. The clerk of the district court shall maintain a separate small claims docket which shall contain all matters relating to small claims which are required by section 602.8104, subsection 2, paragraph “e”, to be contained in a combination docket.

3. Statutes and rules relating to venue and jurisdiction shall apply to small claims, except that a provision of this chapter which is inconsistent therewith shall supersede that statute or rule.

631.3  Commencement of actions–clerk to furnish forms–subpoena.

1. All actions shall be commenced by the filing of an original notice with the clerk. At the time of filing, the clerk shall enter on the original notice and the copies to be served, the file number and the date the action is filed.

2. The clerk shall furnish standard forms as provided in section 631.15, as such pleadings may be required. The clerk may furnish information to any party to enable the party to complete a form.

3. The clerk shall cause to be entered upon each copy of the original notice and in the docket the time within which the defendant is required to appear, which time shall be determined in accordance with section 631.4.

4. Upon the request of a party to the action, the clerk or a judicial officer shall issue subpoenas for the attendance of witnesses at a hearing. Sections 622.63 to 622.67, 622.69, 622.76 and 622.77 apply to subpoenas issued pursuant to this chapter.

Small Claims Statutes: This summary contains some of the provisions from the Iowa Code which govern small claims, but does not include a comprehensive discussion of all statutes.

Inside Iowa Small Claims Law