Small Claims – General – Maine
Note: This summary is not intended to be an all inclusive discussion of the law and procedures of small claims in Maine, 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 Maine: $6,000.00
Which Court hears small claims in Maine? Within Maine, the small claims court is a division of the District Court. Those cases which which fall under the jurisdiction of the small claims court are heard in this department.
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 Maine may hear any of the following claims if the amount in controversy does not exceed $6,000.00:
1. debt collection
2. defective products
3. contract dispute
4. monetary disputes
5. The above list is not exhaustive but does contain most of the common claims. However, the following claims may not be filed in small claims court: an action for title to real estate, 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 $6,000.00. If the person is under 18, a representative or guardian may bring a case on behalf of the person.
Must you be represented by an attorney?The parties may be represented by an attorney or proceed without 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:A small claims statement of claim form can be obtained at any District Court clerk’s office. The plaintiff may ask the clerk for assistance in completing it, but the clerk cannot provide any legal advice.
The plaintiff should complete the statement of claim form by providing: the name and address of the defendant, including the exact name of the defendant. If the defendant is a corporation or an individual doing business as a named entity, this should be stated; a brief statement of the claim (that is, the nature of the dispute and what caused the dispute, when the dispute occurred, etc.) including the relevant dates; the relief that is sought (that is, the amount of money that is owed by the defendant or whatever action the plaintiff is requesting from the defendant); if there is a bill, contract, or other written record relating to the dispute, a copy may be attached to the statement of claim form. If this is done, the plaintiff will need two copies to give the clerk when filing the claim.
If the plaintiff requests that the clerk arrange for service, the plaintiff must also complete and sign an affidavit stating that the plaintiff has not filed and does not intend to file more than three small claims cases within the month. The plaintiff must file the small claims forms, with the filing and postage fees or with an application for waiver of the fees, in person or by mail with the clerk of the court. If the plaintiff has made service on the defendant, the plaintiff must file the return of service, and this can be filed at the same time the plaintiff files the statement of claim. The return of service is the acknowledgment of service if service was made by regular mail, or the green card if service was made by certified mail, or a return signed by the deputy sheriff if service was made by the deputy.
Who serves the Defendant with summons or process and how is the defendant served:The defendant may be served by regular mail, certified mail, or by the sheriff.
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:A lawsuit will be removed from small claims court if the amount in controversy exceeds $6,000.00. Also, if the debtor resides in another division other than the one in which the case is filed, the case will be transferred to the division where the debtor resides if the creditor requests a civil order of arrest.
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:The parties have thirty (30) days from the date of entry of the judgment to appeal a small claims case to the Superior Court. To appeal, the party must file a notice of appeal with the clerk of the District Court where the small claims case was heard. The fee for filing an appeal is $100. A plaintiff may appeal only on questions of law and is not entitled to a new trial. Since the plaintiff who appeals does not get a new trial, the plaintiff will want to order a transcript of the hearing in the District Court. The District Court clerk can assist the plaintiff in ordering a transcript. A deposit for the transcript will have to be paid to the Judicial Branch Recording Division.
A defendant may appeal on questions of law or may request a new trial, this time in front of a jury. To request a jury trial, the defendant must briefly state the grounds of the appeal and demand a jury trial in writing on the notice of appeal form. If the defendant wants a jury trial, there is an additional fee of $300 to be paid by the defendant to the Superior Court. The defendant must also file an affidavit with the notice of appeal, specifying that there is a genuine issue of material fact. Failure to make demand for jury trial with the accompanying affidavit constitutes a waiver of the right to jury trial.
Collection of Judgment:If the plaintiff wins the case and the judge orders the defendant to pay money to the plaintiff and if the defendant does not pay the judgment within 30 days, the most common manner of collecting the judgment is through a disclosure hearing. The purpose of a disclosure hearing is for the winning party (now called the judgment creditor) to “disclose” the losing party (now called the judgment debtor.) This means that the creditor will try to find out from the debtor what income and assets he or she has from which the judgment can be paid. The disclosure of income and assets is under oath in front of a judge.
There are two ways of setting up a disclosure hearing: (1) the plaintiff (judgment creditor) fills out the paperwork and arranges service of the notice on the defendant (judgment debtor) or (2) the judgment creditor requests a disclosure hearing in writing and the clerk arranges for service of a notice on the debtor. The rules that determine whether the clerk can arrange for service of the disclosure notice on the debtor are the same as for arranging service on the defendant of small claims statement of claim. That is, if the creditor does not file or intend to file 3 or more small claims cases in a calendar month, the creditor can ask the clerk to arrange for service. Otherwise, the creditor must arrange for service him or herself.
When the clerk arranges for service:
If the creditor wants the clerk to arrange for service, the creditor must file a written request with the clerk’s office. The clerk’s office has forms entitled “Request for a Disclosure Hearing.” The form must be completed and filed with the clerk with a $15 dollar filing fee and a service fee of $10 dollars. The clerk will then have the debtor served with the appropriate notice and will inform both parties of the date of the disclosure hearing.
When the creditor arranges for service:
If the creditor must arrange for service because the creditor files 3 or more small claims cases in a month, the creditor should obtain a hearing date from the clerk’s office. That date should be far enough ahead to allow plenty of time for service, because the debtor has to be served at least 7 days before the disclosure hearing. The creditor should also obtain the form called “Notice of Disclosure Hearing.” This form will have the clerk’s signature on it.
The creditor should fill out the form and have it photocopied. The creditor should give the original and the copy to the deputy sheriff for service. The sheriff will have the copy served on the debtor and will write on the original that service has been made and when it was made and return the original to the creditor. The creditor must then file the original with the return of service signed by the deputy at the clerk’s office. This must be accompanied by a $15 dollar filing fee.
If the creditor fails to appear at the disclosure hearing, the disclosure is terminated. To terminate a disclosure means that the creditor must wait six months before requesting another disclosure hearing. Each new disclosure hearing requires a new filing fee and service of the notice of disclosure on the debtor. If the debtor fails to appear at the disclosure hearing, a civil order of arrest will be issued by the court upon the request of the creditor. If the creditor wants a civil order of arrest the creditor will have to file an affidavit with the court stating that he or she knows of no valid reason for the non-appearance of the debtor.
The clerk’s office has forms entitled “Affidavit and Request for Civil Order of Arrest.” The affidavit must also contain the present address of the debtor. The clerk will arrange for the arrest of the debtor, but the creditor must pay the sheriff’s office a $25.00 fee for the arrest. This cost can be added to the amount of the judgment. The civil order of arrest directs the sheriff to arrest the debtor on a day that the court is in session and bring the debtor to court. (The sheriff is not to take the person to jail nor is the sheriff to take the personal recognizance of the debtor.) When the debtor is arrested and brought to the court, the clerk will immediately notify the creditor who must appear at court. If the disclosure hearing cannot take place (due to the unavailability of the creditor or the judge or if the court is simply too busy), the personal recognizance of the debtor can be taken. If a debtor fails to appear in court after having been given a personal recognizance, a civil order of arrest will be issued again if the creditor so requests.
Are Motions allowed? Motions are allowed by the parties on a limited basis.
Continuances: A continuance is a postponement of a court date. If the hearing has been scheduled for a time when you are absolutely unable to attend, you should ask for a continuance. While continuances are not favored, they may be granted for legitimate reasons such as illness, emergencies or unavailability of a witness. You should notify the clerk of the court and request a continuance as soon as you discover that you or an important witness cannot attend the hearing at the scheduled time.
Out-of-Court Settlement:If the parties decide to settle out of court, the court clerk must be notified. It is strongly recommended that an out of court settlement be submitted to the court in writing.
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: A 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:
Return of Summons
Abstract of Judgment
§ 7481. Small Claims Act; jurisdiction
There is established a small claims proceeding for the purpose of providing a simple, speedy and informal court procedure for the resolution of small claims. It shall be an alternative, not an exclusive, proceeding. The District Court shall have jurisdiction of small claims actions. The District Court shall have the power to grant monetary and equitable relief in these actions. Equitable relief is limited to orders to return, reform, refund, repair or rescind.
§ 7482. Definition of a small claim
A “small claim” means a right of action cognizable by a court if the debt or damage does not exceed $6,000.00 exclusive of interest and costs. It does not include an action involving the title to real estate.
§ 7483. Venue
A small claim shall be brought in the division of the District Court where the transaction occurred, where the defendant resides, where the defendant has a place of business or, if the defendant is a corporation or partnership, where its registered agent resides.
Small Claims Rules:This summary contains some of the provisions from the Maine Rules of Civil Procedure which apply to Maine small claims. However, this summary does not include a comprehensive discussion of all rules.