Small Claims – General – Nebraska
Note: This summary is not intended to be an all inclusive discussion of the law and procedures of small claims in Nebraska, 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 Nebraska: $3,600.00
Which Court hears small claims in Nebraska? In Nebraska, small claims are handled by the county court. Those cases which do not exceed a monetary amount of $3,600.00 may be adjudicated by the small claims division.
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 Nebraska may hear any of the following claims if the amount in controversy does not exceed $3,600.00:
1. monetary disputes
2. damage to property
3. seeking the return of personal property
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 $3,600.00.
Must you be represented by an attorney? Attorneys may not participate in the proceedings.
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: To start a small claim proceeding you must file a claim form with the clerk of the county court. The claim form requires a brief statement of the reasons the plaintiff (the person filing the claim) believes that money is owed or that property should be returned. The defendant (the person being sued) must be properly served with a copy of the claim. The plaintiff must know the defendant’s proper name and whether the defendant is an individual, a corporation, a partnership or other legal entity.
If the plaintiff fails to properly identify the defendant or fails to obtain proper service upon the defendant, the claim may be dismissed and the filing fees forfeited. The plaintiff must also provide the best information as to the defendant’s address and must decide whether to have the sheriff serve the notice of the small claim on the defendant or to have it served by certified mail.
The claim form must be signed before a judge, a clerk, deputy or assistant clerk of the county court, a notary public, or other person authorized by law to take acknowledgments. It may be filed in person or by mail and must be accompanied by the appropriate fees to the court. A filing fee of $6.00 and anticipated costs of service are charged at the time the claim is filed. Court personnel will inform you of the proper amount. The plaintiff can recover these costs as part of the judgment if the case is successful.
You must file small claims actions in the county where the defendant or defendant’s agent resides or is doing business or in the county in which the cause of action arose. If you file in the wrong court, your case will be dismissed and you will lose the filing fees and prepaid costs. Except for a merchant who is claiming a loss due to shoplifting, a party is limited to filing no more than two small claims within any calendar week and no more than 10 claims in any calendar year.
Who serves the Defendant with summons or process and how is the defendant served: The defendant may be served by the sheriff or or by certified mail.
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 defendant in a small claims court action may remove the case from small claims court and have it considered as a regular civil case on the county court docket. The defendant or defendant’s attorney must request the transfer at least two days before the hearing time and must pay the difference in fees between the small claims court and the regular docket of county court. When this is completed, the case is automatically transferred by the court; the law does not permit the plaintiff to object to the transfer. After the transfer, both the defendant and the plaintiff may have a lawyer represent them during the trial. A defendant desiring a jury trial must ask for a jury trial at the time the transfer is requested.
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:If either party is dissatisfied with the outcome of the case, he or she may appeal the case. The appealing party, within 30 days after the initial ruling is issued, must file a notice of appeal with the court clerk.
Collection of Judgment: The prevailing party may collect his or her money judgment through garnishment or a writ of execution.
Are Motions allowed? Motions are allowed by the parties on a limited basis.
Continuances: A continuance will only be allowed for good cause.
Out-of-Court Settlement: In most cases, neither party is one hundred percent right or wrong. You are encouraged to try to settle your case before trial. If a settlement is agreed to, the parties should notify the court prior to the time set for trial and the case will be dismissed or a judgment entered according to your agreement. For the protection of all participants, the notice of settlement and request for dismissal should be in writing. Filing fees are not refundable.
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: When the defendant receives notice of the small claims filing, he or she may file a “counterclaim” or “setoff” with the court. A counterclaim is a statement by the defendant that he or she is owed money or property by the plaintiff. A setoff is an admission by the defendant that he or she owes some money to the plaintiff, but that the plaintiff also owes the defendant money.
If the defendant wishes to file a counterclaim or setoff, the clerk of the county court can provide the proper forms. The defendant must provide a concise statement of why the money is owed by the plaintiff. The defendant must file the counterclaim or setoff with the court and have notice served on the plaintiff at least two days prior to the time of trial.
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
Nebraska Statutes Chapter 25:
25-2804 Actions; how commenced; fee; hearing; notice; setoff or counterclaim; limitations.
(1) Actions in the Small Claims Court shall be commenced by the filing of a claim, personally or by mail, by the plaintiff on a form provided by the clerk of a county court. The claim form shall be executed by the plaintiff in the presence of a judge, a clerk or deputy or assistant clerk of a county court, or a notary public or other person authorized by law to take acknowledgments. If not filed in person, the claim form and appropriate fees shall be mailed by the plaintiff to the court of proper jurisdiction.
(2) At the time of the filing of the claim, the plaintiff shall pay a fee of five dollars to the clerk.
(3) Upon filing of a claim in the Small Claims Court, the court shall set a time for hearing and shall cause notice to be served upon the defendant. Notice shall be served not less than five days before the time set for hearing. Notice shall consist of a copy of the complaint and a summons directing the defendant to appear at the time set for hearing and informing the defendant that if he or she fails to appear, judgment will be entered against him or her. Notice shall be served in the manner provided for service of a summons in a civil action. If the notice is to be served by certified mail, the clerk shall provide the plaintiff with written instructions, prepared and provided by the State Court Administrator, regarding the proper procedure for service by certified mail. The cost of service shall be paid by the plaintiff, but such cost and filing fee shall be added to any judgment given the plaintiff.
(4) The defendant may file a setoff or counterclaim. Any setoff or counterclaim shall be filed and a copy delivered to the plaintiff at least two days prior to the time of trial. If the setoff or counterclaim exceeds the jurisdictional limits of the Small Claims Court as established pursuant to section 25-2802, the court shall cause the entire matter to be transferred to the regular county court docket and set for trial.
(5) No prejudgment actions for attachment, garnishment, replevin, or other provisional remedy may be filed in the Small Claims Court.
(6) All forms required by this section shall be prescribed by the Supreme Court. The claim form shall provide for the names and addresses of the plaintiff and defendant, a concise statement of the nature, amount, and time and place of accruing of the claim, and an acknowledgment for use by the person in whose presence the claim form is executed and shall also contain a brief explanation of the Small Claims Court procedure and methods of appeal therefrom.
(7) Judgments rendered against a defendant in his or her absence may not be set aside but may only be appealed as governed by section 25-2807.
25-2805 Trial without jury; transfer to county court; fee.
All matters in the Small Claims Court shall be tried to the court without a jury. Except as provided in section 25-2618.01, any defendant in an action or such defendant’s attorney may transfer the case to the regular docket of the county court by giving notice to the court at least two days prior to the time set for the hearing. Upon such notice the case shall be transferred to the regular docket of the county court. At the same time as such notice is given to transfer the case, any defendant or such defendant’s attorney may demand trial by jury, and the Small Claims Court shall forward the demand to the county court. The party causing the transfer of a case from the Small Claims Court to the regular docket shall pay as a fee the difference between the fee for filing a claim in Small Claims Court and the fee for filing a claim on the regular docket. In any action transferred to the regular docket there shall be no further pleadings, demurrers, motions challenging pleadings, or discovery unless ordered by the court upon a showing that any such procedure is necessary to the prompt and just determination of the action.