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If you want to make a complaint in Small Claims Court, the first thing you need to do is figure out if the court can hear your case. Not every kind of case is appropriate for Small Claims Court. You might already know that the court hears cases involving money damages up to $6,000, but there are a few other things you need to think about when deciding if Small Claims Court is the right place for your lawsuit. You need to be sure that this court has jurisdiction to hear your case and that this court is the right venue to hear your case.

Jurisdiction is the court’s ability to hear a type of case. If your claim deals with money damages with a value of up to $6,000 not including interest and court costs, the Small Claims Court can hear your case. The court can only hear cases involving money damages. It cannot hear a range of cases including claims about return of property, libel, and slander because it does not have the ability to do so.

If you want to ask for more than $6,000 in damages, learn about the Garfield Heights Civil Division.

Venue is the location where the case can be heard. The Garfield Heights Municipal Court is the correct venue for your case if you answer “yes” to any one of the following questions:

Can you answer YES to any one of these questions?

Does the person you are suing live in one of these municipalities…

  • Brecksville
  • Cuyahoga Heights
  • Garfield Heights
  • Independence
  • Maple Heights
  • Newburgh Heights
  • Valley View
  • Walton Hills

Does the person you are suing regularly conduct business in one of these municipalities…

Did the incident or transaction that caused the lawsuit happen in one of these municipalities…

If you have a claim that only involves money damages that does not exceed $6,000 total, and you answered yes to any one of the questions above, your claim can be heard in the Small Claims Court. To learn more about the jurisdiction of the courts, see the Citizens Guide to Ohio Courts.

Do I need a lawyer?

No. In Small Claims Court, most cases go forward without a lawyer.

You do not have to hire a lawyer for Small Claims Court. However, it may be helpful to talk with a lawyer before starting your case and before presenting at trial. A lawyer can help you to present the facts of your case. You don’t need to be represented in court by a lawyer, but getting legal help can make a real difference in your case.

Corporations and limited liability companies can sue and be sued. Corporations and limited liability companies may be represented by a lawyer, or someone who is not a lawyer, such as an employee. In Small Claims Court, non-lawyers can only provide testimony to facts that they personally know and they can provide documents to support their side.  They may not examine or cross-examine any witness, present legal arguments, or do other things lawyers normally do such as present motions and prepare affidavits. Individuals representing companies or corporations should consult with a lawyer before trial.

If you are in a partnership you may be represented by a general partner or a lawyer but it is best to contact a lawyer to review your case before you decide to represent yourself.

To find a lawyer, call the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association at 216-696-3532 or visit their website.

Settling Out of Court

Can we settle out of court, without going to trial?

Yes. Going to court can involve a lot of time and expenses. It takes time to complete court forms, gather evidence and prepare for trial. Plus, there are court fees to be paid. Settling out of court is often the best way to resolve disputes. There are a number of ways that you and the other party may avoid going to court.

Demand Letters

A demand letter is a formal notice that demands the other person (or corporation) performs a legal obligation, such as fixing a problem, paying a sum of money or honoring a contractual agreement. The letter gives the recipient a chance to perform the obligation without being taken to court, if the action is taken according to specific terms and within a specified time.

After reading the demand letter, the recipient should have a clear understanding of the sender’s issue and how best to settle the matter. The sender should be sure to be fair regarding the specified terms. If there is no settlement, the demand letter may later be used in court and the judge should be satisfied that the sender’s terms were reasonable.

Collection Agencies

A collection agency is a business that pursues payments on debts owed by individuals or businesses. Most collection agencies operate as agents and collect debts for a fee or percentage of the total amount owed. The main advantage of hiring a collection agency is that it becomes their business to get payment from the other party. In addition, amounts that are not paid to a collection agency may become part of the credit history of the owing party. In this way, debtors are motivated to make payment and settle disputes.

Can a Small Claims case be transferred to the Civil Division?

If your claim deals with money damages with a value of up to $6,000 not including interest and court costs, the Small Claims Court can hear your case. A case may be transferred from the Small Claims Division to the Civil Division if:

  • The court decides to elevate it at any point during the proceeding
  • The party who is facing a complaint, counterclaim, cross-claim, or third-party complaint gives good reasons as a part of their defense for why it should be elevated
  • If a party files a counterclaim, cross-claim, or third party complaint for more than $6,000

A transfer fee of $70.00 is required at the time the motion is filed and the motion must be filed least 10 days before the trial.  If you are seeking transfer less than ten court days before your trial, you will have to ask the magistrate for special permission on the day of trial which will only be granted in exceptional circumstances.

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