Bringing an Action in Small Claims Court in New York

If someone owes you money, bringing a case in Small Claims Court may be a good vehicle to seek relief.  It is a real-life people’s court, and is more informal than higher courts.  You can get a decision quickly – usually in a month or two. Here is some information about filing Small Claims Court actions (please note that these points do not apply for other courts in NY State):

  • You can only sue for money damages.
  • You can bring a claim for up to $3,000 in Village & Town Courts.
  • You can bring a claim for up to $5,000 in City Courts.
  • You must be 18 years or older, and those younger can appear with parent or guardian.
  • The action is brought in the municipality where the defendant resides, has an office for business transactions or a regular employment office.
  • Attorneys are optional.
  • To start an action, go to the courthouse, fill out the court form and give a brief description of your claim, and the court will notify the defendant by mail of your court date.
  • The fee to start an action is between $10 and $20.
  • The defendant can bring a counterclaim against you.
  • The clerks at the courthouse are usually very helpful – feel free to ask questions.
  • Corporations, partnerships and associations need to bring actions in the Commercial Small Claims Court (located in City Courts).
  • On the day of your hearing, you should bring all evidence necessary to prove your claim, including letters, agreements, photos, bills, copies of checks and receipts.
  • You can bring witnesses to testify about facts, as well as expert witnesses.
  • You can ask the court for a subpoena, if you are having trouble getting information from your opposing party.
  • You can have your case heard by an arbitrator or judge.  An arbitrator (usually a local attorney) will often hear your case right away, but you may not appeal the decision.  If a judge hears your case, the decision can be appealed.  However, if you prefer a judge, the trial will usually take place on another day.
  • In my experience, most cases are heard by an arbitrator, who asks questions, gives each side an equal opportunity to present testimony and evidence, allows parties to ask questions to each other, and then makes a decision.
  • Finally, (and it is usually very frustrating), if you win you must collect the money award by yourself.  The court does not collect the money for you.

I was a Small Claims Court Arbitrator for about 10 years and greatly enjoyed the experience.  It was always an interesting challenge to hear all the evidence and then arrive at the proper decision.

Please feel free to contact me if you have questions about Small Claims Court.

James Maisano, Esq.

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