DIFFICULTY: Legal assistance is not required
Initial Filing Fee: $25-$65 depending on the amount of the claim
In Michigan you may make a claim in the small claims division of district court as long as your case meets the following criteria:
- It is not against the State of Michigan or a state agency
- It is not again a local governmental unit that involves issues of governmental immunity
- You are not an assignee or third-party beneficiary of the obligation
- You have not filed more than five small claims cases in the same week
Any case meeting the above criteria in which the claim is $5,000 or less may be tried in the small claims division. If the amount is more than $5,000, however, it may only proceed in small claims if the plaintiff is willing to accept $5,000 as their reward and give up any legal claim to the rest of that money. One of the main advantages of small claims is that all decisions are final. Any case tried in the small claims division of a district court may not be appealed by either party. While you may consult with an attorney concerning your case, small claims do not allow an attorney to represent either party. When you make a claim then, you accept that you will proceed to represent yourself. The only way this may change is if the defendant demands that the case be removed to the general civil division of the district court, at which point both parties may employ legal representation. Additionally, as you complete forms through the Michigan forms sites or in-person at the courthouse, make sure that you check the upper right corner to see how many copies of the form you require. If you do not provide the court with the correct number of copies they might reject a form, as the court is almost never responsible for making copies of the forms for you.
Step 1: Determine if You May File a Claim
In Michigan, it is possible for someone other than the actual plaintiff to sign and file an affidavit and claim in the small claims division, although this must adhere to certain rules. In general, you may file a claim in the small claims division if you meet any of the following criteria regarding filing as an individual or sole proprietor (i.e. sole owner of a business), for an individual or sole proprietor, or for a corporation or other organization:
- You are the plaintiff
- You are the individual’s guardian, conservator, or next friend
- You are a sole proprietor’s full-time salaried employee with knowledge of the facts in the claim
- You are a partner in a partnership or a full-time salaried employee of that partnership with knowledge of the facts in the claim
- You are a full-time salaried employee of a corporation with knowledge of the facts in the claim
- You are filing for a county, city, village, township, or local or intermediate school district and are an elected or appointed officer or employee of that unit who has knowledge of the fact surrounding the claim and are authorized by the governing body of that unit to file the claim
If you meet any of these criteria, and the amount of your claim is $5,000 or lower, than you may proceed to fill out and file your claim.
Step 2: Complete and File an Affidavit and Claim
The first thing you must do is fill out an affidavit and claim stating all the relevant information regarding the claim that you are bringing against the defendant. Once you have completed these forms you will need to submit the appropriate number of copies to the clerk of the district court and pay the aligning fee. You may submit these forms, as well as the means of and fees for service, in person or through the mail. In addition, you will have to sign these forms under oath in front of a notary public or in front of the clerk of the court and provide photo identification verifying your identity. Once the clerk receives payment and the completed forms, they will record the filing of the claim, assign a case number, and write the name of the district court judge or district court attorney magistrate assigned to the caseon all copies of the affidavit and claim forms. If you cannot afford to pay the filing fee, you should also fill out an Affidavit and Order, Suspension of Fees/Costs form.
Step 3: Serve the Defendant
Once the affidavit and claim are filed, you will need to pay the clerk to serve these paper to the defendant. This usually costs between $5 for mailing the service and $21 plus mileage for personal delivery. For personal delivery, the process server will file a the proof of service with the court, while for mail delivery the clerk will file proof of service with the court. If for some reason the defendant will not receive the service at least 7 days before the appearance date, however, the court will usually reschedule the hearing.
Step 4: The Defendant Answers the Claim
Once the defendant has been served with the plaintiff’s claim, they may choose to a variety of thing, including:
- Deny the claim and dispute it at the trial date
- Demand a transfer of the trial so they may be represented by an attorney
- Demand a transfer of the trial so they may go before a jury in regular district court
- File a written counterclaim against the plaintiff
- Demand a transfer of the trial to regular district court so they may make an appeal later
While the defendant may provide a written answer to the claim, they are not legally required to do so. In addition, if a defendant files a counterclaim the plaintiff will be served these papers and will need to prepare to face that additional claim on the date of the trial. If the defendant decides to settle out of court, however, the plaintiff may voluntarily dismiss the lawsuit or obtain a judgment, the latter of which requires that the plaintiff and the defendant provide a written agreement signed by both parties that spells out all the details of how the issue is to be resolved. If either party would like to remove the trial from the small claims division they must fill out and file a Demand and Order for Removal, Small Claims form and submit it to the clerk of the court, or they may make the request orally at court on the date of the trial.
Step 5: The Trial and Judgment
On the day of the trial, both parties should arrive at court on time with any and all evidence they plan to use to make their case or defense. If both parties arrive, the judge may either proceed with the case, request that both parties attend mediation, or transfer the case to be tried as a regular civil case later. If either party refuses mediation, the trial must proceed as per normal and the judge will hear both sides of the case and examine all the evidence before rendering a decision. Should the plaintiff not show up, however, the case may be dismissed. While if the defendant does not show up the plaintiff may ask for a default judgment. In the case of a default judgment, the judge must decide whether the plaintiff has a good claim, and if they agree with the plaintiffs claim they may award a judgment in their favor without the defendant present.
Step 6: Remuneration
Once a judgment has been reached, the court will prepare a Judgement, Small Claims and make sure that both parties receive a copy. If you after the case either party is owed money, they will the other party must pay them the judgment amount plus court costs. If they do not have the money to pay right away, however, the judge may allow a reasonable amount of time or set up a payment schedule. If that party fails to pay the judgment when ordered, you must go back to court and file additional papers to collect on the judgment either by having their wages garnished, their bank account garnished, or some of their property seized. You may not do so for at least 21 days after the judgment is entered, and it such information must be entered within 30 days of the date when payment should have been made.
- Judgment, Small Claims Form
- Request and Order to Seize Property Form:
- Request and Writ for Garnishment Periodic Form
- Request and Writ for Garnishment Nonperiodic Form