Magistrate Court - Civil Suits FAQ's

Can I file my case in the Magistrate Court?
The Magistrate Court of Chatham County is also known as small claims court. A claim can be filed for $15,000.00 or less. If your claim exceeds $15,000.00, the Magistrate Court doesn't have jurisdiction to hear the case but it can be filed in the State Court or the Superior Court. Not only does this $15,000.00 limit apply to a claim filed by the plaintiff, it also applies to any counterclaim filed by the defendant which exceeds $15,000.00.

Who may file a civil suit and/or who can have a civil suit filed against them?
The party who files a civil suit is referred to as the "Plaintiff" and the party who is sued is referred to as the "Defendant". The claim form should designate the proper plaintiff(s) and defendant(s). Failure to name the proper parties could result in an unsatisfactory judgment.

Where should I file my case?
A claim that is against an individual should be filed in the County of the person's legal residence. When a claim is against a business, the type of business determines where the claim should be filed. If the business is a sole proprietorship, the suit should be filed in the county in which the owner of the business resides. For a partnership, the suit should be filed in the county in which at least one of the owners resides. For a corporation, the suit should be filed in the county where the corporation is doing business or in the county that has designated its registered agent for service with the Secretary of State's office. If the suit is against multiple defendants who live in different counties, you can file in either one of the counties that they reside in.

What happens if I file my claim in the wrong county?
If you file a claim in the Magistrate Court of Chatham County and it is later determined that the defendant resides in a different county, you can submit a request to have the case transferred to the proper county. You may be required to pay an additional service fee.

What forms need to be filed with the Court?
In order to file a claim, you must fill out a Statement of Claim form and a Sheriff's Entry of Service form. If there are two or more defendants to be served at different addresses, there is an additional service fee required per address. Please see the list of filing fees for the fee for this service.

How do I fill out the Statement of Claim form and the Sheriff's Entry of Service form?
You must list the plaintiff's complete name, address including zip code, and phone number. You also have to list the defendant's correct name and address including the zip code. If the defendant is a company, have their correct legal business name. Next you mark the appropriate box for the type of claim you are filing, suit on a note, suit on an account, damages, or other. You then are required to give a brief description of your claim and the amount you are filing the suit for. You must sign the form in front on a notary public or a deputy clerk in the Magistrate Court. You will be required to show identification such as a driver's license.

How will the defendant know that a civil suit has been filed against them?
The Sheriff's Department will serve the civil suit to the defendant at the address you provide to the Court. If the Sheriff's Department is unable to locate the defendant at the address provided, you can provide the Court with a new address along with an additional service fee. You can also contact a private process server who has been approved by the Court to serve the suit.

What happens after the defendant has been served with the civil suit?
The defendant has thirty (30) days from the date of service to file an answer with the Court. If the defendant fails to file an answer within 30 days, they will be in default. The defendant then has an additional fifteen (15) days to file an answer by paying all accrued court cost to open the default.

What happens after the defendant has filed an answer?
After the defendant has filed an answer, the Court will schedule the case for a hearing and notify all parties by regular U.S. Mail.

The party who sued me also owes me money. Is there anything I can do?
When filing your answer with the Court, you can file a counterclaim. A counterclaim is essentially a Statement of Claim filed by the defendant against the plaintiff. If the counterclaim exceeds the jurisdictional limits of the Magistrate Court, the case will be transferred to a court that has proper jurisdiction. Usually the entire case will be transferred. However, there may be some cases where the plaintiff's claim will remain in the Magistrate Court and the defendant's counterclaim will be transferred separately.

Is there a cost to filing a counterclaim?
No. The plaintiff pays court costs when the case is filed. However, the defendant may be ordered to pay these costs to the plaintiff if the plaintiff wins their case.

What should I bring to court?
You should bring all persons who have direct knowledge of the facts relate to your case and any documents, photographs, repair bills, receipts, or other physical evidence which you feel would help prove your case.

Can an affidavit be submitted by a witness so that they won't have to appear in Court?
No. A witness who has direct knowledge of the facts to which they testify must present all testimony in person. If the witness is not physically present in court, under oath, and subject to cross examination, their statements may not be presented to the Court.

How can I make a witness appear in court?
You can compel a witness to appear in court by serving a subpoena on them. You can obtain a subpoena from the Magistrate Court. You must have the witness' name and address for service. The subpoena will be served to the witness by the Sheriff's Department. Please see the list of filing fees for the fee for this service.

Can I subpoena records and/or documents as well as people?
Yes. There is a different type of subpoena for documents known as a "subpoena duces tecum". The subpoena should be served on the custodian of the documents being subpoenaed. You can obtain the subpoena from the Magistrate Court.Please see the list of filing fees for the fee for this service.

How do I find out who won the case?
After all parties have presented their case in Court, the Judge will usually decide the case and make an announcement of the decision from the bench. If the decision cannot be immediately made, the Judge will hold the case under advisement and when the decision is made, a copy of the decision will be mailed to the parties by the Court.

What happens after a claim has been served and the defendant fails to file an answer?
If the defendant fails to file an answer within forty-five (45) days of service, the plaintiff can request a default judgment. If the claim is for liquidated damages and proper documentation is submitted to the court which proves the claim, a default judgment may be issued. If the claim is for unliquidated damages, the case will be scheduled for a default hearing.

How can I collect money from the defendant after a judgment has been obtained?
There are numerous steps that can be taken to enforce a judgment such as a bank garnishment, a continuing garnishment of wages, interrogatories, writ of fieri facias and levy.

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