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FAQ

What is Small Claims Court?
Who can use Small Claims Court?
What is a Claimant?
Can I sue New York City?
Do I need an attorney to sue in Small Claims Court?
Where should I file my claim?
How should I prepare for court?
Can I file a claim by mail?
Who notifies the Defendant that he/she is being sued?
How does the Small Claims Court clerk send the notice to the Defendant?
What if the notice was not successfully delivered to the Defendant?
What happens if the Defendant does not appear in court?
What happens if the Claimant does not appear in court?
I cannot go to the scheduled court date, what do I do?
I received a notice saying “marked final against me,” what does this mean?
Can I appeal a decision?
What is an arbitrator and what is the difference between a judge and an arbitrator?
I am being counter sued, what do I do?
I don’t want money, but I want my broken item fixed and/or replaced, what do I do?
How do I get my money if I win?
Is there a fee for Small Claims Court?
What if I need an interpreter?
Can I sue for someone else?
Are there any jury trials?
What is mediation?



What is Small Claims Court?

In New York City the Small Claims Court is a part of the Civil Court of the City of New York. It is an informal civil court where a person can sue another person or business for up to $5000 without needing to hire a lawyer.

Who can use Small Claims Court?

Any person who is 18 years or older can sue in Small Claims Court. If you are under 18, a parent or guardian can sue for you.

What is a Claimant?

A claimant is the person who is suing another person or business in small claims court. In other courts the claimant is called a plaintiff or petitioner.

Can I sue New York City?

Yes, but no matter which borough you live in or where the incident occurred, the claim must be filed in Manhattan. There are special notice requirements you must meet before you begin your case. Ask the Small Claims Court Clerk to explain these to you.

Do I need an attorney to sue in Small Claims Court?

You do not need an attorney to sue in Small Claims Court, although you may have one if you choose.

Where should I file my claim?

A claim can be filed in either the borough in which you (the Claimant) live or work, or where the Defendant (the person or business you are suing) lives or works.

How should I prepare for court?

Bring as much pertinent information as possible, such as: receipts, contracts, bad checks, photographs (preferably images before and after), and witnesses or witness statements if a witness is unable to attend. See the Section: "Preparing For Trial". You should arrive at least 30 minutes early. To learn more click here.

Can I file a claim by mail?

Yes, but only if you are 65 and older or have proof of a disability preventing you from filing a claim in person, or if you live outside of New York City and you are suing someone located in New York City.

Who notifies the Defendant that he/she is being sued?

The Small Claims Court Clerk serves the defendant a notice by mail. The notice states what the claim is about, how much money is being asked for, and the date of the Small Claims Court trial.

How does the Small Claims Court clerk send the notice to the Defendant?

The Small Claims Court Clerk will mail the defendant two copies of the notice. The first copy is by regular, first-class mail and the other is by certified mail.

What if the notice was not successfully delivered to the Defendant?

If ordinary mail is not returned by the post office within 21 days as "undeliverable" then the Defendant is presumed to have received it. If the post office cannot deliver the notice by ordinary mail the Small Claims Court clerk will give you a new date for your Small Claims Court trial. The clerk will also tell you how to serve the defendant.

What happens if the Defendant does not appear in court?

If the defendant does not come to court, an inquest will likely be held and a decision made in favor of the Claimant (the person who filled the suit in Small Claims court). An inquest is a non-jury trial where you present proof of the amount of your damages. The decision and judgment entered after an inquest can be reopened by the Defendant so that he or she can have a proper chance to present a defense, but only if the Defendant can present a legitimate reason why he or she did not appear at the trial.

What happens if the Claimant does not appear in court?

If the Claimant does not come to court, then the case will most likely be dismissed unless someone else appears for the Claimant and requests a new court date. A request for a new court date can only be granted by the Judge. If the Claimant's representative shows they have permission of the Claimant to proceed the Judge may order the case to go to trial or arbitration.

If I cannot go to the scheduled court date, what do I do?

If you cannot attend on the court date, send someone to explain why you cannot attend. The person who appears for you will need to bring proof of your reason not to attend and will need to ask the court to schedule another date and time. Permitting an adjournment (a postponement) is in the discretion of the judge and such a request may not be granted, so every effort should be made to appear on the scheduled date.

I received a notice saying “marked final against me,” what does this mean?

“Marked final against you” means that the new court date schedule is the last time you can have the case postponed. If you do not appear on that date, the case will be dismissed or, if you are the Defendant, it will be decided against you.

Can I appeal a decision?

A decision can only be appealed if your decision was decided by a judge, if your decision is made by an arbitrator it is final. The appeal process can be very costly and, even if you are successful on appeal, it may end up costing more than the money awarded.

What is an arbitrator and what is the difference between a judge and an arbitrator?

An arbitrator is a lawyer trained to handle small claims cases. Arbitrators are used because there are so many cases to decide, and there are more arbitrators than judges. Having your case heard by and decided by an arbitrator is faster because there is a long wait to meet with a judge. An arbitrator does not keep an official court record of the hearing. An arbitrator's decision is final, and cannot be appealed.

I am being counter sued, what do I do?

If you are being counter sued, that new suit against you, called a counterclaim, will be decided on the same day as the original trial date. Prepare your response for that day and bring any additional evidence that will help prove your defense to the counterclaim. If the counterclaim is presented for the first time at the hearing you can ask for an adjournment to prepare your case.

I don’t want money, but I want my broken item fixed and/or replaced, what do I do?

The only way to receive a non-monetary payment is by settling out of court. The Small Claims Court can only determine actual monetary damages. The court cannot assess a monetary amount for pain and suffering.

How do I get my money if I win?

When the court sends you the Notice of Judgment, it will include suggestions on how to obtain payment if the Defendant does not pay the judgment voluntarily. (See the section: Enforcing A Judgment)

Is there a fee for Small Claims Court?

There is a $15 fee for a claim $1000 or less. For claims over $1000, up to $5000, the fee is $20.

What if I need an interpreter?

Tell the Small Claims Court Clerk when you file your claim if you need an interpreter. You will be assigned an official interpreter.

Can I sue for someone else?

If you are the parent or guardian of someone under the age of 18 years old, you can sue on behalf of that child.

Are there any jury trials?

It depends. A case being determined by an arbitrator does not have a jury. If the case is being heard by a judge, the Claimant cannot request a jury, but the Defendant has the right to demand a trial by jury. If the Defendant demands a jury, then the Defendant must pay a $70 jury fee and an additional $50 fee which will go to the party that wins the case. The Defendant is also required to write an affidavit (a sworn notarized statement), making certain good faith representations about the jury trial request.

What is mediation?

Mediation is when a neutral third-party sits down with the Claimant and the Defendant to assist in settling the claim. You can choose to go to mediation if you want but the other side must agree to participate. Mediation gives you and the other party the opportunity to agree to settle the claim together with the help of a professional mediator and can lead to a non-monetary settlement. However, the mediator does not decide the case, and can only assist the parties in trying to reach a settlement.