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Arriving at Court
On the day of the hearing, try to arrive at least 30 minutes before the Small Claims Court session begins. Give yourself time to go through security and find your courtroom. Remember that even though Small Claims Court is somewhat informal, it is a serious place where people take an oath to tell the truth. You should dress neatly, and be respectful to the Judge or arbitrator, to the court personnel and to the opposing party.
When you get to your courtroom, look for the Small Claims Court calendar, which is usually posted outside the Small Claims Courtroom. The calendar has a list of cases scheduled for the day. The case will be listed by the last name of the Claimant and by the last name of the Defendant. If your case is not listed, or the calendar is not posted, speak to the court clerk.
The Small Claims Court Clerk will announce your case and call your name. When your name is called, you should stand, repeat your name and answer "ready." If you are not ready to begin and instead need to ask for an adjournment, you should respond to the Clerk at this time by saying "application." If you and the other party are both ready, the case will go forward to trial. The parties will then choose to go forward before an arbitrator or a Judge.
The Claimant has the burden of proving his or her claim and any damages. The Claimant presents his or her case first. The Claimant takes an oath to tell the truth (called being sworn as a witness) and then tells his or her version of the events. The Claimant also presents any documentary evidence at this time. After the Claimant testifies, the Judge or arbitrator may ask some questions. Other witnesses can also be sworn in to testify.
After the Claimant has offered all the evidence to support the claim, the Defendant is sworn as a witness and tells his or her side of the story. The Defendant can also present documentary evidence and other witnesses and the Judge or arbitrator may ask the Defendant questions.
If you are the Claimant, it is your responsibility to collect information about the Defendant's assets, in case you receive a judgment in your favor and the Defendant does not pay you voluntarily. At the trial, you can ask the Judge or arbitrator to question the defendant about his or her assets.
If you are suing a business, you may also ask the Judge or arbitrator to determine, during the trial, the Defendant's true business name. If the legal name of the business is different from the name written on your notice of claim, ask the court to have the name on the notice corrected by the Clerk.
After the Claimant and the Defendant have offered all their evidence, the Judge or arbitrator will usually "reserve decision." This means that the Judge or arbitrator needs time to evaluate the evidence before deciding the case. A decision will be mailed to the Claimant and the Defendant after the hearing. In rare cases, the Judge or arbitrator may announce the decision immediately after the hearing.
If your case was decided by a Judge and you received an unfavorable decision, you have the right to appeal the decision. It is very difficult to overturn a court’s decision on appeal. The appellate court does not rehear the case, but simply reviews for error by the lower court.
To appeal a decision, you must file a Notice of Appeal within 30 days of the Court’s decision. If you received a judgment ordering you to pay a sum of money and you want to file an appeal, you must either pay the sum to the opposing party, deposit the money or file a bond with the Small Claims Court. This guarantees payment in the event that you lose the appeal.
If you received a favorable judgment and were served with a notice of appeal, you can contact the Small Claims Court to see if a bond was filed for the judgment amount. If the opposing party did not file a bond, you may enforce the judgment.