Adjournment – A postponement of the proceedings in a case until a future specified time.

Affidavit – A sworn or affirmed statement made in writing and signed. If sworn, it is notarized.

Appeal – In an appeal, either plaintiff or Defendant (or sometimes both) asks a higher reviewing court to consider a lower court Judge’s decision. One may only appeal a Judge’s ruling, not an arbitrator’s ruling. The appellate court does not rehear the case, but simply reviews for error by the lower court.

Arbitrator – A disinterested person trained in arbitration who hears evidence concerning the dispute and makes an award based on the evidence.

Assets – Anything of monetary value, including cash, securities, bank accounts, personal property, real estate, etc. owned by or owing to the person being sued.
Note: The Exempt Income Protection Act (EIPA), effective 1/1/09, protects bank accounts that contain subsistence funds such as government benefits, pensions and some earned income. EIPA prevents creditors and debt collectors from freezing these accounts to pay private debts, like credit cards.

Claimant – The person who brings a suit (files a claim) in Small Claims Court.

Clerk – The court employee who can assist you with the procedures for bringing your lawsuit.

Commercial Small Claim – A claim brought by a corporation, partnership or association in the Commercial Small Claims Division of the New York City Civil Court. Special rules apply.

Contract – An agreement between two or more people (usually written).

Counterclaim – A legal claim by the Defendant against the Claimant.

Defendant – The person being sued.

Default – A “default” occurs when a party fails to plead or otherwise defend a claim within the time allowed, or fails to appear at a court appearance.

Default Judgment – A judgment against a Defendant as a result of his/her failure to appear or submit papers at an appointed time during a legal proceeding.

Disbursements – Out of pocket expenses awarded to the winner in a judgment.

Dismissal – Termination of the hearing (usually because the Claimant did not come to court, therefore the Defendant does not have to pay anything).

Enforcement Officer – A Sheriff or Marshal who is legally allowed to enforce the payment of the judgment from the judgment debtor to the judgment creditor. See Execution of Judgment.

Evidence – Information presented at the time of trial used to establish facts (examples include witnesses, documents, photos, video, receipts records, concrete objects).

Execution of Judgment– The act of an enforcement officer taking money or property from the judgment debtor and using the assets seized to settle the debt with the judgment creditor.

Hearing – The trial before the Judge.

Information Subpoena – A legal document signed by the Small Claims Court Clerk that orders the judgment debtor and others to disclose information about the judgment debtor’s assets.

Inquest – A non-jury trial for the purpose of determining the amount of damages due on a claim, if a party has not appeared or defended against the claim, and after the merits of the claim have been proven.

Judge – A governmental official with the authority to decide lawsuits brought before the court.

Judgment– The final decision of the Judge or arbitrator. It is a determination of the rights and obligations of the parties. In a small claims lawsuit, a judgment may direct a dismissal of the lawsuit or order payment of a money amount. The original Judgment of the court or arbitrator is filed in the clerk’s office and is enforceable for 20 years.

Judgment Creditor – The winning party who is owed a monetary award from the judgment debtor.

Judgment Debtor – The losing party who must pay the judgment creditor the amount listed in the Notice of Judgment. See Notice of Judgment

Jury – A sworn body of people who determines a verdict or makes finding of facts.

Liability – The responsibility for a debt or obligation.

Mediation – A neutral third party, or mediator, sits down with the Claimant and the Defendant in efforts to make a settlement. The mediator does not have the power to render a decision on the matter or order an outcome. Mediation can be an effective way to settle claims outside of court.

Mediator – The neutral third party who assists in settling the dispute.

Money Damages – Monetary compensation awarded by the Judge or the arbitrator.

Notarize – To have a notary public attest to the authenticity of a signature on a document by signing the document and affixing his/her own stamp.

Notice of Judgment – Notice of the final decision of the Judge or arbitrator. (Both Claimant and Defendant receive a copy from the court by mail.)

Plaintiff – The person who files the small claims case (also known as the Claimant).

Serve – To deliver pleadings in a case to the person who is to receive notice.

Subpoena – An official court order requiring a person to testify in court or send a written statement with his or her testimony.

Testimony – The statement or declaration of a witness under oath.

Trial – The formal hearing of a legal controversy in court so as to decide the issue.

Witness – A person who provides testimony in court