Small Claims Court
Small Claims actions may be brought only in the county where the defendant resides, where the cause of action occurred or where the property involved is located. Before you consider filing a Small Claims Action, you should first try to communicate to the other party exactly what is in dispute. It is a good idea to send a letter which clearly states your complaint. You may be able to resolve the problem without going to court. A lawsuit should be your last resort in solving a civil dispute.
Filing a Claim
A claim up to $5,000 not including costs, interest and attorneys fees can be filed with the Miami-Dade County Clerk's Office as a Small Claims Action according to Rule 7.010 of the Florida Rules of Court and Chapter 34 of the Florida Statutes.
Serving the Defendant
Once you decide to file, you (or your lawyer) cannot proceed until the defendant has been served. Be sure that you have the full name of the individual you want to sue and an address where that person can be served.
If you are suing a business you must find out whether or not it is incorporated. If you are suing a corporation, you must have the full name under which the business is incorporated and the name and address of either a corporate officer or the registered agent of the business. This information can be obtained from the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations at 850-245-6052 or via their website at www.sunbiz.org.
If the business you are suing is not incorporated, the correct company name and the full name and address of the owner can be obtained by calling Occupational License Bureau of Miami-Dade County at 305-270-4949.
The company you are suing may use a name other than the owners name, referred to as a fictitious name. That information along with the name and address of the person who owns the company must be registered with the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations and may be obtained by contacting them at 850-245-6058 or via their website as www.sunbiz.org.
Costs & Fees
The costs for filing a Small Claims action include the filing fee, based on the amount of your claim, as well as a service fee for summoning each party to court. If a Final Judgment is entered in your favor as a result of your lawsuit, these costs may be added to the total amount of your judgment.
There are two methods which you may use to summon the other party or parties to court:
- The sheriff or a certified process server may serve the summons and a copy of your lawsuit on a defendant within Miami-Dade County for a fee. To obtain a list of process servers in Miami-Dade County, you should contact the Administrative Office of the Courts at 305-349-7369.
For service outside of Miami-Dade County, you must make arrangements to have a process server of the sheriff of the county where the defendant lives serve the papers.
- You may attempt service of a summons on parties within the State of Florida by certified mail-return receipt requested. A deputy clerk can assist you with this procedure at any of the filing locations. There is no fee for this except the actual cost of mailing.
When you are ready to file your case bring all the information and papers concerning your claim with you to one of the filing locations. If the claim is based on a written document, a copy must be attached to your formal Statement of Claim. At the filing location, a deputy clerk will assist you. You will be required to fill out an information sheet with details of your claim. You should be aware that the Clerk is not able to offer any legal advice.
Pre-trial and Trial dates
Once your suit has been processed, a pre-trial date will be assigned and you will be notified of the date at that time or later by mail. If you do not appear at your pre-trial hearing, your case may be dismissed. If the defendant does not appear, the judge may enter a default. At the pretrial hearing bring any documents to assist you in proving your case but do not bring witnesses. This is your opportunity to appear with the defendant(s) before the judge and attempt to settle your case without a trial. Your case may be referred to a mediator.
If no agreement is reached at the pre-trial hearing, you will be given a trial date. It is your responsibility to subpoena any witnesses to help prove your case. A deputy clerk at the filing location will assist you.
If the judge makes a decision in your favor you will receive a Final Judgment by mail or be instructed to obtain a Final Judgment form to submit the judge for signature.
A Final Judgment is a legal document that states that one party is entitled to recover damages in a specified amount from another party. Interest will be added on the amount awarded until the Final Judgment is satisfied.
At any time during this process the defendant may pay you and settle the claim. However, obtaining a judgment against a party is NOT the same thing as collecting that judgment. Post-judgment legal procedures are often required prior to any collection. You may find it necessary to retain an attorney to assist you in post-judgment procedures.
The Miami-Dade Consumer Services Department conducts free "how-to" sessions about small claims court each month in a different location. These sessions are designed to teach consumers about the process, how to prepare, and what to expect. A comprehensive packet of sample legal forms are provided. All clinics are free and open to the public. Reservations are not required.
For more information about Small Claims Court Clinics, contact the Consumer Mediation Center at 786-469-2333. Visit the Miami-Dade Consumer Services Department website for clinic dates, times and locations.