What is Small Claims Court?
Small Claims Court is a special proceeding designed to resolve disputes involving suits for money damages of $1.00 to $7,500 with less formality than a regular court proceeding. It is held within local Justice Courts and is presided over by a Justice of the Peace (JP). It is designed to be used without hiring a lawyer. The law governing Small Claims Courts is located at NRS, Chapter 73 and Justice Courts Rules of Civil Procedure (JCRCP) 88 -100.
Small Claims Court cannot grant any relief other than money damages. For example, the JP cannot order someone to return property or make rulings regarding who owns land. In Washoe County, small claims are heard in the justice courts of Reno, Sparks, Wadsworth, and Incline Village.
Demand payment. First send a certified letter to the opposing party demanding payment of an exact amount of money. For example: "you should say pay me $500", not "you should repay the money you borrowed last Tuesday." Locate the right party to sue. If you are suing an individual, simply locate the party's name and address.
Suing a business can be trickier. Businesses often use fictitious names. You must get the real name.If the business is a Corporation you must name it. Ask the Secretary of States Office for the correct name of the Corporation, its address, the name and address of its resident agent, and whether the company is in good standing.
You may obtain this information by going to the Nevada Secretary of State local office at the Capitol Building in Carson City. Instead you may call (900) 535-3355 for $3.50 or 800-450-8594.
If you are suing a business which is not a corporation, call the business license department where the business is located. The numbers in Washoe County are:
City of Reno 324-2090
City of Sparks 353-2360
Washoe County 328-3733
If the person you wish to sue has a professional license (examples: realtor: broker, car dealer, etc.) you may be able to obtain information from the State of Nevada. For example you can call:
Department of Motor Vehicles 684-8220
Real Estate Division 684-4280
Financial Institutions 684-4259
Assess the defendant's collectability. Is the defendant still in business? Does he have enough money to pay your damages? Does he have wages which you can garnish to collect the judgment? If the defendant does not have the money to pay you, a small claim may be a waste of your time.
Small claims actions must be filed in the township in which the defendant resides, does business or is employed, which may not be the same township in which the plaintiff resides. Go to the Justice Court in the defendant's township to obtain the paperwork. Each township has a different form so you must obtain the form from the township in which you need to file the claim. Small Claims Court does not require the filing of a formal complaint as in a normal lawsuit. Simply go to the justice court clerks office in the defendant's township to fill out a form affidavit. You will be charged a fee to file the affidavit. If your claim is for $1.00-$1,000, the filing fee is $46.00. If $1,000.01-$2,500, the fee is $66.00. If you are seeking between $2,500.01-$5,000 it is $86.00. If you are seeking between $5,000.01-$7,500 it is $146.00.If you are a low-income individual, you may file an application with the court to waive the filing fee. On the day that you file your affidavit, a tentative hearing date will be set (about 3 weeks - 3 months later, depending on the Courts calendar).
When you file your affidavit, the JP and or clerk will determine the method of service to be made. It may be by registered or certified mail with return receipt requested or the court may direct that personal service be made. The court may order who shall make such personal service. The affidavit and order shall be served on the defendant at least ten days prior to the date the defendant is required to appear. Proof of service shall immediately be filed with the court.You must serve each defendant. If you are suing a corporation, serve the resident agent. If suing a partnership, serve a partner. If personal service is required, you may (1) hire a private process server, (2) use a disinterested party, (3) The Washoe County Sheriff's Office Civil Division at:
911 Parr Blvd., Reno to serve the papers. If the party lives in a gated community, you can serve the guard if the guard refuses to let you in. NRS 14.090. If no guard is present and a party lives in a gated community, seek approval from the court to serve by certified or registered mail.
Get ready to briefly and clearly describe your claims to the judge. Try practicing in front of a mirror or friends. Be prepared to tell your story without reading from a statement. Research and understand the law. Be ready to point it out to the judge.Whenever parties present conflicting evidence, the party with the most convincing proof will win. Be prepared to bring as much proof to court as possible.Live witnesses who support your side of the story are always best. Ask them to attend voluntarily. If an important witness will not come voluntarily, you may get the court to issue a subpoena. You must serve that subpoena by sheriff, constable, private process server or a disinterested person. You must pay a witness fee (currently $26 a day plus 26 cents per mile). Estimate the miles and pay both ways. Give a check to the process server.Other proof may take the form of documents. Bring a copy of any contract at issue. Bring receipts. Bring estimates, letters, bills or other relevant papers. Pictures sometimes make powerful evidence. For example, they may more clearly show the quality of repairs or conditions in an apartment.A statement, estimate or testimony from an expert can be particularly helpful. A mechanic, a repairperson, carpenter, doctor, real estate agent, etc., backing up your story can make a large difference.You should also decide in advance if you want to have a court reporter present in court. They charge a $20 appearance fee. If you later need a transcript it will cost at least $100. depending on its length and the number of copies ordered. If there is a chance that you may appeal the case, you probably will not win without a transcript.If you learn that you cannot attend the hearing, request a continuance as far in advance as possible. The judge will usually not grant more than one continuance.
If you win your small claims case you'll receive a court "judgment." The judgment is simply a finding by the court that you are owed a certain amount of money. Unless the defendant agrees to voluntarily pay you must collect or execute on the judgment in order to get your money.
Garnishment. You may be able to get a court order called a garnishment to obtain a portion of the defendants wages. In order to garnish wages you must know the name and address of the employer of the person you have the judgment against. You cannot obtain more than 25% of the defendants check or the amount by which his/her check exceeds 50 times the minimum wage, whichever is less.
Attachment. If garnishment is unavailable, you may seek a different kind of court order called an attachment to obtain some of the defendants property. If possible it is best to attach cash. To attach money in a bank account you need to know the defendants bank name, address and, ideally, the account number (Hint: find someone who wrote a check to the business to look on the back of the canceled check). If the business has a cash register, you can execute against any cash on the property. You'll need the business name and location. If defendant owns a home, you can attach it. You'll need a legal description of the property which you may obtain from the Washoe County Assessors Office, 1001 East 9th Street, Reno. The defendant can homestead (protect from collection) his primary residence up to $550,000. Another option is to record the judgment against the defendants property. You may file the judgment with the Washoe County Recorders Office at 1001 East 9th Street, Reno. The judgment is valid for six years and you can re-file. When the property is sold or foreclosed upon, you may receive your money. You can attempt to attach the defendants automobile, if you have the vehicles description and location plus a printout listing the legal owner, and any outstanding liens. You may obtain these documents from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Bonds/recovery funds. Occasionally there may be a bond or recovery fund from which you can collect your judgment. Consumers victimized by dealers, servicemen, installers, and manufactures and other persons licensed by the Division of Manufactured Housing may collect from a recovery fund maintained by the Division under NRS 489.4971. If you are unable to collect the judgment go back to court and request the judge to order that the judgment must be paid from the recovery fund. Note: you should first file a complaint with the Manufactured Housing Division at 684-4298. If your judgment is against a vocational school which is closed, some schools are often required to post a bond or set up a recovery fund. Students should call the State Division of Post Secondary Education at (702) 486-7330. (NRS 394.553 and 394.480). Some licensed contractors may have a bond to make a claim against. Call the Contractors Board at 850-1141 to see if there is a bond posted.Licensed car dealerships, body shops and emission shops (unfortunately, not repair shops) are required to post bonds. To make a claim call the Division of Enforcement of the Department of Motor Vehicles at 688-2400. The Division will tell you the name, address and phone number of the bonding company, who will explain the procedures for filing a claim.Collection agencies, Escrow Companies and money order businesses must post bonds. For collection agencies call the State of Nevada Division of Financial Institutions at 684-4259. Certain other types of entities are required to post bonds. Employers on construction jobs (NRS 338). Employment agencies (NRS 611) are required to post bonds. Nursing homes must post bonds to cover loss of patients property. Call the State of Nevada Division of Aging Services at 684-4210.
To attach property, you must prepare a Writ of Execution and a Notice of Execution after Judgment. To obtain the defendants wages you must prepare a Writ of Garnishment.
You can file a motion with the court to allow you to conduct an examination of the judgment debtor. When you file the motion, the court will set a hearing. You must then serve the debtor requiring appearance in court. At the hearing you may ask the debtor questions in open court, such as what bank accounts do you have?, what is your bank account number?, who is your employer?, etc.
You can appeal a small claims case to the District Court. An appeal must be filed within 5 days of entry of judgment (JCRCP 98-100). If a JP heard your case the appeals court will consider the case on the record alone (just from looking at the paperwork). If a lawyer acting as a judge presided at your hearing, the appeals judge considers the case de novo (all over).Decisions are not often reversed by the District Court. If you did not pay a court reporter to record your hearing and provide a transcript, your chances of reversal are even slimmer because the appeals judge will have a hard time knowing what happened at the first hearing. There will be additional costs including filing fees, the cost of the transcript, time off of work, witness fees, etc.. Only if you have a very strong case does appeal probably make sense. Nevada Legal Services holds clinic on Small Claims Court. Contact NLS to register.