Summary: Increases the monetary limit for small claims court jurisdiction to $25,000. Currently, most small claims court limits are $5,000 to $10,000. Kentucky and Rhode Island limit jurisdiction to $2,500 and 44 states limit jurisdiction to $10,000 or less. Tennessee’s limit is $25,000 while Delaware’s, Georgia’s, Minnesota’s and North Dakota’s are $15,000.
Drafting Note: In many or most states, the bill simply has to change the existing dollar amount, which hardly requires a model bill. The language below is to allow states to consider cleaning up or simplifying the small claims statute.
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE
This Act shall be called the “Small Claims Court Modernization Act.”
SECTION 2. PURPOSE
This law is enacted to give residents access to the court system for relatively simple cases without their having to pay the expense of hiring lawyers.
SECTION 3. SMALL CLAIMS COURT
After section XXX, the following new section XXX shall be inserted:
(A) JURISDICTION OF SMALL CLAIMS COURT
1) The small claims court has jurisdiction in all civil actions involving claims and in which the debt, damage, or value of the property claimed by the plaintiff, exclusive of interest, costs, and any attorney’s fees, does not exceed $25,000.
2) The court shall insure that it remains open for such purposes at such hours and days as will enable litigants to conveniently use it and, as prescribed by the court, claims shall be filed and heard in the courthouse of the municipal or county court of which the small claims court is part or in a suitable and convenient community facility.
(B) SIMPLIFIED PROCEDURES
1) Actions shall commence in the small claims court whenever a qualified claimant appears before the clerk and requests that his or her claim be heard. A qualified claimant is one who:
a) supplies the court with a full statement of the claim and the correct name and address of the defendant; and
b) signs a sworn statement that he or she has made a good faith effort to resolve the dispute with the defendant.
2) The clerk shall:
a) prepare a claim on a standard form upon the information provided by the claimant;
b) secure the claimant’s signature to the claim;
c) schedule the claim for a hearing at a time as convenient to the claimant as possible, but not less than 15 days nor more than 60 days after the date of the filing; and
d) prepare and present to the claimant a memorandum stating the time and place set for the hearing; the necessity that the claimant produce all supporting documents, receipts and witnesses at the hearing; and the availability, upon request, of court ordered subpoenas of witnesses.
The small claims court shall provide the personnel necessary to effectively operate the court, including an ombudsman for litigants. The duties of the court ombudsman shall be prescribed by the court and may include:
1) assisting litigants in the preparation of their cases;
2) serving as court-appointed mediators and judgment collectors;
3) soliciting community response to the efficiency and effectiveness of the small claims court and relaying all findings to the court; and
4) publicizing the availability of the court to the community.
1) Before the commencement of a hearing with the parties present, the court shall determine what efforts have been made by the parties to settle their dispute.
2) If unsatisfied that previous good faith settlement efforts have been made, the court shall require the parties to meet in the courthouse or community facility, in private or before a mediator, at their election, to attempt to settle their dispute.
3) Every settlement reached by the parties acting either alone or through mediation shall be submitted to the court for approval and, if approved, regarded as a judgment entered by the court.
3) If satisfied that good faith settlement efforts have failed, the court shall proceed to the hearing without delay.
(D) EQUITABLE RELIEF
In any action, the court may grant equitable relief in the form of rescission, restitution, reformation, and specific performance, in lieu of, or in addition to, money damages. The court may issue a conditional judgment. The court retains jurisdiction until full payment and performance of any judgment or order.
(E) COLLECTION OF JUDGMENTS
Judgments entered by the small claims court shall be processed and collected as follows:
1) Incident to the entering of a judgment against the defendant while the parties are still under oath:
a) the court shall arrange a judgment satisfaction plan and enter a writ of execution; and
b) the clerk shall secure a listing and description of the defendant’s assets from the defendant.
2) If the defendant fails to satisfy the judgment in accordance with the judgment plan, the plaintiff shall attempt to contact the defendant and collect the same.
3) If the defendant still fails to satisfy the judgment, the plaintiff shall notify the court and the court shall, upon receipt from the plaintiff of a collection fee, subject to reduction or waiver upon good cause shown, in an amount prescribed by the court, but not to exceed 5 percent of the judgment:
a) issue the previously entered writ of execution to a salaried court official who shall enforce the judgment in the same manner as civil court judgments;
b) assess the collection fee to the defendant and refund the same to the plaintiff to the extent that it is collected from the defendant in excess of the judgment, except that the court may reduce or waive such assessment upon good cause shown; and
c) institute, in its discretion, contempt proceedings, subject to penalties limited to monetary fines not to exceed 50 percent of the judgment, against the defendant for failure to satisfy the judgment in accordance with the judgment plan arranged while the defendant was under oath.
(F) PROTECTING SMALL CLAIMS JURISDICTION
An agreement entered into or renewed on or after the date of enactment of this Act, which establishes a forum for an action arising from an offer or provision of goods, services, property, or extensions of credit primarily for personal, family, or household purposes that is otherwise within the jurisdiction of a small claims court of this state is contrary to public policy and is void and unenforceable.
SECTION 4. EFFECTIVE DATE
This law shall become effective on July 1, 202X.