20TH DISTRICT COURT
25637 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn Heights, MI 48125 313.277.7480
Small Claims Division
Items to consider before starting a small claims suit
What are the chances of collecting the money owed you if a judgment is entered in your favor?
A judgment does not mean automatic payment. It only means that you have proven, to the satisfaction of the Court, that the person you sued owed you money. A judgment is often not difficult to obtain, but the collection of money may be difficult, if not impossible. The party you sue may be penniless or bankrupt; may have gone out of business or left town; may not earn enough for you to garnish wages or, for other reasons, it may be impossible to make them pay. Income such as welfare, unemployment, social security and other similar payments cannot be garnished.
Please consider the collectibility of your case before filing.
If you file a small claims case, you will be responsible for handling the case in accordance with all applicable court rules and procedures and for collecting on any judgment.
You cannot be represented by an attorney in Small Claims Court. Although it was designed to be an informal process, it can be complicated and frustrating.
You should be aware that:
- Court Clerks are not attorneys and cannot give legal advice and cannot assist you in filling out forms.
- The Judges and Magistrates may not, and will not, give advice on matters they may have to rule on; they must remain impartial.
Requirements for Filing
To start a small claims suit in this district:
- The defendant (i.e., the person or business being sued) must reside or be established in the jurisdiction of the 20th District Court . There are some situations where you may file in the district where the cause of action occurred, regardless of where the defendant lives or is established (check with the Court Clerk when filing your suit).
You must have a direct interest in the suit; for example:
- In traffic accident cases, the claim must be filed by the owner of the vehicle.
- You can't file a claim on behalf of someone else or if you are filing on behalf of a business, you must be a full-time employee with knowledge of the facts.
- Your claim may not exceed $5,000 ($500 for traffic accident claims).
- You must waive certain rights i.e., you may not have an attorney represent you, you may not have a jury decide the case and a Judge's decision may not be appealed.
The defendant cannot be forced to waive the above rights and if they so move, the matter will be transferred to the General Civil Division. This may not be known until the time of the hearing.
Once your claim has been filed, make a note of the case number and use it to reference the case when telephoning the Court or making a Court appearance.
How to file
- Submit a completed Affidavit and Claim (this form can be obtained at the Court). This form requires information on the defendant's full and correct name and current address, the date and amount of the claim and the reason for the claim. Please note that the affidavit must be signed by each plaintiff and witnessed by a Deputy Court Clerk or be notarized. If your claim is based on a written agreement, it is recommended that you make a copy of the document(s) to your claim. You must provide a copy to the Court and a copy for each defendant.
- Pay the filing fee according to the amount claimed.
- Select and pay for service of process. Each defendant must be served with a copy of the Affidavit and Claim. There are two ways to serve:
Service by certified mail with return receipt requested. There is an additional service fee per defendant. Personal service (by a Court Officer) would be required if certified mail is returned "unclaimed" by the post office or the return receipt is signed by someone other than the defendant and the defendant fails to appear on the hearing date.
Personal Service by a Court Officer, there is a separate service fee per named defendant in Dearborn Heights†. You must have the defendant's complete street address and not a post office box number for personal service. If you furnish an incorrect address or the defendant has moved, the Court Officer is allowed, by law, to charge you $10 for his/her time, if service is attempted. Personal service may become a time-consuming process as many defendants are evasive. You cannot have your case tried until the defendant is served. The defendant must be served within 91 days from the date of filing or the case will automatically be dismissed.
The Court will generally schedule a court date with-in 30-45 days after the claim has been filed. Plaintiffs will receive notice of the court date by mail usually within two-three weeks of filing. Each party will have the opportunity to adjourn the scheduled hearing date one time. The request must be made in a timely fashion, and to the clerk, if granted a new date will be scheduled and parties will be notified of the new date by mail. However, note that if service upon the defendant has not been perfected prior to the scheduled hearing, the hearing will be rescheduled. If the address for the defendant is found to be incorrect and/or vacant, the plaintiff will be responsible for locating the new address. A new service fee may be required to effectuate service at the new address.
Collecting the judgment
It is the plaintiff's responsibility to collect the judgment, not the Court's. The Court encourages the parties to agree among themselves how to pay the judgment. Parties may choose between lump sum or installation payments. Any agreement reached should be reduced to writing, signed by both parties and a copy filed with the court to eliminate a future dispute on the terms of the agreement.
If an agreement cannot be reached, the defendant has the right to petition the Court for installment payments, there is a filing fee for this petition. The defendant must provide the Court with all income and expense information to permit the Court to issue an Order for Installment Payments that is reasonable, yet satisfying the judgment without undue delay.
If the Order for Installment Payments is followed, the plaintiff may not take further Court action to collect against the defendant's wages. If the defendant fails to comply with the order, the plaintiff may file a Motion to Set Aside Installment Payments. Once the Order for Installment Payments is set aside, the plaintiff may proceed to garnishment of the defendant's wages.
Additionally, if the defendant will not voluntarily pay the judgment, there are several options available to you:
See Post Judgment Collections.