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The Small Claims Court

Updated on December 10, 2010

The Small Claims Court in the United States, a simplified civil court procedure whereby anyone having a small claim for a debt, or for money damages, may have the claim heard, with or without a lawyer, and decided with the least possible expenditure of time and money.

The plaintiff must be willing to confine the size of his claim within the particular jurisdiction of the small claims court; the top limit ranges among the states from $100 to $3,000.

Nearly all the 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have small claims courts. They are usually established by state law, operating in county seats or large towns, but the rules and procedures vary greatly. Presiding officials may be judges, justices of the peace, or arbitrators. Arbitrators are optional in some large cities- for example, in New York state. Lawyers are allowed, though not required, in all the states except a few that do not permit counsel. Some form of appeal is usually possible- to both plaintiff or defendant, or to the defendant only. In New York one may choose arbitration as the fastest procedure, rather than elect to have the case heard by a judge. But if an arbitrator decides, there is no appeal from his ruling.


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