Small Claims Court
What is small claims court?
Ohio law requires that each county and municipal court establish a small claims division, generally known as small claims court. (See chapter 1925 of the Ohio Revised Code.) The purpose of the small claims court is to resolve minor disputes fairly, quickly, and inexpensively.
The procedures in small claims court are simpler than in other court cases. Hearings are informal; there is no jury; cases are decided either by the municipal court or county court judge, or by a “magistrate” (a qualified attorney appointed by the judge); court costs are lower than in other cases. Many small claims courts hold evening sessions and small claims courts in large metropolitan areas may have neighborhood offices.
The relative simplicity of small claims court makes it easier for people to handle their cases without attorneys. However, anyone who wishes to may bring an attorney to small claims court.
What cases can a small claims court handle?
Small claims cases are like other lawsuits, except that the amounts involved are generally too small to make the expense of regular court proceedings worthwhile.
A small claims court can resolve many common disputes that involve modest amounts of money. Typical small claims court cases include claims by tenants to recover security deposits, claims by landlords for unpaid rent or damage to their property, claims by buyers for damages from defective merchandise, claims by business people and trades people for unpaid bills, claims by car owners for damage sustained in minor accidents, claims by employees, babysitters, maids, and handypersons for unpaid wages.
There are limits on claims that can be resolved in small claims court:
- The claims must be for money only. Small claims court cannot issue restraining orders, protection orders or injunctions, cannot grant divorces, and cannot order someone to return property. Small claims court can only resolve claims that ask for money.
- A claim cannot exceed $3,000 (not including any interest and court costs claimed). The claim itself can be for at most $3,000, and counter- or cross-claims that may be filed can only be for $3,000 (each) or less.
- Regardless of the amount of money involved, a small claims court cannot handle certain types of lawsuits: lawsuits based on libel, slander, and malicious prosecution, lawsuits seeking punitive or exemplary damages, or lawsuits brought by an assignee or agent (such as a lawsuit brought by an insurance company on behalf of a policy holder; however, government entities can bring certain lawsuits through an agent).
- Small claims court cannot resolve claims against the agencies of the State of Ohio or against the United States government and its agencies.
If you have questions about whether your case fits these criteria, you may need legal advice from an attorney. Court staff may be able to answer questions about 1 and 2, but any doubts about issue 3 need to be resolved with legal advice.
Cases that initially fit the small claims criteria may be transferred out of small claims court:
- If a case starts with a claim for $3,000 or less but then comes to include claims that exceed $3,000, the case will be transferred to the civil division of municipal or county court.
- If one of the parties to a case requests it, a case may be transferred to the civil division of the municipal or county court.