In our last installment, we introduced you to Small Claims Court and how to use it. If you haven't read the introductory article yet, get on over there and check it out here!
So where do I sue, anyway?
Your venue - that is, the county that you choose to sue in - is going to depend upon where you're located and where the defendant is located. If you and the defendant are both located in the same county, then you'll sue in that county. If the defendant is in a different county, then generally you'll want to sue in the county where the defendant is located. If the defendant is a corporation and does business in your county, then you should be able to sue them there.
One quick note: You should obviously do your best to file in the appropriate venue the first time. However, if you do mess up for whatever reason, then the appropriate recourse for incorrect venue is to transfer the suit to the correct venue rather than to dismiss it.
Now for the good part; in order to begin your lawsuit, you'll need to complete and file the Complaint and a Summons for each defendant.
How do I fill out the complaint?
Your first step is to make sure that you're collecting the appropriate complaint form. There are four complaint templates that you can use: The Complaint for Money Owed, the Complaint in Summary Ejectment, the Complaint to Recover Possession of Personal Property, and the Complaint to Enforce Possessory Lien on Motor Vehicle. As your normal everyday Plaintiff, you'll probably want to use the Complaint for Money Owed.
If your Defendant is a corporation, you'll need to make sure that you're using the proper name and address. You can find them through a search on the Secretary of State website.
If you're using one of the other Complaint forms, it'll be filled out in substantially the same way as the Complaint for Money Owed. If you have questions about one of the other forms, give us a shout and we'll be happy to help.
Cool beans! How about the summons?
The Summons is every bit as important as the Complaint, if not even more so. The summons is what establishes the court's jurisdiction over the defendant; that is, the court's authority to bring the defendant into the courtroom to answer your allegations against him or her.
So that's it, then, right?
There are a couple of housekeeping matters that you'll need to be aware of. First, you'll need multiple copies of the Summons and Complaint to take to the courthouse; one for you, one for the Court, and one for each Defendant. So if you have one Defendant, you'll need three copies.
Second, the Complaint and Summons don't mean anything until they're timestamped and filed by the Clerk. So you'll need to pay the filing fee, then take the filings to the Clerk for stamping and filing. Until then, your lawsuit isn't in effect.
Finally - and this is extremely important - you have to serve the Summons and Complaint on each defendant before they can be brought into court. Like we said last week, we strongly, strongly recommend that you serve your defendants through the Sheriff's office. That costs $30.00 per defendant, and you can pay either directly to the Sheriff's office or the clerk's office can do it for you.
Sounds simple enough!
Thanks for reading! Check back next week for Part III, and give us a call with any questions!