Many day-to-day issues in our own lives can give rise to a “small claim”. In Pennsylvania, a “small claim” is defined as one where the amount at issue is $12,000 or less. In these cases, people are often frustrated by the cost they must incur in order to pursue the claim. As common sense dictates, it makes no sense to spend more collecting the claim than the claim is actually worth. The ability to file a small claim in the Magisterial District Courts offers a practical solution. With a little guidance, the procedure can be handled without a lot of cost.
First, you must determine the appropriate court. Such a suit can generally be brought where (1) the opposing individual may be served, (2) the claim arose, or (3) a transaction or occurrence took place out of which the claim arose. Once you determine this location, you must determine which magisterial district is appropriate. A list of the Magisterial District Courts can be found on the Pennsylvania Courts website at www.pacourts.us. Select the “Courts” tab and then the “Minor Courts” tab.
Next, you will need to prepare the complaint. You can obtain the form from the Pennsylvania Courts website. Select “Forms”, “For the Public”, “Civil Complaint”. You will need the names and addresses of the parties, the amount claimed, and a brief description of the basis of your claim, including date, time and place. Complete the form as required. If your claim arises out of a written document or agreement, you should attach it. Take the form to the Magisterial District Court along with payment. You should call the Court’s office first to determine the cost and form of payment required.
The complaint will then be served on the opposing party by the Court. Once service is achieved, the Court will then schedule a hearing. You must appear at the hearing. Bring any documents, witnesses or other evidence you have with you on that date. You will have the right to present your evidence, in accordance with the rules, as well as to question any witnesses the other party has. Following the hearing, the Court will enter its decision, called a judgment, within five (5) days. Written notice of its decision will be provided by the Court along with notice of the right of either party to appeal and the time within which the appeal must be taken. Any appeals taken are much more technical and an attorney should be consulted well in advance of the appeal deadline.
Often, the case will end here, either by the entry of judgment following hearing or by an agreement reached between the parties. This process is often overlooked but is often a practical and cost-effective solution to obtaining justice for small claims.