Small Claims Court

What is a small claims action?

It’s when there is a dispute between two parties, and the issue in controversy does not exceed $5,000. You should review Chapter 34 of the Florida Statutesfor a description of which causes of action are covered under small claims in the county court. Also review the small claims rules of procedure located in section 7 of the Florida Rules of Court for more detailed information. The statutes and rules of procedure which apply will depend upon the type of case filed. It is strongly recommended that you familiarize yourself with the laws that apply to your particular case by visiting your local law library.

The first step in filing a small claims action is obtaining and filling out the necessary forms usually consisting of a statement of claim and a notice or service of process which requires the parties to appear at a specified pre-trial conference. Small claims forms are available at your local Clerk of Court’s Office.

What happens after filing?

Once the statement of claim has been completed and filed with the clerk of court, the plaintiff must provide the defendant with the copies of the statement of claim and the service of process form. In a small claims case, there are two general ways to provide the defendant with these forms.

If the defendant lives in Florida, the statement of claim and services of process form can be sent by certified mail through the United States Postal Service.  If the defendant refuses to accept the service of process through certified mail, or does not live in the Florida, or is a corporation within Florida, the statement of claim and service of process must be delivered to the defendant by the sheriff of the county where the defendant lives or is located.  A private process server who is authorized to serve legal papers may also serve the defendant.

Once the defendant has been served, the process may continue.  If service of process is done incorrectly or not done at all, the case may not proceed.  Once the defendant has been served with the statement of claim and the service of process form, both parties must attend a pre-trial conference.

What happens at the Pre-trial Conference?

At the Pre-trial Conference, the judge will review the pleadings and documents and may simplify the issues, refer the case to mediation, and take care of any other matters as needed.  You may settle the case with the other party before or at the pre-trial conference by entering into and filing a stipulation agreement.  This agreement can settle all or part of the case and becomes part of the court order.

Sometimes, the participation of a third, neutral party is helpful in aiding the litigants in reaching an agreement.  This process is called mediation, and your case may be referred to it at the pre-trial conference.

What if we are not able to reach an agreement through mediation?

If the parties are unable to reach an agreement through stipulation or mediation, they must appear for trial on the date and the time scheduled by the Clerk during the pre-trial conference.  When the defendant fails to respond or show up to defend against the statement of claim, the Clerk or the judge may enter a default judgment.  All parties are bound by the applicable law and the court cannot help you to present your case.  The parties must make certain to bring all evidence and witnesses to the trial but keep in mind that letters, affidavits, and estimates may not be accepted as evidence.

What is a judgment?

A judgment is the written decision of the case and includes the amount of money to be paid by one party to another, acts which must be performed, or property which must be transferred.  After the judgment is signed, it will be recorded in the county’s public records and will be provided to the parties either at the conclusion of the trial or later by mail.

If the parties feel the judge has made an error, they have ten days from the date the judgment is entered by the court to file with the clerk for a rehearing.

After the judgment is entered, the winning party may need to execute and enforce the terms of the judgment in order to collect money or property.  If judgment monies are paid in full, the plaintiff must furnish the defendant with a completed satisfaction of judgment form which can be obtained from your local Clerk of Court.

Please note that the Court does not guarantee collection.  It is important to realize that just because you have won a judgment does not mean collection of judgment monies is guaranteed.  The Court cannot and does not guarantee collection of judgment monies.

Small Claims Resources