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Small Claims/Replevins Frequently Asked Questions
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Frequently Asked Questions (Click to sort)
What is Small Claims Court?

Small Claims Court provides for the adjudication of civil disputes involving amounts of money or
value of property not exceeding $5,000.00. Any dispute involving money or property valued above
this amount is considered a Civil Action and falls under a completely different set of rules set up by
the Florida Small Claims Rules adopted by the Supreme Court of Florida. If you are unsure of
which rules govern your civil dispute, it would be to your advantage to consult an Attorney.


How do I know if I have a small claims case?

Prior to filing a suit, the party contemplating the filing of a lawsuit should evaluate the claim to be
made. One way would be to ask yourself the following questions about your claim:

  • Is the claim for $5,000.00 or less?
  • Is the claim a valid legal claim?
  • Is there proof to back up the claim?
  • Is there evidence that the Court can truly consider?
  • Is the party my claim is against identifiable by full legal name, and complete address?
  • Have all avenues to settle this matter been exhausted?

If, after reading the above questions, you feel that you still have a doubt as to the validity of your
case, this is not the time to file a case. If you have no doubt that your case answers yes to all of
the above questions, a lawsuit may be properly filed.


Who can file a small claims case?

A Small Claims case may be filed by any individual or business entity. Minors must be represented
by a parent or legal guardian in order to sue. Likewise, if an incorporated business plans to file a
suit, it must be represented by an officer or authorized employee.


The person filing the Statement of Claim must sign it and include thereon his or her address and
telephone number, including area code. Furthermore, the names, addresses, and telephone
numbers of all persons who are parties to the lawsuit must be Stated in the Statement of Claim.


How do I file a small claims case (up to $5000)?

A case is commenced by filing a Statement of Claim, along with an appropriate fee, with the Clerk
of Courts, County Civil Division. While the County Civil forms package is available from the Clerk's
Office, assistance ONLY in the preparation of the forms is provided by the Clerk's Office.


***Please understand that Judges, Judicial Assistants, Clerks of Court,
and Sheriff's Department employees CANNOT practice law or give you
legal advice. They can ONLY point out the existence of certain
procedures, but CANNOT tell you how to follow them or how effective
they will be. ONLY A LAWYER CAN GIVE YOU LEGAL ADVICE. You should
talk with a lawyer if you have any questions about your rights.


If your claim is based upon a written document, the written document must be attached to the
Statement of Claim.


When you file, you must bring with you at least two copies of any documents on which your claim
is based. Examples include, cancelled checks, invoices, contracts, or estimates. If you are suing
more than one person, bring one extra set of copies for each person being sued. You must supply
the correct name and address of the parties you wish to sue. If a company, you must find out if this
company is individually owned, a partnership or a corporation. For corporate information you may
check with the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations. For company information
you may check with the Occupational Licensing division in the city or county where the business
is located. It is important to sue the proper party or entity as a judgment against a fictitious name
could be uncollectible.


What are the fees for filing a small claims case?

Click here.


Can I file my claim in another county?

In order to properly file a Statement of Claim, the person filing the claim (the Plaintiff), must do so in
the proper county. In most cases, the Plaintiff may properly file a Statement of Claim in a county:

  • Where the contract was entered into.
  • If the suit is on an unsecured promissory note, where the note was signed.
  • If the suit is to recover property or foreclose a lien, where the property is located.
  • Where the event occurred that gave rise to the suit.
  • Where any one of the defendants resides.

If the party being sued (the Defendant), believes the Statement of Claim was filed in the wrong
county, the Defendant may request that the case be transferred to the county which he believes is
proper. If the case has to be transferred, the party who initially filed in the wrong county will have
to pay a new filing fee.


Who do I name as the party to my suit?

The Plaintiff must name the proper party as a Defendant. If the Defendant:

  • is an individual, the Plaintiff should determine the person's full legal name and any
    aliases prior to filing the lawsuit.
  • is a business, the Plaintiff must determine if the business is a corporation, a
    partnership or a sole proprietorship. The corporate status of any corporation
    legitimately doing business in the State of Florida can be determined by contacting
    the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations.

If the business is:

  • a corporation, the corporation should be named as a Defendant, NOT its officers.
  • either a partnership or a sole proprietorship, the entity AND the individuals should
    be named as Defendants.
What happens after I file?

After the Statement of Claim is filed, the Plaintiff must ensure that the Defendant receives a copy of
the Statement of Claim. The procedure for informing the Defendant of the pending action is called
service of process.

  • Service of process may be by delivery of the Statement of Claim to the Defendant by a
    representative of the appropriate Sheriff's Office.
  • The Plaintiff may also complete service of process upon a Florida Resident by certified
    mail. However, the Defendant or someone authorized to receive mail at the
    Defendant's residence or place of business must sign the receipt for the mail. If they
    have any idea of the case being filed, they may refuse the certified mail, and this
    constitutes non-service. For corporate entities, the addressee should be the
    registered agent of the corporation.

A notice to appear is attached to, and served with, the Statement of Claim. This notice informs the
Defendant of the time, date, and place of the pre-trial conference.


What is a pre-trial conference?

On this appointed day, the Plaintiff and the Defendant are to appear before the Court in order to
discuss the case. At this conference, the Court will determine if there are any contested issues of
fact.

  • If there are contested issues of fact, the case will be referred to mediation in an
    effort to aid the parties in settling the case. Mediators will be present at the pre-trial
    conference.
  • If mediation is not successful, the mediator will send the parties back to the Judge
    who will narrow the factual issues to be resolved at trial and settle any legal issues
    which are subject to determination at the pre-trial.
  • If the case is not settled at this conference, the Court will set a time, date, and place
    for the trial.

The Plaintiff and Defendant do not bring witnesses to the pre-trial conference.


What if I miss the pre-trial conference trial date?

Failure to attend either the pre-trial conference or the trial can result in dire consequences
for the party failing to attend.


If the Plaintiff fails to attend, the case can be dismissed.


If the Defendant fails to attend, the Plaintiff is entitled to a default and the Plaintiff prevails.


I am being sued! Can I do anything besides just go to Court?

In addition to just appearing at the appointed time, the Defendant may also file documents with the
Court. These include, but are not limited to, a motion to dismiss, an answer, an affirmative defense,
a counterclaim, and a third-party complaint.


An answer is simply an admission or denial of the claims made by the Plaintiff. The other
documents, called pleadings, are discussed in more detail below. Copies of all pleadings are
required to be served on the other party or the party's Attorney. This subsequent service may be
accomplished by regular mail.


Motions to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss attempts to demonstrate to the Court why the Plaintiff should not be allowed to
continue, regardless of the truth of the Plaintiff's claim. The following are examples of basic motions
to dismiss and simple explanations of these motions:

  • Lack of Jurisdiction over the subject matter - the action is not properly filed in small
    claims Court because it involves more than $5,000.00 or involves an equitable claim
    (i.e. a divorce claim).
  • Improper Venue - the complaint is filed in the wrong county.
  • Insufficiency of Process - the summons was not served on the Defendant properly.
  • Failure to Join Indispensable Parties - the complaint does not seek damages from
    any other party who should be liable along with the Defendant if the Plaintiff is
    successful.

Affirmative Defenses

Affirmative defenses, unlike other defenses, seek to avoid liability by asserting a legal excuse as to
why the Plaintiff would not be awarded any damages based on the clam. Some examples of
affirmative defenses are:

  • Accord and Satisfaction - the Defendant has paid or satisfied the amount due or
    has paid a mutually agreed upon settlement.
  • Failure of Consideration - the Defendant agreed to pay the Plaintiff if the Plaintiff
    performed a service for the Defendant; however, the Plaintiff's performance was
    so inferior that the Defendant should not be liable to the Plaintiff for payment.
  • Statute of Limitations - the Plaintiff failed to file the Statement of Claim by the time
    required by law. For a more detailed explanation of the Statue of Limitations, consult
    Chapter 95 of the Florida Statutes.

Counterclaims

A counterclaim is as a lawsuit which the Defendant files against the Plaintiff after he is served
with the Plaintiff's lawsuit. Counterclaims fall into two (2) categories, compulsory and permissive.
To be compulsory, the counterclaim must be based upon the incident which is the subject of the
Plaintiff's suit. Permissive counterclaims are not based upon the incident. A Defendant wishing to
file a counterclaim must do so not less than five days prior to the appearance date or such time as
the Court designates, or it is deemed to be abandoned.


Third-Party Complaints

Third party complaints are filed with the permission of the Court when the Defendant feels that
another party should be responsible for the amount of damage claimed by the Plaintiff. If a
Defendant wishes to file a third-party complaint, he must request permission of the Court at the pre-
trial conference. If the Court allows the filing of a third-party complaint, the Court will set a time for
filing and schedule another pre-trial conference. Likewise, the Plaintiff may request leave of Court
to file a third-party complaint in response to any counterclaim made by the Defendant.


Discovery

Parties to any lawsuit should be aware that they may be subjected to discovery prior to trial.
Discovery is an attempt by a party to gain information about the strength of the opposing party's
position. Although generally not allowed in Small Claims cases with parties not represented by an
Attorney, discovery is nonetheless possible in certain circumstances. Those wishing to gain more
information on discovery as it relates to Small Claims should consult Rule 7.020(b), Florida Small
Claims Rules.


Voluntary Dismissal

The Plaintiff in a Small Claims case may end the lawsuit by voluntarily dismissing the suit. In order
to properly do this, property must not have been seized, nor may property be in the custody of the
Courts, and the Plaintiff must inform the Defendant and the Clerk of the Court of the dismissal prior
to the trial date; or the parties must enter into joint stipulation for dismissal and:

  • the Plaintiff must inform the Defendant and the Clerk of the Court of the dismissal prior
    to the trial date; or
  • the parties must enter into joint stipulation for dismissal.

Any dismissal by the above methods shall be without prejudice, unless otherwise requested by the
Plaintiff or stipulated to by the parties. The "without prejudice" designation allows the lawsuit to be
re-filed even though it may allege the exact grounds as the previously dismissed case. However, if
a Plaintiff chooses to again dismiss a lawsuit which had previously been voluntarily dismissed, the
second dismissal will bar subsequent attempts to re-file. No other dismissals are allowed except
by order of the Court. Furthermore, a lawsuit in which a counterclaim has been filed will not be
dismissed over the counterclaimant's objections unless the counterclaim is allowed to go forward
as an independent lawsuit.


Settlement

Cases may also fail to reach the trial stage due to settlement. The parties may agree to settle the
case at any stage of the proceedings, and in most cases are encouraged to do so at the pre-trial
conference. If the case is settled, the Plaintiff must notify the Clerk of the Court. The settlement may
bring about a dismissal or continuance, the continuance being based upon the payment or
performance by a party. When a settlement is agreed upon at the pre-trial conference, both parties
enter into a written agreement called a Stipulation. Failure of the Defendant to comply with a
Stipulation will result in a final judgment being entered upon the filing of an affidavit of
noncompliance by the Plaintiff and service by mail of a copy upon the Defendant.


How do I collect a small claims judgment?
If someone has my property and will not release it to me, what can I do?

You may be able to file a replevin action at the Clerk's office.


What is a replevin?

Replevin is a civil action to recover your personal property that another person refuses to return.
You must prove a legal right to the possession of the property, such as ownership of it, and that
the defendant has wrongful possession of the property. A replevin action may be filed to recover
certain stolen property that is in the possession of a "second hand dealer" such as a pawn shop,
consignment shop, or garage sale operator. It may also be for return of stolen property from a
secondary metals recycler.


More information on replevin actions can be found in Chapter 78, Florida Statutes.


What do I need to file a replevin?

You will need three copies of the following:

  • Proof of ownership
  • Complete description of the property
  • Documentation showing the value of the property


How much does it cost to file a replevin?

Click here.


What forms of payment do you accept for the filing fee or Sheriff's fee?

Generally, the Clerk's Office accepts cash, personal check, Mastercard, and Visa for the payment of
filing fees. However, the Sheriff's fee must be paid using cash or a separate check or money order
payable to the "Putnam County Sheriff's Office".


What happens once I file the replevin?

Your case is set for a hearing before a judge. An Order to Show Cause is issued and served on the
Defendant, notifying him/her of the action and the date of the hearing. You will also be notified of
the hearing date.


What happens at the hearing?

The Judge will review the evidence, hear testimony, and make a determination as to whether the
property should be returned to you (the Plaintiff) or if the property should remain in the possession
of the Defendant.


What happens if the Judge orders my property to be returned to me?

If the Judge orders that the property should be returned to you and the Defendant does not willingly
return the property, you will need to request that the Writ of Replevin be issued and served on the
Defendant. The Sheriff will then put you in possession of the property.


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