Small Claims Court Glossary of Terms

Start of Small Claims Court

Contract: A legally enforceable agreement between several competent parties. Contract could be produced either orally or on paper where an offer is manufactured and accepted, and each party benefits.
The agreement could be formal, informal, written, oral or simply plain understood. Some agreements are required to maintain writing to become enforced by a courtroom.

Filing Fee: The payment necessary for filing various papers.

Complaint: A first document that starts a civil lawsuit/small claims. This document setting forth for the court a claim for relief from injury caused by the defendant.

Damages: Sum of money claimed in court. Damages equal of claimant’s losses, due to injury caused by the wrongful conduct of Defendant.

Liability: Legal responsibility for one’s acts or omissions. Liability most of the time arise from contracts.

Demand: A claim for compensation or other action of a legal right.

Statute of Limitations: The time frame which one can wait before filing a claim.

Fee Waiver: Permission from the court to file a claim or other documents without paying the required filing fees. This is based on a showing of need. You may qualify to have these fees and costs waived by the court.

Before the Small Claims Hearing

Appearance: Show up at the court as a Plaintiff/Defendant/ Witness.

Brief: A summary of the facts of the case, and an argument of how the law applies to the fact situation.

Plaintiff: The individual or other party who starts a lawsuit by filing a complaint or a claim against the defendant demanding damages or other relief.

Defendant: The individual or other party that’s being sued.

Claimant: Including both a plaintiff and a defendant.

Pro Se: A person who represents himself in court alone without the help of a attorney. Latin meaning for himself.

Process Server: A individual or entity who serves (delivers) court papers on a party to a lawsuit. This may be an adult relative or friend or a professional process server.

Service of Process: Delivery of a summons, writ or other legal papers to the person required to respond to them.

Personal Service: The actual delivery, in person, of documents to the individual to whom they are directed. Services by mail or over night delivery is not personal service.

Substituted Service: Accomplishing services (delivery) of legal docs by leaving the records with an adult resident of the home of the person to be served, with an employee with management duties at the office of an individual.

During the Small Claims Hearing

Small Claims Hearing: A formal proceeding (generally less formal than a trial) with definite issues of law or of fact to be heard. No jury at small claims hearing.

Oath: A solemn usually formal calling upon God or a god to witness to the truth of what one says or to witness that one sincerely intends to do what one says.

Witness: A person who testifies under oath in a trial or at a hearing with firsthand evidence useful in a lawsuit. A party to the lawsuit (plaintiff or defendant) may be a witness.

Subpoena: A court order that requires a named individual to come to court to testify as a witness. A party to a Small Claims court may request the Small Claims clerk to issue a subpoena.

Testify: To tell something to the judge in court. A individual who testifies is a witness.

Burden of proof: In a court case, the responsibility of proving a point (the burden of proof); which side must establish a point or points.

Stipulate: To agree to something; to give one’s consent.

Physical Evidence: Any evidence introduced in court in the form of a physical object, intended to prove a disputed fact based on its physical characteristics.

Temporary Judge “pro tem”: An attorney who volunteers his or her time to hear and decide Small Claims court cases.

Reformation: The correction or change of an existing document by court order upon petition of one of the parties to the document. Reformation will be ordered if there is proof that the parties did not intend the language as written or there was an omission due to mistake or misunderstanding.

After the Small Claims Hearing

Rescission: The cancellation of a contract and the return of the parties to the positions they would have had if the contract had not been made.

Restitution: The return of something to the owner of it, or to the person entitled to it.

Mediation: A method for attempting to settle a dispute by having an independent person (the mediator) try to help the parties reach a mutually acceptable solution to their disagreement.

Settlement: An agreement reached by the parties to a dispute, often involving the compromise of one or more claims, that resolves the dispute. It typically states the terms (including total amount and payment dates) to which the parties have agreed.

Default: If a party to an action does not attend the hearing it is sometimes said that the party is in “default.” If the judge determines that the non-appearing party was properly notified of the action, the judge may consider the plaintiff’s evidence and decide the case in the defendant’s absence. However, in Small Claims court the plaintiff may still prove her case. It is not automatic just because the defendant doesn’t show up.

Court decision on Small Claims Hearing

Submission: A judge is said to take the case under submission when he or she does not immediately announce a decision. The decision will be sent to the parties later by mail.

Summary judgment: When a court gives its judgment that there is no dispute as to the facts of the case and one party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.

Vacate: A judge issues an order to set aside a judgment which he/she finds improper.

Appeal: Petition by the unsuccessful party in a lawsuit to a higher court to review a final decision on the grounds that it was based upon a legal error or other error.

Dismiss Without Prejudice: To set aside the present action, but leave open the possibility of another lawsuit on the same claim. The plaintiff can file a new lawsuit on the same claim but has to start from scratch.

Dismiss with Prejudice: To set aside the present action without the claimant having a right to file another lawsuit on that same claim. A dismissal with prejudice ends the case.

Small Claims Judgment

Judgment: The decision of the judge. It resolves a controversy and determines the rights and obligations of the parties. It usually states that the judgment debtor must pay the judgment creditor some amount of money and may contain other terms. The case is over when the court enters judgment.

Judgment Debtor: The party against whom judgment has been entered.

Judgment Creditor: The party in whose favor a judgment has been entered.

Garnish/ Garnishment: To “garnish” a debtor’s wages means to collect them in order to satisfy an unpaid judgment.

Levy: The seizure of property to satisfy a judgment.

Lien: an official claim or charge against a debtor’s property or funds for payment of a debt. A lien carries with it the right to sell property, if necessary, to obtain the money.