Small Claims Court Attorney (Common Legal terms used)
by St. Petersburg/Florida Family Law Attorney on 05/30/16
Mercifully, there is not a great deal of technical language used in small claims courts. However, as a Small claims attorney, there are a number of legal terms that one should be cognizant of. While this post is not geared towards a small claim attorney, one bringing forth a legal claim in Small claims court, or defending one should be aware of these terms. Here are the following terms:
Abstract of Judgment. An official document you get from the small claims court clerk's office that indicates that you have a money judgment in your favor against another person. Filing it with the County Recorder places a lien on real property owned by a judgment debtor.
Appeal. In the small claims context, a request that the superior court rehear the case from scratch and reverse the decision of the small claims court. Some states allow only a defendant to appeal; others allow the parties to appeal based only on law---not facts. Many require you to post a bond when you file an appeal.
Calendar. A list of cases to be heard by a small claims court on a particular day. A case taken "off calendar" is removed from the list. This usually occurs because the defendant has not received a copy of the plaintiff's lawsuit or because the parties jointly request that the case be heard on another day.
Claim of Exemption. A procedure by which a judgment debtor can claim that, under federal or state law, certain money or other property is exempt from being grabbed to satisfy a debt.
Conditional Judgment. When a court issues equitable relief (such as the return of a piece of property), it has power to grant a conditional judgment. A conditional judgment consists of certain actions or requirements that are contingent on other actions (for instance, return the property in ten days or pay $2,000).
Continuance. A court order that a hearing be postponed to a later date.
Counterclaim. When a defendant responds to a plaintiff's lawsuit by counter-suing the plaintiff for damages arising from the same act or failure to act that the plaintiff's lawsuit is about, also known as Claim of Defendant or a Cross-Complaint.
Default Judgment. A court decision in favor of the plaintiff (the person filing suit) when the defendant fails to show up (that is, defaults).
Defendant. The person or party being sued.
Defendant's Claim. A claim by a defendant that the plaintiff owes him or her money. The claim is filed as part of the same small claims action that the plaintiff started.
Dismissed Case. A dismissal usually occurs when a plaintiff drops the case. If the defendant has not filed a counterclaim, the plaintiff simply files a written request for dismissal. If the defendant had filed a counterclaim, both plaintiff and defendant must agree in writing before the court will allow a dismissal. A judge may also dismiss a case if a defendant successfully claims that a case was filed in the wrong court. Also, if a plaintiff does not show up in court on the appointed day, the judge may dismiss the case. Most cases are dismissed without prejudice, which is legal jargon meaning they could be re-filed. But if a case is dismissed with prejudice, it means that it can't be filed unless the plaintiff successfully appeals the dismissal.
Equitable Relief. There are several areas in which a small claims court judge has the power to issue judgment for something other than money damages-that is, to order a party to return unique property, end a fraudulent contract, fix a mistaken contract, etc. This type of judgment is called equitable relief, as opposed to monetary relief.
Equity. The value of a particular piece of property that you own. For example, if a car has a fair market value of $10,000 and you owe a bank $8,000 on it, your equity is $2,000.
As a small claims attorney, I can say that it is absolutely imperative that you gather all of your evidence before filing your claim. More often that not, I can say claims get thrown out for a myriad of reasons. If you are someone that is involved in small claims litigation (defendant or plaintiff), please feel free to contact a Small claims attorney to see if we can help! A small claims attorney can save you a lot of money in the long run. Please be on the lookout for future postings, addressing common small claims legal terms from your Small claims attorney.