Chapter 1 - What is Small Claims Court?
you Cannot do in Small Claims Court
Do You Need
The Costs of
Small Claims Court
to Sue/Appeal as an Indigent
Small Claims Court is part of the North Carolina court system where
people settle disputes regarding property or money worth
$5,000 or less. Every county in North Carolina has a Small Claims Court, which is sometimes
called Magistrate's Court.
The judge, called a magistrate, may or may not be a lawyer. There is
no jury. The trial is quick and informal, usually lasting no more than
15 or 30 minutes. You don't have to have a lawyer to represent you in
Small Claims Court, but you may have a lawyer. The person who starts
the lawsuit is the plaintiff. The person being sued is called the
In the three (3) cases below, you would be the
- 1. A repairman came to fix your refrigerator and in the process
knocked a hole
in your kitchen wall. The repair shop won't pay for
the damages, so you
sue the shop for your loss.
- 2. Someone dents your car but refuses to pay for the damage, so
sue that person.
- 3. Your landlord refuses to make your home or apartment meet housing
and you sue for damages, repairs, or lower rent.
You would be the
defendant in these three cases:
- 1. Your landlord tries to evict you from your apartment and collect
- 2. A finance company sues you for money it claims you owe on a
- 3. A finance company sues you for possession of property, which
pledged as collateral for a loan.
What You Cannot Do in Small Claims Court
This court is not used for criminal offenses, traffic tickets, or disagreements
over child support, among other things. You have to be 18 years old
to use Small Claims Court. For more information about age and guardian
issues, see "Age" in the
Do You Need a Lawyer?
Before you decide to handle your own case in Small Claims Court, you
need to think about whether you need a lawyer. If you are facing eviction
by your landlord or being sued by a finance company, you may need a
If your income is no more than 125 percent of the poverty level, you
may be eligible to get free legal assistance from the Legal Services
office nearest you. You may want to call a
Legal Aid office
to find out if a lawyer can help you with your case.
The Costs of Small Claims Court
Suing someone in Small Claims Court costs money. For each lawsuit, the
plaintiff must pay a $96 filing fee* to the clerk of court. You pay an
additional $30 fee* for each defendant to cover the cost of the sheriff
getting the proper legal forms to the defendant. The plaintiff can choose
to mail the papers directly to the defendant, as explained in
2 but this is more difficult and not much cheaper. If you win your case,
the court may add these fees to the amount that the defendant is supposed
to pay you.
If you cannot afford to pay the fees, you may not have to pay them. You have to fill out a form called
to Sue/Appeal as an Indigent" form shown referenced below. You get
the form from the clerk. You fill out the top part of this form and
sign it before a notary public.
If you receive food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
or Supplemental Social Security (SSI), then the Clerk will automatically
allow you to bring the lawsuit without paying any fees. If you do not
receive any of those benefits, then the Clerk may ask for additional
financial information to determine whether you can afford to pay the
There can be additional fees if you ask the sheriff's department to
enforce the judge's order or want to appeal a judge's ruling. These
situations are explained in
Chapter 6 and
to Sue/Appeal as an Indigent"
* NOTE: Fee effective July 1,
(Sheriff's Fee effective August. 1, 20011)
**Copyright May 1990, April 1994, February 1997, March 1998, June
2001, November 2003, October 2005, Legal Aid of North Carolina,
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