Starting a Case
Anyone 18 years of age or over can sue in Small Claims Court. If you are younger than 18, your parent or guardian may sue on your behalf. Only an individual can sue in Small Claims Court. Corporations, partnerships, associations, or assignees cannot sue in Small Claims Court. However, they can be sued in Small Claims Court. If you are a corporation, partnership, association or assignee, you can bring a Commercial Claim or Consumer Transaction. For more information, click on Commercial Claims and Consumer Transactions.
In general, the person suing is called the claimant. The person being sued is called the defendant. You may sue more than one person at the same time.
You must be the proper person to sue in Small Claims Court. For example, if you are involved in an accident while driving an automobile that is not registered in your name, you cannot sue for the damage caused to the automobile during the accident. Only the registered owner of the automobile can sue for the damages caused to the automobile.
To learn more about bringing a Small Claims Court case, continue reading below. You can also read the law on this procedure, by clicking on Civil Court Act section 1803 .
Where to Sue: Venue
A claimant must begin the lawsuit in the proper county. In general, a claimant can sue in the county where either party resides. If no party resides within the City, the action can be brought in the county where either party has employment or a business address. If the defendant does not have a residence, employment, or have a business address within the City of New York, you cannot bring the lawsuit in the Small Claims Court. To find the location in your county, click on Locations .
Starting the Case
To begin an action in Small Claims Court, a person, or someone acting on his or her behalf, must come to the Small Claims Court Clerk s office in the proper county and fill out a statement of claim. To find out where the clerk s office is located in your county, click on Locations. To find out when the Small Claims Court Clerk s office is open, click on Court Hours. You may also use an outside service to fill out your statement of claim and electronically file it with the Court. If you are interested in starting your case this way, click on electronic filing .
The person filling out the statement of claim must be able to explain the reason for the lawsuit, know the amount of the claim, and have the correct name and address, including zip code, of the person or business that is being sued. If you are not sure of the correct name of the business, you should go to the County Clerk s office in the county where the business is located and look up the certificate of doing business, photocopy the certificate and bring it to the court. The person filling out the statement of claim must be able to explain the reason for the lawsuit, know the amount of the claim, and have the correct name and address, including zip code, of the person or business that is being sued. If you are not sure of the correct name of the business, you should go to the County Clerk s office in the county where the business is located and look up the certificate of doing business, photocopy the certificate and bring it to the court. View and print the small claims claim form.
You can watch a short tutorial to explain how to fill in the form.
Small Claims Form Instructions:
Video (run time: 4:52 minutes/seconds, Windows Media format )
You will have to pay the court fee to file your claim. If your claim is for an amount up to and including $1,000.00, there is a fee of $15.00. If your claim is for an amount over $1,000.00 and up to $5,000.00, there is a fee of $20.00. The fee must be paid by cash, certified check, money order or bank check made out to Clerk of the Civil Court. Personal checks will not be accepted.
The clerk will give you a date for the hearing. Small Claims Court hearings are usually held at 6:30 p.m. If you are a senior citizen, a disabled person, or a person who works during the evening, you may request that your small claims hearing be heard during the day. You or the person appearing on your behalf must show proof of age, or disability, or nighttime employment. The proof can be in the form of a letter from your job or from a doctor, a driver s license showing your birth date, or other similar documents.
If you live outside the City of New York and want to sue a party within the City of New York, you may file your claim by mail. Contact the Small Claims Court Clerk s office in the county where the defendant lives, works or has a place of business to obtain the necessary form.
The court system does not provide electronic filing at this time. However, several private vendors provide this service. The service provided by each of the vendors is different, and you must review their requirements. We advise that you review this entire website, as it offers a lot of information on how to proceed with your case.
The current vendors are:
Notifying the Defendant
After your claim is filed, the Small Claims Court clerk will serve a notice of your claim by sending it to the defendant. The notice of claim tells the defendant when to appear in Small Claims Court, and includes a brief statement of your claim and the amount of money you are requesting.
The notice of your claim will be sent to the defendant by certified mail and by ordinary first class mail. If the notice sent by ordinary first class mail is not returned by the post office within 21 days as undeliverable, the defendant is presumed to have received notice of your claim, even if the notice of claim sent by certified mail has not been delivered.
If the post office cannot deliver the notice of your claim (for example, the defendant may have moved without leaving a forwarding address), the court clerk will give you a new hearing date and will tell you how to arrange for personal delivery of the notice to the defendant. Anyone who is not a party to the small claim and who is 18 years of age or older can personally deliver the notice of claim to the defendant. The claimant or any other party to the action may not serve the notice of claim personally on the defendant.
If the notice of claim cannot be served on the defendant within 4 months after you filed your claim, your claim will be dismissed. If you learn new information about the defendant s location at a later date, you can file your claim again.
A small claims case will not proceed to trial until the defendant has been served with a notice of your claim.
The defendant may want to file a counterclaim. For information about this procedure, click on Counterclaims .
Preparing for Court
Before the date of the hearing, you should gather all the evidence that supports your claim or your defense. Evidence may include: photographs, a written agreement, an itemized bill or invoice marked paid, receipts, at least two itemized written estimates of the cost of services or repairs, a canceled check, a damaged item or article of clothing, or letters or other written documents. If there are records that are not in your possession, you may wish to subpoena them to be produced at the hearing date. For information about this procedure, click on Subpoenas .
You should also prepare any witnesses you plan to testify at the hearing in support of your claim or defense. The testimony of a person who has special or expert knowledge and experience concerning the subject of your claim may be necessary for you to prove your case. For example, if your claim involves the quality of medical care, you must find a doctor who is willing to give an opinion, in court, about the quality of the care you received. While you might find an expert witness who will testify at no cost to you, it is more likely that you will have to pay for an expert witness testimony.
If a witness, other than an expert witness, will not testify voluntarily, you can serve the witness with a subpoena requiring them to appear in court and testify. For information on how to do this, click on Subpoenas.