If you have a dispute with a Georgia resident or corporation, filing suit in a magistrate's court may be your best option. These non-jury venues handle claims of $15,000 or less. State law sets out the procedures for filing claims in magistrate courts, where using an attorney as a representative is optional.
Filing the Claim
A magistrate's court case begins with the filing of a statement of claim by the plaintiff. This statement should name the defendant as well as the plaintiff, and give the total amount of damages claimed. Each county sets its own fees for filing of a small claims case, and the case should be filed in the defendant's county of residence.
If you're suing a corporation or other business, you must bring suit in the county where the registered agent of the company has its business address. The registered agent is the individual or firm designated by a company to receive legal documents on behalf of the company. If you're not sure who the registered agent is, Georgia's Corporations Division offers this information online.
Service on the Defendant
After the statement of claim is filed, the magistrate court serves the claim on the defendant, which incurs another fee payable to the clerk. The defendant has 30 days to respond with an answer or a counterclaim against the plaintiff. The court then sets a public hearing, at which both parties may present their testimony and evidence, as well as any witnesses they call to support their cases. Some Georgia counties may require mediation of the case before a hearing. If no answer to the statement of claim is filed, the plaintiff can request a default judgment against the defendant.
Judgment and Collections
After both parties have been heard, the presiding judge will decide either for the plaintiff or the defendant. A plaintiff with a judgment in his favor has the right to collect the amount of the judgment as well as any court costs requested as part of the original statement of claim. The defendant who loses the case must pay the judgment or be subject to forced collection actions such as garnishment, levies and liens.