Civil cases involving plaintiff requests for money or return of property not exceeding $6,000 are heard in the small claims division of the Indiana Circuit Court.. The Indiana Code Title 33 and Indiana Rules of Court for Small Claims govern the small claims process for every county in the state.
Filing a Small Claims Case
File a Notice of Claim with the appropriate county clerk and pay associated fees to initiate your suit. The case must be brought to the correct venue. The plaintiff may choose to file in the county where the defendant lives, or the county in which the issue occurred.
Each county has its own form, but requirements for each are the same:
- The location of the court hearing the case
- Name and address of you -- the plaintiff -- and the defendant
- A statement providing details about the claim
- The amount the plaintiff requests for relief, or the value of property the plaintiff asks returned to him
Attach any relevant paperwork, such as a lease, contract or receipts, to the Notice of Claim.
The county clerk may help you complete the Notice of Claim, provide blank forms and answer basic questions. If you have legal questions, consult an attorney; the clerk cannot provide legal advice. The Indiana Judicial Center offers a Small Claims Manual that provides information and guidance.
The county clerk will assign the claim a case number and judge. She will schedule a court appearance and send the Notice of Claim and summons to the defendant.
Service of Summons
A summons is an order by the court to appear and defend yourself against charges brought by a plaintiff. In Indiana, the summons is part of the Notice of Claim. It may be served to the defendant by:
- Mailing a copy via certified mail with return receipt
- Personal service to the defendant
- Delivering a copy personally to the defendant's home
If the defendant is not home when the summons is served, it may be left with another person. In that case, a copy of the Notice of Claim is also sent via first-class mail to the address.
The Defendant's Response
When the defendant receives a Notice of Claim, he may contact the court to make an entry of appearance. This notice simply informs the court that the defendant intends to appear; he may also simply appear on the date of the trial. The defendant may also request a jury trial within 10 days of receiving the notice.
The defendant may choose to file a counterclaim, disputing the plaintiff's charges and requesting his own relief, provided that the amount is not more than $6,000.
Before the Trial
Before the trial date, both the plaintiff and defendant may ask for the court's assistance to:
- Request court approval for discovery, or details from the opposing party.
- Issue a subpoena to a witness for either party. A subpoena is an order from the court to appear as a witness.
- Ask for a continuance. If you can't attend on the date the trial is scheduled, or you need more time to prepare your case, you may ask the court to reschedule. You must have good cause, and may only ask for one continuance.
- File a notice of settlement. Parties may settle the dispute on their own or with the assistance of mediation and cancel the trial by filling a notice of settlement to the court .
The Small Claims Trial
The small claims trial is informal; many of the legal procedures that attorneys typically follow during a civil trial don't apply. The judge directs each party to present his evidence and guides the process. Witnesses may testify on either party's behalf. Both parties have an opportunity to speak and present evidence.
Once the trial is complete, the judge makes a decision and issues a judgment, which is a formal statement entered into court record. The judgment details the amount of money, if any, awarded, and the method in which it must be paid. If the judge decides in the plaintiff's favor, the defendant must pay the court costs for the plaintiff. If the judgment is in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff must pay court costs.