Guide to Small Claims Court

This guide to Small Claims Court is designed to help you understand small claims court procedures. This information is not intended to constitute legal advice or take the place of an attorney should you feel one is necessary. Its sole purpose is to help you understand the process.

Before filing in Small Claims Court, we strongly encourage you to go through our Mediation program, which has been successful in settling claims out of court.

Small Claims Complaint Download
Small Claims Counterclaim Download
Mediation Form Download

I. Actions Heard in Small Claims Court

Small Claims Court is designed to handle small matters in the simplest manner possible. You do not need a lawyer to file a small claims action, but you may have a lawyer represent you if you wish. You may only file an action for money. (not for the return of property or for any other remedy). The maximum claim is $6,000. You may not bring an action for libel, slander, malicious prosecution or abuse of process. You may not sue for exemplary or punitive damages. There are no jury trials. (See Ohio Revised Code Chapter 1925)
An individual, company or corporation may file a claim against another individual, company or corporation. You may file a claim in Muskingum County Court if:
  1. The individual, company or corporation you are suing lives or has its principal place of business in Muskingum County, but OUTSIDE the city limits of Zanesville.
  2. The actions giving rise to the complaint occurred in; Muskingum County, but OUTSIDE the city limits of Zanesville or
  3. The property that is the subject of the claim is located in Muskingum County, but OUTSIDE the city limits of Zanesville.

II. How You Start Small Claims Actions

A. Filing the Complaint
Small Claims Complaint forms are available at the Court and on this web site. You can access them through the Forms at the top of this page. You may use the Court's form or one that is similar as long as it provides the Court with all of the information that it needs. Please submit 4 copies and an original.
Your complaint must contain the following information:
  1. Correctly identified parties. The name and address of the plaintiff and the name and address of the defendant. YOU MUST HAVE THE CORRECT NAME OF THE DEFENDANT otherwise any judgment you get may not be enforceable.
  2. A brief but clear statement of the reason the suit is being brought. In other words, you need to tell the Court why the defendant owes you money. You should include the date, time and place of the transaction or incident on which you base your complaint.
  3. The amount of money you believe the defendant owes you.
  4. A copy of any relevant contract, canceled or NSF check, promissory note or account should be attached to the complaint.
  5. You must sign your complaint either before a clerk here at the court or before a notary public if you intend to mail it in.
  6. Your complaint must be accompanied by a filing fee of $50.00
B.Notification of Hearing Date
After a complaint is filed the Court does two things:
  1. It schedules a hearing on the claim and sends notice of that date to the plaintiff and
  2. It notifies the defendant by certified mail at the address supplied by the plaintiff that he has been sued and of the date of the hearing.

III. Response to a Small Claims Action

The defendant does not have to file an answer or any other paper. S/he must simply appear at the scheduled hearing with the evidence (documents, witnesses etc.) s/he needs to defend the lawsuit. (See VI. What to Expect at the Hearing)

IV. Counterclaims

A counterclaim is a claim that can be brought by a defendant in a small claims action if the defendant feels that the person suing him/her actually owes him/her money. A counterclaim is not a new lawsuit. A counterclaim may only be brought if it arises out of the same set of facts or circumstances as the original lawsuit. In order for the suit to remain in small claims court it must seek monetary damages of $6,000 or less.
If a defendant has a legitimate counterclaim against the plaintiff but fails to file one, he may not be permitted to file a claim against the plaintiff for the same thing at a later date.
Counterclaim forms are available at the Court and on this web site. You can access them through the Forms at the top of this page. You may use the court's form or one that is similar, as long as it gives the Court all of the information that it needs:
  1. a brief but clear statement why the plaintiff owes the defendant money; and
  2. how much money the defendant thinks s/he should get from the plaintiff.
  3. The counterclaim must be filed at least 7 days before the hearing.
  4. It must be accompanied by a filing fee of $50.00.
  5. The defendant must serve a copy of the counterclaim on the plaintiff. (See V. Service Requirements)

V. Service Requirements

Whenever you file a document of any kind with the Court (with the exception of the complaint) you must serve a copy of the document filed on the opposing party. You accomplish this by mailing or hand delivering a copy to the opposing party at his/her last known address.
You must prove to the Court that you served the opposing party by adding a statement to the document informing the Court of the date and manner of service. For Example: A copy of the foregoing document was mailed on the 1st day of May, 2002 to John Doe at 11 Anywhere Road, Zanesville, Ohio, 43701.

VI. What to Expect at the Hearing

A. How to Prepare
Remember: This is your only chance to prove your case. If you are the plaintiff, it is your job to prove that the defendant owes you money. You must also have evidence to prove how much the defendant owes you. If you are a defendant and you filed a counterclaim you must prove that the plaintiff owes you money on your counterclaim and you must have evidence to prove how much the plaintiff owes you.
Make sure you have all of the documents that you need. Bring all papers that you believe will assist you in your claim. (Such as contracts, canceled checks, bills, receipts and letters.) Remember: You have to prove that you are entitled to recover and you must also prove the amount that you are entitled to recover.
Make sure you bring any physical evidence that you need. If you need photographs, or wish to show the Court an object to help prove your claim make sure you bring them with you to court. Make sure you bring any witnesses you need to testify on your behalf. Letters and affidavits stating what your witnesses would say if they were present, though considered, normally do not carry as much weight as does a live witness.
B. What Happens at The Hearing
You should appear at Court a short time before your case is scheduled to make sure you are on time. Report to the clerk's office and a clerk will tell you where to go.
Your case will be heard before a Judge. The plaintiff will have the first opportunity to tell his side of the story. The defendant will then be given an opportunity to tell his side of the story. Small claims hearings can take anywhere from ten to forty-five minutes. You should, however, be prepared to stay longer if necessary.
Helpful Hints:
Make sure your documents are organized before you come to Court. Also make sure that you have your thoughts organized so you can explain the situation as clearly and concisely as possible.
All of your statements should be brief and to the point. Follow the instructions given to you by the Judge. Do not interrupt when the other side is testifying. Both sides will be given an opportunity to speak.

VII. The Decision

At the end of the hearing the Judge will either announce his/her decision or take the matter under consideration. In either case both parties will receive a copy of a written report containing the Judge’s decision within thirty days of the hearing (unless extraordinary circumstances require longer).

VIII. Objecting The Decision

A. When To Object
If you do not agree with the Judge’s decision you have fourteen days to object to it. The opposing party then has ten days in which to file a reply to those objections the opposing party must be served with a copy of the objection and reply.
B. How To Object
Your objections must be made in writing and filed with the court. They should be brief and to the point. They should tell the Judge exactly why you think the decision is wrong. It is important to note:
  • The Judge will not consider new evidence that you did not produce at the hearing.
  • If you disagree with the Judge’s determination as to what the facts are in your case you must file a transcript of the proceedings with your objections.