Connecticut Small Claims Process
The Connecticut Small Claims Court currently has a jurisdictional limit of $5,000.00. The current filing fee is $95.00 and a service feeof about $6.00 per defendant and if the plaintiff (creditor) is successful in obtaining a judgment against the defendant (judgment debtor), the court will add these costs to the judgment.
The suit process begins with the preparation of a small claims complaint (or “writ”) outlining the debt and the amount claimed. The writ needs to be signed by the plaintiff and acknowledged before a notary public verifying that the amount claimed is accurate. The writ contains a “Military Affidavit” section which also needs to be signed and notarized indicating that the defendant is not in the active duty military service
Typically this office will verify military status by utilizing the defendant’s social security number and checking with the Department of Defence Manpower Website. If a social security number is not available an affidavit based on personal knowledge of the plaintiff as to the defendant’s age, employment status, etc. may be prepared or a Marshal or other indifferent person may be enlisted to make inquiry with neighbors etc. to learn military status.
The “military affidavit” is required because a default judgment will not be entered against an active duty member of the armed services. (Special procedures need to be filed if the defendant is active duty military.)
This office also prepares an “Affidavit of Debt” form for the plaintiff to sign and have notarized which is also submitted to the clerk, providing details of the debt owed.
Upon receipt of the properly signed and notarized writ we mail notice of suit and these materials to the defendant(s). Upon receiving confirmation of delivery, we e-file all of these materials with the clerk of the court. The clerk will process the paperwork, assign a docket number and an “Answer Date” to the case and send additional notice to the defendant by first class mail.
All filings are submitted to the “Centralized Small Claims” clerk’s office in Hartford. Any necessary hearings are still conducted at the appropriate local courthouse.
The clerk sends a Notice of Suit to the parties with an indication of the “Answer Date.” If the Notice of Suit mailed to the defendant is returned by the postal service, the clerk will enter a new extended Answer Date and mail the documents to this office for service upon the defendant by a marshal.
If the service is completed and a judgment is then obtained, the court will add the cost of the Marshal’s service to the judgment. If the debtor cannot be located (P.O. Boxes are unacceptable) no judgment can be obtained.
The “Answer” form provided to the defendant offers (by way of boxes to check) an option to deny the claim, and to provide a reason, or to admit the claim, and request time to pay.
If the defendant pays the debt in full to this office we file a “withdrawal” form with the clerk, and the lawsuit is terminated. Other suitable payment arrangements may result in a withdrawal being filed.
If the defendant submits a denial the clerk’s office will schedule a Trial and send written notice to the parties.
If an admission is submitted with an offer of periodic payments, the plaintiff is provided notice of this and an opportunity to accept the defendant’s payment plan. If the payment plan is not accepted or an admission of the debt is not clear (or the paperwork submitted is deficient) the court will schedule a Hearing in Damages.
“Counterclaims” are often submitted which in reality are nothing more than a defense to the underlying claim for money. There is a $90.00 filling fee for such a claim. Any type of Counterclaim must be denied in writing by this office on behalf of the plaintiff. This will result in the court scheduling a trial on both the original claim and the counterclaim and both claims will be decided at the same hearing.
If the defendant does not submit an Answer or any reply by the Answer Date, a default judgment will usually be entered by the court if all the paperwork (including clear billing material and an Affidavit of Debt) is in order.
If a defendant does not appear at a scheduled hearing or trial, the plaintiff will usually obtain a judgment by default provided all paperwork is in order (supporting billing information, reasonably calculable damages, signed and sworn complaint and military affidavit etc.)
The court will grant each party one reasonable request for a postponement or “continuance” of a scheduled hearing. Either party must inform the other of the request (or attempt to do so), continuances by agreement are always granted, but the number of requests allowed are limited.
If a defendant makes a partial payment and needs more time to pay within a short period, a continuance is usually agreed to and a withdrawal filed when the debt is paid in full.
When represented by an attorney, the plaintiff need not be present for certain hearings, but at any type of trial it is necessary for a representative of the plaintiff to appear in case testimony is needed.
If both sides are present at a scheduled trial the parties are instructed by the court to meet in the hall outside the courtroom, exchange copies of documents and are encouraged to reach a settlement of the claim. Many disputes are often resolved in this manner, or at least the issues are narrowed.
Those claims that cannot be resolved in this fashion will be heard by the court and a written judgment will be rendered and mailed to the parties or their attorney within a week or two.
If the defendant does not appear a default judgment will usually be entered in favour of the plaintiff. All judgments of the Small Claims Court are final and unappealable. The court usually orders periodic payments (typically $35.00 per week) to commence about 21 days after the entry of judgment. In Connecticut the law provides that interest will accrue on any instalment payment order at the statutory rate with important exceptions.
If the court ordered judgment payments are not timely paid, the law allows for the creditor to apply for a bank of wage execution (garnishments). The current filing fee is $105.00, which is added by the court to the judgment. Only one type of garnishment is allowed at a time. Executions can result in substantial additional expenses to the defendant if money is garnished. Property executions are also available. A Marshal is utilized to serve an execution on the debtor’s bank or employer. The Marshal’s fee is paid out of the debtor’s funds.
A judgment creditor can also file a judgment lien on any real estate of the judgment debtor as security to ensure the debt gets paid, regardless of whether the debtor is making the court ordered payments.
The debtor can file a Motion to Open Judgment for good cause (currently $75.00 filing fee) such as, not ever having received notice of the suit. A hearing will be scheduled on such a motion and the plaintiff must be prepared to attend and give evidence of the debt again. If such a motion is granted usually a trial on the merits will be held at the same time.
When the judgment is paid off including any allowable costs or interest, the judgment creditor must prepare and file a Satisfaction of Judgment form with the court and provide the debtor a Release of Judgment Lien if one has been filed.