In a down economy, many people and businesses are looking to collect on smaller debts… often taking action without counsel. As we discuss in our Terms of Service, the following is not legal advice, but simply information, and it is no substitute for a good lawyer in your area.
A discussion of the in’s and out’s of this area of practice springs from an October 28, 2009 presentation at the Palm Beach County Main Library in a Small Claims Court Clinic. The Sun-Sentinel recently ran this story, “Need a Cheap Attorney? Hire Yourself.” The Powerpoint presentation, created by the Palm Beach County Bar Association Small Claims Court Committee (Lloyd Comiter, Chairperson) is here.
Small Claims Issues:
1. What Rules Apply and Where Can I Find Them? You will need the Florida Small Claims Rules. You also should review Florida Rules of Civil Procedure 1.090, 1.190, 1.260, 1.410, and 1.560.
2. Where Can I File Suit? Roughly speaking, look to where the contract (or note) was signed; where the defendant or person who signed the contract/note resides; where event occurred; where defendant(s) live; where subject property is located; where a payment is due to be made; or a venue stated in contract.
3. What Do I File? The Plaintiff (person suing) files a Statement of Claim (the small claims rules provides 6 templates which can be used or tailored). The Defendant (person being sued) does not need to file anything.
4. What Deadlines are Important? All deadlines are important but be mindful of: (1) pre-trial conference shall be within 35 days of filing Statement, (2) counterclaims must be filed 5 days before conference, (3) you can request a jury trial in writing at or before the conference, and (4) trial will be within 60 days of the conference.
5. Tricks to Watch For: (1) pro se party will not have to respond to written requests (discovery) unless they ask first — so if the other side has a lawyer, do not open that trap, (2) summary judgment does not exist under the Fla.R.Civ.P. but does under Rule 7.135, (3) likewise, while the Fla.R.Civ.P. do not apply, in theory you could still serve a Proposal for Settlement under F.S. 768.79, (4) rules of evidence are liberal but still there Rule 7.140(f), and (5) court can advise you on order of evidence but not rules of law… in short, you cannot expect too much guidance (just patience) from the bench. Rule 7.140(e).
6. Other sources: consider this online book, How to Win in Small Claims Court in Florida. It is 7+ years old so be warned that rules and procedures have changed.