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Small Claims: Frequently Asked Questions

How are Small Claims cases conducted?

All 36th District Court Small Claims cases are first scheduled for mediation with the Wayne Mediation Center. Mediation provides the parties with an opportunity to bring their dispute before a neutral facilitator who has been trained to aid in dispute resolution. Mediators make no determination of right or wrong, they simply aid in the search for equitable resolution between parties.

If the parties cannot settle their case through mediation, a trial is immediately held before a 36th District Court magistrate. During the trial, all parties present their sides of the case. It is important that you bring to court any records, evidence or witnesses to support your case. You should be prepared to state your case clearly and completely. After testimony and evidence is presented, the magistrate will make a decision.

A magistrate is a lawyer appointed by the Chief Judge of a court, who has certain powers and duties which include Small Claim trials.

What kinds of results can occur after a Small Claims Mediation or Trial?

If both parties are present at a hearing, the following can occur:

  • The parties reach a resolution through mediation and a judgment is entered             

  • The plaintiff or defendant wishes to obtain legal counsel, a jury trial or have a District Court judge hear the case and files a Demand and Order for Removal transferring the case to the General Civil docket

  • The parties fail to reach a resolution through mediation and continue with a trial before a magistrate, after which the magistrate makes a decision (enters a judgment) or

  • The magistrate rules that the plaintiff has no cause of action to sue and dismisses the case

  • If the plaintiff fails to appear or provide a proof of service the case may be dismissed. If the defendant was properly served and fails to appear a default judgment may be entered against the defendant

Can either party appeal the decision of a magistrate?

Yes. The decision of a magistrate at a Small Claims trial can be appealed. You must file your appeal with the Civil Division within 7 days of the entry of judgment. Appeals are scheduled within 21 days after the filing on a 36th District Court Judge’s docket. The decision of the judge is final. There is no appeal of the judge’s decision.

What happens if a Default Judgment or Dismissal is entered on the case?

If the defendant was properly served, fails to appear and a Default Judgment is entered against the defendant, the defendant has 21 days to file a Motion to Set Aside the Judgment. The motion must be filed at the Civil/Landlord Tenant Division counter on the 2nd floor.  A $20.00 motion fee is required along with the cost of $1.00 for the form.

The plaintiff has 21 days following the hearing date to file a Motion to Set Aside the Dismissal (if the defendant was properly served). A $20.00 motion fee is required and the cost of the form is $1.00.

Generally, two weeks after the motion is filed, the Magistrate decides either to grant or deny the motion (no hearing is required for this motion). The parties will be advised by mail if the motion was granted or denied. If the motion to set aside is granted, a new court date is set. These motions cannot be appealed.

What happens if either party in the lawsuit does not show up for the hearing?

If the plaintiff fails to appear for the mediation hearing or trial, the case is dismissed. If the defendant fails to appear and was properly served, the magistrate enters a default judgment against the defendant.  If the defendant was not properly served, then another hearing will be scheduled (if the Small Claim Affidavit has not expired) and the defendant must be served. Parties are notified of Default Judgments and Dismissals by mail.

Can an appeal be made of either a dismissal of default judgment?

No. Per MCLA 600.8427 only trials before a magistrate can be appealed.

What happens if the Court enters a judgment against the defendant?

When the court enters a judgment against the defendant, the plaintiff is solely responsible for collecting the money judgment.  At the hearing, a Small Claims Judgment form is completed detailing what the plaintiff was awarded and the defendant’s responsibility to pay.  Defendants have 21 days from the date of the judgment to voluntarily pay or file a Motion for Installment Payments ($20.00 Motion Fee required). The Small Claims Judgment form is available at the Civil/Landlord Tenant Division counter for $1.00.

What can the plaintiff do if the defendant does not voluntarily pay the judgment?

If after 21 days from the judgment being entered, no payment has been received the plaintiff may file any or all of the following:

·         Writ of Periodic Garnishment (wage garnishment)

·         Writ of Non-Periodic Garnishment (typically bank account garnishment)

·         Tax Garnishment (State of Michigan garnishment)

All garnishments require a $15.00 filing fee and may be served by certified mail, a process server or a Court Officer.

Additionally the plaintiff may file an Order of Seizure of Property. This Order authorizes a Court Officer or Deputy Sheriff to take possession of personal property of the defendant to be sold in order to pay the judgment.  Orders for Seizure require a $15 filing fee.

If the plaintiff does not have sufficient information about the defendant to file a Writ of Garnishment, the plaintiff may file a Discovery Subpoena and schedule a creditor’s exam.  The Discovery Subpoena requires a $15.00 filing fee.  Contact the Court regarding service of the subpoena.

What happens once the judgment has been paid in full?

If the defendant pays the judgment in full. The plaintiff must file a Satisfaction of Judgment form in order for the Court’s record to be updated. The form is available at a cost of $1.00 at the Civil Division counter at 36th District Court.

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