Filing a Small Claims Case

Filing a Small Claims Case

Small claims court provides a prompt and inexpensive way to resolve minor disputes. Legal procedures are held to a minimum and lawyers may not participate. Small claims court is a division of county court and the hearings are conducted by a county judge. Small claims court is limited to civil (non-criminal) actions involving disputes over amounts of money owed, damage to property, or seeking the return of personal property. Small claims cases are limited to $3,900.

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Getting Started
Getting Started

Information icon About Small Claims Court

  • I cannot have a lawyer in the Small Claims Court.

I can file a small claims case if:

  • I am an individual, partnership, corporation, union, association, or any other kind of organization or entity. 
    • A partner or an employee can represent a partnership.
    • An officer or employee can represent a corporation. 
    • A member or an employee can represent a union, association, or other organization.
  • I was directly involved in the event resulting in the claim.
    • I cannot file a claim assigned to me by someone else.
  • I am suing for payment or return of property worth $3,900.00 or less.
  • I am not suing a:
    • Service member while he or she is active military service or for a year after active duty; or
    • U.S. Citizen serving with military forces during a military conflict.
  • I have not already filed 2 small claims cases this week or 10 small claims cases this calendar year.
  • In most situations, a small claims case is filed within two years of the event.

Filing the Case:

  • I can file a small claims case by taking or mailing the form Plaintiff’s Claim and Notice to Defendant to the Clerk of the County Court’s office in the county  where the Defendant lives or where the event happened.
  • I will be asked to pay the filing fees and court costs. 
    • Nebraska law determines filing fees, and court costs: Filing Fees and Court Costs
    • If I cannot afford to pay the filing fees or costs, I can ask the judge to waive payment of the fees.
  • I must notify the person(s)/business I am suing of the claim and of the County Court date.
    • I can give them this information by sending the papers by certified mail or by arranging for the County Sheriff to give them the papers.  When the Sheriff gives them the papers, it is called “service.”
    • The Sheriff will require a deposit of the fees they charge for service.  Contact the Sheriff’s office to find out how much that deposit will be.  A listing of Sheriff’s Offices is listed here:  Sheriffs (nesheriffsassoc.org) 
    • Constables are also available to serve papers in Douglas County and Lancaster County.
  • I will need to prove my claim to the judge. 
    •  If I have evidence and witnesses to support, my claim I will bring them to court.
  • The person(s)/business I am suing can file a counterclaim or setoff in response to my claim.
    • A counterclaim says that I am the one that owes money or property to the person(s)/business I am suing.
    • A setoff admits that the person(s)/business I am suing owes me some money but claims that I also owe them money.
    • The person(s)/business I am suing must file the counterclaim or setoff with the court and serve me notice at least two days before the trial.
  • The person(s)/business I am suing can have the small claims case transferred to the regular County Court Civil calendar if:
    • The setoff or counterclaim is more than the small claims court limit; or
    • The person(s)/business I am suing wants to have a lawyer represent them or have a jury trial.
  • Being awarded a judgment does not guarantee I will collect my money, however:
    •  Legal steps are available to garnish wages, bank accounts or send a sheriff after personal property to collect the debt owed to you.
    • If the judgment is the result of an automobile accident, the person you are suing will have his license suspended if the judgment is not paid within 60 days.
    • A judgment will appear on the defendant’s credit history and, if not paid, may affect his/her ability to get a loan in the future.               

Some of the words I may hear in small claims court are:

  • The person filing the case is called the “Plaintiff.” 
  • The person or business being sued is called the “Defendant.”
  • Other words I may hear in small claims court can be found at the: Small Claims Glossary.

 

  • If you need other information about whether or not small claims court is right for your situation, you can find legal resources at Legal Resources & Information
What I Need to Know
What I Need to Know

checklist icon For me to complete the forms and participate in the court hearing, I will need:

  • Your full name
  • Your email address
  • Your phone numbers
  • Your complete address
  • The correct name and current address of the person(s) or businesses you are suing.
    • If you are suing an unincorporated business, the full legal name of the business and the name of the owner.

      • You can get that information from the agreement, if one was signed, or from the business’s website, signs, or advertising.

    • If you are suing an incorporated business, the corporate name and the person who needs to receive legal papers can be found at the Nebraska Secretary of State's website or by calling the Nebraska Secretary of State Business Services at 402-471- 4079.

  • A receipt, estimate, or agreement that proves the amount of damages or expenses  that shows you are not asking for more than $3900. 

    • You can attach it to the small claims form when you file it or give it to the judge as an exhibit at the hearing.

How to File
How to File

Step-By-Step Instructions:

You must complete all steps to file your case.

 

Start here First Steps:

Step 1:  Read Instructions and Complete Plaintiff’s Claim and Notice to Defendant Form.

  • The court will complete the Notice of Hearing portion when you file the form.

NOTE:

  • If you cannot afford to pay the filing fee, complete the form: Financial Affidavit  (CC 6:1).
  • Select the check box which says, “I am unable to pay filing fees for the case I am bringing before the court.” 

 

Step 2:  Take or mail the completed form(s) and filing fees to the office of the county court. 

The county court will:    

  • File your claim.
  • Give you a receipt for your payment or file your financial    affidavit for     the judge’s consideration.
  • Schedule a hearing date for you to go to court; and
  • Return one copy of the claim and notice of the court date for you and one copy that will need to be served to the defendant.


Step 3:  Serve notice of the claim and the hearing date on the defendant(s).

You may serve notice of a small claims case by:

  • Sheriff:
    • Contact the sheriff’s office in the county where the defendent is to be served. The Sheriff's office can tell you the fees necessary for service.
    • Take or mail your claim and notice of hearing to the sheriff’s office with the required fees.
      • If you file your small claims case by mail, you may send a separate check or money order made out to the sheriff for service fees.
    • The sheriff’s office will tell you if they are able to serve the person(s)/business you are suing and will refund any overpayment.  
  • Constable:  (Douglas or Lancaster County only)
    • Contact the constable’s office in thecounty where the defendent is to be served. The Sheriff's office can tell you the fees necessary for service.
    • Take or mail your claim and notice of hearing to the constable’s office with the required fees.
      • If you file your small claims case by mail, you may send the court a separate check or money order made out to the constable for service fees.
    • The constable will tell you when/if the person(s)/business you are suing has been served and will refund any   overpayment.
  • Certified mail:
    • Send the claim and notice of hearing to the defendant(s) by certified mail, restricted delivery, return receipt required, within 10 days of filing your claim with the county court.
      • Although Restricted Delivery is not required by statute,  most judges will require proof of service upon the actual defendant, as opposed to just any person at the defendant’s address, prior to entering a default judgment against the defendant if he or she does not appear at the scheduled hearing.) 
    • Instructions for certified mailing and the form to file the return (proof of service) with the county court are here: Small Claims Certified Mail Return (CC-4:5).
    • The defendant must sign for the certified letter. When you get the green certified mail receipt back with the defendant’s signature:
      • Attach the green return receipt(s) signed by the defendant(s) to the return form and
      • File it with the county court before the hearing date. (See instructions on the back of the return form.)

The case cannot be heard on the scheduled date if the defendant does not sign for the certified letter or if the sheriff cannot locate the defendant to serve him/her papers.

  • Contact the county court to arrange a new hearing date and another attempt to serve the defendants. 
  • Provide a new address if the individual has moved or arrange for sheriff’s service, for example, if the defendant does not sign for the certified mail.


Step 4:  Consider if it is possible to settle your case.

  • You may want to try to settle your case before the trial.
  • Mediation. It may be helpful to have a professional mediator help you work with the person(s) with whom you have a court case. This process is called “mediation.”
    • You and the other person(s) are responsible for developing a solution that works for both sides.
    • The mediator helps with communication and negotiation; the mediator does not decide what the outcome should be. The mediator can also write out the agreement for you and the other person(s) to sign.
    • Nebraska has six (6) court-approved mediation centers throughout the state to assist people with settling disputes.
    • Mediation can be in person, virtual, such as through Zoom, or a combination.
    • If you think mediation would be helpful, contact the Mediation Center  for your county.
    • For small claims cases, some counties offer mediation services at the courthouse   on the same day as your hearing. Court staff or the mediation center can tell you if this is an option in your county.
  • If you reach an agreement, notify the county court before the time set for trial and the case will be dismissed or a judgment entered according to your agreement.
    • For the protection of all participants, the notice of settlement and request for dismissal should be in writing
    • Filing fees are not refundable.
      1. The form for Motion for Dismissal:  Dismissal (Small Claims Court) (CC 4:7)


Step 5:  Prepare for the court date.

  • Look at the paperwork you were given. Know where you are going and try to be there at least 15 minutes early.  Call the county court clerk prior to your court day if you have any questions.
  • You must explain to the judge why you should get the award you have requested.
  1. Decide and write it down.
    1. What you want the judge to do for you.
    2. What you will say to the judge if you are asked to tell your side of the case.
    3. Questions you have for witnesses, if there are any, or for the defendant.
  2. Prepare your evidence:
    1. Gather and make copies of pictures and documents you want the judge to see.
    2. Examples may be items that were damaged, items that caused damage, defective items that you bought or a diagram of the scene of an accident.
    3. Bring the original for the judge and a copy for each of the defendants.
    4. Print out pictures taken with your phone, or the judge will have to keep your phone as evidence. 
  • If you have witnesses who can confirm or support your side of the dispute
    • Bring your witnesses to court.
    • A written statement from a witness is not allowed, because that does not give the person(s) you are suing the opportunity to ask questions.
    • If your witnesses won’t come to court voluntarily or if they need an order to get    excused from their job or school, you must complete a Request for Subpoena: Praecipe for Subpoena.
    • Pay a fee of $8 and mileage for each witness.
    • Arrange for service by sheriff or constable to serve the witness for the witnesses to be compelled to attend and testify.  
  • Consider how to dress and behave when you go to county court. 
  • If you cannot go to court on the date scheduled, you can request a continuance.
    • A continuance (moving the trial to a later date) is  allowed only for good reasons.
    • The local county court staff can advise you about the judge's policy concerning continuances.
      • Generally, the closer to trial a continuance is requested, the more compelling a reason must be for the county court to consider the request.
      • Forty-eight (48) hours is often the cutoff for continuances, to allow you to notify the defendant(s) of the new date. 

 

Step 7:  Present your case.

On the date of your hearing, the judge will call you (the Plaintiff) to present your case first.

  • Tell the judge the facts and details of the case.
  • Be brief and stick to the facts.
  • Present the events in the order they happened.
  • Do not interrupt or argue with any witnesses.
  • Listen carefully so that you can tell the judge if there is something you disagree with or need to explain.
  • If you brought witnesses:
  • Ask the judge to call your witnesses forward to speak.
  • Ask the witnesses questions about the case, so that the judge can hear their answers. 
  • After you and each of your witnesses testifies, the defendant can ask each of you questions.
  • Offer your evidence to the judge.
  • If the judge asks you questions, answer them clearly and directly.
  • Show respect to everyone in the courtroom, including the defendant. 

After you finish presenting your case, the person(s) you are suing will respond.    The defendant may:

  • Tell his/her side of the story.
  • Ask questions from his/her witnesses.
  • Present evidence.

After the defendant and defense witnesses testify, you can ask each of them questions when they have finished speaking.


Step 8:  The Judge’s Decision

  • After hearing both sides, the judge will make a decision called a judgment and put it in writing. The judge may award you all or part of the money claimed or find that the defendant does not owe you any money.  
  • If the defendant chooses not to appear for the hearing and does not request or receive a continuance, the county court may, after hearing your evidence, award a default judgment to you without the defendant being present.
  • Get a copy of the judgment order before you leave county court.  If the case requires additional time for the judge to consider what he/she has heard, the judge may take the case “under advisement” to study and think about it later.  When that happens, the county court will send you the judgment by email or by regular mail if you don’t have email.
  • If you win the case, the defendant owes you the amount on the Order.  Interest will accrue on the judgment from the date of the judge’s order until it is paid. 
  • Unless you have a contract, which sets the rate differently, interest will be set at the rate specified on Judgment Interest Rate Chart .
  • If the judge hears the case and finds against you, you have 30 days to file an appeal to the district court. Appealing or Setting Aside A County Court Civil or Small Claims Judgment.

 

Step 9:  Collecting Your Judgment

  • The defendant may pay you voluntarily, but if he/she does not, you may have to enforce your judgment through the county court.
  • If the judge finds against you on a counterclaim or setoff, the defendant can collect that judgment through the court.
  • If a judgment is entered on a claim on an automobile accident, the debtor’s driver’s license will be suspended if he/she doesn’t pay within 60 days.
  • You can find more information on collecting your money after a judgment. Collecting Your Money After A Judgment & Information for Judgment Debtor 

 

Step 10:  After Collecting Your Judgment, file a Satisfaction.

When you have been paid in full, you must file a satisfaction with the county court. Satisfaction of Judgment (CC 4:8)

Laws & Rules
Laws & Rules

To All Persons Representing Themselves:

  • You are responsible for all steps.
  • You are responsible for all information provided.
  • Court staff cannot give legal advice. If legal advice is needed visit Nebraska Find-a-Lawyer.
  • Court staff cannot complete the forms for you or on your behalf.
  • Court staff cannot correct any of the information you include on the forms.
  • Write clearly. Check spelling. Forms that cannot be read or are incomplete may result in the court denying your claim or additional court hearings and possibly added expense. 
  • Courts may have additional local rules. The court staff will guide you through those extra steps.  You will be required to complete them.