Small Claims Court Defendents

Small Claims Court Defendents

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.

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What I Need to Know
What I Need to Know

Information icon About Small Claims Court

What I Need to Know to Respond to a Case Filed Against Me in Small Claims County Court.

 

  • I cannot have a lawyer in Small Claims Court.
    • 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 cannot be sued if I am a
    • Service member while in active military service of their country or for a year after active duty
    • U.S. citizen serving with military forces during a military conflict.
  • I can file a counterclaim or setoff in response to the claim filed against me. 
    • A counterclaim says that the person suing me owes money or property to me. 
    • A setoff admits that I owe the person suing me some money, but they also owe me money.
    • I must file the counterclaim or setoff with the court and give the other party notice at least two days before the trial.
  • I can have the small claims case transferred to the regular county court civil calendar if:
    • My setoff or counterclaim is more than the small claims court limit ($3,900) or
    • I want to have a lawyer represent me in court or
    • I want to have a jury trial.   

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 here.
What are my options?
What are my options?

Option 1: Settle the Issue Without Going to Court

Talk to the person(s) who are suing you and see if you can reach an agreement.  You have more control of the outcome because a judge is not making the final decision. 

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.

Option 2:  Do Nothing

You can choose to do nothing if you receive notice that someone has filed a lawsuit against you.

However, if you choose to do nothing:

  • The county court may enter a default judgment against you.  That means that the person who filed the small claims case against you may get what they asked for.
  • If the county court enters a default judgment against you and you want to challenge it:
    • You can appeal the default judgment.
    • You can file a motion for a new trial, within 10 days or less after entry of the default judgment,
    • If more than ten days have passed since the default judgment, you can ask the county court to set aside, vacate, or modify the default judgment. You can have a lawyer help you file a motion for a new trial or to set aside, vacate, or modify a default judgment.

Option 3: Go to Court

The case will proceed to trial on the date noted on your Notice. See the next tab for information on how to prepare for your court date.

If You Go to Court
If You Go to Court

Step 1:  Prepare for Your 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.
  • For more information you need to know before going to county court, click here

You will be required to explain to the judge why you should not have to pay the award requested by the plaintiff.

  • Decide and write down:
    • What you want the judge to do for you.
    • What you will say to the judge when you are asked to tell your side of the case.
    •  Questions you have for witnesses, if there are any, or for the plaintiff.
  •  Prepare your evidence.
    • Gather and make copies of pictures and documents you want the judge to see.
    • Examples may be items that were damaged, items that caused damage, defective item that you bought or a diagram of the scene of an accident.
    • Bring the original for the judge and a copy for the plaintiff and any other defendants.
    • Print out pictures taken with your phone, or the judge will have to keep your phone as evidence. 
  • Consider and contact your witnesses if you have any.
    • Bring to county court people who can confirm or support your side of the dispute. 
    • A written statement from a witness is not allowed, because that does not give the other side a chance to ask questions.
    • If your witnesses won’t come to county court voluntarily or if they need an order to get excused from their job or school, complete the form Request for Subpoena (CC 4:6)
    • 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.  
  • 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. 

Counterclaims and Setoffs

  • A counterclaim is a statement that the person who filed the small claims action owes you money or property.
  • A setoff admits that you owe some money to the plaintiff, but that the plaintiff  also owes you money. 
  • If your defense to the small claims case is that the plaintiff owes you, complete this form and file it with the county court so that the judge can consider your counterclaim or setoff at the time of the hearing. 
  • File the counterclaim or setoff with the county court and have notice served on the plaintiff at least two days before the trial. 
  • If the setoff or counterclaim exceeds the small claims court limit, the case will be transferred to the regular county court calendar. 

Transfer of Cases from Small Claims Court

  • You may remove the case from small claims court and have it considered as a regular civil case in the county court if
    • Your counterclaim or setoff are more than $3900,
    • You want to have a lawyer represent you, or
    • You want a jury to hear and decide your case.
  • Request the transfer at least two days before the scheduled small claims hearing using this the form Notice of Transfer to Civil Docket (CC 4:3).
  • Pay the difference in fees between the small claims court and the regular docket of county court. 
  • After the transfer, both the defendant and the plaintiff may have a lawyer represent them during the trial and the case will follow the civil process.  You or your lawyer can also ask for a jury trial at the time the transfer is requested.

Step 2: Present Your Case:

  • On the date of the hearing, the judge will call the plaintiff to present their case first. The plaintiff may:    
    • Tell the judge the facts and details of the case. 
    • Offer evidence to the judge.        
    • Call witnesses to testify. 
  • 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           
  • After the plaintiff and witnesses talk, the judge will call on you to ask questions of each of them, if you wish.  
    •  When the plaintiff is finished presenting his/her case, the judge will call on you to respond. 
    • 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.
    • Offer evidence to the judge. 
    • 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 testify, the defendant can ask you and your witnesses questions.
  • If the judge asks you questions, answer them clearly and directly. 
  • Show respect to everyone in the courtroom, including the Plaintiff.

Step 3: 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 the plaintiff all or part of the money claimed or find that you do not owe any money. 
  • If you filed a counterclaim or setoff, the judge may find that the plaintiff owes you money.  
  • Get a copy of the 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” and send you the judgment by email or by regular mail if you don’t have email.   
  • If the judge finds that money is owed to either party, interest will accrue on the judgment from the date of the judge’s order until it is paid at the rate specified on the Judgement Interest Rate Chart unless a contract exists setting the rate differently. 
  • If the judge orders a small claims judgment resulting from an automobile accident, the judgment debtor’s driver’s license will be suspended if the judgment is not paid within 60 days. 
  • If you disagree with the judgment, you have 30 days to file an appeal to the district court.
  • Information on filing appeals.


Step 4: Collecting the Judgment


Step 5:  Satisfying the judgment

  • If you pay the plaintiff directly, ask the plaintiff to sign and file a Satisfaction of Judgment (CC 4:8) with the county court so the record will show you have paid in full. 
Rules & Laws
Rules & Laws