If you plan to file a document, please note:
the FCMC Clerk's Office closes at 4:30pm.
1. What is a small claim? (back to top)
A small claim is a lawsuit involving money damages up to $6,000. The small claims court uses a streamlined process for hearing cases and there is no jury. You can claim only money damages, not the return of property or the completion of services. You may not recover “punitive damages,” and you may not recover any money you paid in gathering evidence or coming to court (travel expenses, lost wages, baby-sitting, parking, etc. cannot be claimed). You may add any court fees or court costs to the amount of your claim.
2. I heard Mediation is a no-cost alternative to filing a lawsuit, how do I request mediation? (back to top)
Mediation is a voluntary process where you meet with the other party or parties involved in the dispute and a neutral mediator, to reach a settlement outside of court. The mediator helps the parties resolve their differences through negotiation. A mediator is not a judge and does not decide if either party is “right” or “wrong.” The mediator will not force any party to accept a settlement that is not acceptable to everyone. The mediator’s role and the goal of mediation are to help parties achieve an agreement. The mediator will help the parties prepare written terms of the agreement.
Here are some of the advantages of mediation:
To mediate your dispute before you file your complaint speak with a staff member in the small claims office or call 614-645-8611 or email the office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, mediation is quicker, less expensive, and an easier way to resolve your dispute. Please see Mediation for more information.
3. Do I need an attorney? (back to top)
4. Is Small Claims Court the right place for my lawsuit? (Jurisdiction and Venue) (back to top)
Your lawsuit is appropriate for the Franklin County Small Claims Court if it meets the court’s requirements for both jurisdiction and venue. Jurisdiction is the court’s authority to hear a particular type of case. The Small Claims Division only has the authority to hear cases for money damages that do not exceed $6,000, not including interest and court costs – no other relief is permitted. No “punitive damages” may be awarded. The court does not have the authority to hear cases involving libel, slander, malicious prosecution, or abuse of legal process. You may not file a small claims case against the State of Ohio or the United States of America.
Venue means the territory (usually, a specific county) where a case may be heard. Generally, the Franklin County Small Claims Court is a proper venue if either the incident or transaction giving rise to the lawsuit occurred in Franklin County, or the defendant either lives in, or regularly conducts business in Franklin County, Ohio.
5. Who are the parties in a small claims case? (back to top)
The plaintiff is the party who files a complaint. As the plaintiff, you may claim money that is due to you only—you may not file a case to collect someone else’s money. The party you seek payment from is the defendant. If you are a defendant, please see the Guide to Defending a Small Claims Lawsuit.
6. Who can file a small claims case and who can be sued? (back to top)
Individuals or business entities such as corporations, limited liability companies, or partnerships are parties that may sue and be sued in small claims court. It is very important that you list each party accurately. If there is more than one plaintiff or more than one defendant, list each one separately.
General Enterprises, Inc.
You should not list officers, employees, or other agents of the corporation as defendants unless you also have claims against them personally. As a rule, a principal (such as the corporation) is responsible for the acts of its agents (such as employees, officers, etc.) only if the agents act within the scope of their duties with their principal. If you decide to add any of these individuals as defendants, be sure to explain their personal responsibility to you in the complaint.
If you are filing against a corporation and you cannot determine a regular business address, you may name the corporation through its Statutory Agent. The Statutory Agent is a person appointed by the corporation, who can receive notice when the corporation is sued. You can get the name and address of the Statutory Agent from the records at the Secretary of State’s office by visiting http://www5.sos.state.oh.us/ords/f?p=100:1, by calling toll-free 877-767-3453, or by e-mailing email@example.com. It is important to note that the Statutory Agent is not a defendant, but can accept Court notices for the corporation.
Columbus Example, LLC
Rental Properties of FCMC, a partnership
Bill Buckeye, D.B.A. Jane's Restaurant
7. What do I need to do to file a small claim? (back to top)
A lawsuit begins in the Small Claims Division when you (Plaintiff) file a complaint with the Clerk of Courts. Pre-printed complaint forms and instructions are available at no charge in the Small Claims Division. To obtain the forms and instructions you may call or visit the Small Claims Division, or you may download the forms at the Court Forms section of this site. You may also send a self-addressed stamped envelope to the Small Claims division requesting the forms and instructions.
Before you file your case, you can schedule a mediation session. Mediation is a free service. Mediation can help you avoid the cost and time it takes to have your case decided by the Court. For more information about mediation, please see question 2. I heard Mediation is a no-cost alternative to court action, how do I request mediation? To schedule a mediation please call 614-645-8611 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To begin the legal process you must complete and return to the Clerk of Courts a Complaint and the Clerk of Court’s Civil Cover Sheet.
8. How do I fill out the complaint form? (back to top)
The information below is to help you write your complaint. Filing the complaint begins the legal process. The 5 steps below refer to the preprinted complaint form provided by the Small Claims Division.
Step 1: List the Parties
Step 2: Answer the Yes/No questions by marking the appropriate box
To find out whether a person is in the military service of the United States contact:
Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC)
Go to the DMDC SCRA Website, and enter the last name and Social Security number of the individual. These are mandatory entries; the form on the main page also asks for a first name, middle initial and date of birth (DOB), which will help with the search. Additional information is available on the “Help” section of the DMDC website.
To perform a search, click "Submit". If the individual is on active duty, the report will show his or her branch of service and beginning date of active duty status. If DMDC does not have information as to whether the individual is on active duty, the generated report will only list the supplied last name, first name and middle initial (if supplied), with the text:
“Based on the information you have furnished, the DMDC does not possess any information indicating that the individual is currently on active duty.”
The report is signed by the DMDC Director.
If the Social Security number is unavailable, you may request a manual search by mail. You must provide the DOB. You must send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the DMDC with your mail request.
Step 3: Explain Your Claim
Step 4: Enter the Amount of Money You are Owed
Step 5: Sign Your Complaint
9. How do I file my complaint with the Clerk of Court? (back to top)
If you are mailing or bringing your complaint form to the court, you must have three copies of the completed forms and any exhibits that you wish to file with your complaint to the Court. The two required forms are: (1) the Complaint, and (2) Clerk of Court’s Civil Cover Sheet. If you are suing more than one defendant, you must bring an extra copy of the Complaint and any attachments for each additional defendant.
You must pay a filing fee of $78.00 when you file your complaint. The Clerk of Court accepts cash, checks, money orders, or credit cards (VISA or MasterCard.) Fees are payable to “Clerk of the Franklin County Municipal Court.” You can mail checks and money orders with your forms to the Small Claims Division. If you want to pay with a credit card payment, you must pay in person at the Clerk of Court’s office. The Court will mail you a Notice of your trial date within a few days. Trials usually take place at 1:30 p.m. or 2:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
If you mail your complaint form to be filed by the clerk, please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE). The clerk will return a time-stamped copy of the filing to you in this SASE.
10. What is service of process and why is it necessary? (back to top)
Service of process is the delivery of the complaint to the defendant. When you file a complaint the court will send the complaint to the defendant at the address you provide. Service of process notifies the defendant that you have filed a lawsuit. When you sue a party, it is important to notify the defendant what you have done and to give that party an opportunity to respond or take other actions. If you do not serve the defendant, your case cannot go forward.
There are several ways to serve a party. The first method is service by certified or express mail. In this method, the clerk mails a copy of the process and complaint or other documents to the other party. In the second method, personal service, the plaintiff files a written request with the clerk for personal service, and the papers are delivered physically to the defendant. The third method, residence service, is completed by leaving a copy of the process and the complaint, or other documents at the usual place where the defendant lives. The person who receives the service must be an adult more than eighteen years old. The court cannot proceed with your case without performing the service of process.
In small claims cases, filing fees include: one type of service for up to three defendants. You may provide up to three addresses for one defendant. You will be charged additional services fees for each additional defendant and/or address. If you request more than one type of service there will be additional service fees based on the current court fee schedule.
If service of process by certified mail is refused or unclaimed, and the certified mail is returned, the clerk will notify you or the attorney that represents you by mail. If you waive this notification on your complaint, the clerk will skip the notification and send a copy of the summons and complaint or other document by ordinary mail to the defendant at the address that you provided.
You must obtain successful service on a defendant within six (6) months of the date you file your complaint. If you do not obtain service within this time period, the Court will dismiss your case and you will have to file a new case.
Your case status, including whether notice and summons was served on the defendant(s) and whether your hearing was rescheduled, is available online at http://www.fcmcclerk.com/case/. Enter your case number or your name to view your case information.
11. Where can I find party names and addresses in order to obtain service? (back to top)You will want to make sure you have the correct name and address for each party in your case. Names must be spelled correctly and addresses must be accurate. There are many ways to check names and addresses. You can look in the telephone book. You can search Internet sites like the white pages, Facebook, County Auditor (for property records) and court sites (for criminal and civil case records.) You can consult the Ohio Secretary of State to learn if a business is a corporation. This is important because under Court Rules, a party must be served within six months of the date you file your case. If there is no service, your case will be dismissed and you will need to file the case again.
12. What if I cannot make it to my trial? (Continuances/Postponements) (back to top)
If you cannot make it to court on your trial date, you may request a continuance. A continuance postpones the trial to a future date. Any party may obtain one continuance of the trial, for up to 30 days. A written request for a continuance must be delivered to the Small Claims office at least 10 days before the trial date.
To request a continuance, write the case number, names of the parties, and the date and time of the court trial in the request. You may mail the request to:
Franklin County Municipal Court
You may fax your request to 614-645-8465. If you do not file your request 10 days before the trial date, or if you want to continue the case for more than 30 days, or if you are making your second request for a continuance, you must request the continuance from the assigned magistrate. Generally, only in exceptional circumstances will magistrate grant a second request to reschedule a case.
13. How do I prepare my case for trial? (back to top)
Organize your testimony and arguments and practice what you want to say so the Court will be able to understand the facts. Gather evidence that will help you prove your case by collecting documents related to your claims (receipts, canceled checks, estimated bills, contracts, photos, etc.). Find witnesses who will be able to testify. If witnesses are not willing to testify, you can have them subpoenaed. For more information about evidence, witnesses, and subpoenas, please see 14. What happens during trial?
14. What should I do on the day of trial? (back to top)
Be on time to your hearing because if you are late, you may lose. Before your trial begins, check-in with the courtroom bailiff. If you are absent, the case will be dismissed. If the defendant is absent, the magistrate will probably grant a default judgment, which means you have automatically won.
Before your trial date you are encouraged to discuss your differences with the other party in an attempt to resolve the dispute prior to trial. If communication is difficult you may obtain assistance by contacting the court’s Dispute Resolution Program, which may be able to facilitate negotiations before the day of trial through the process of mediation. Please see Mediation for more information.
If an out-of-court settlement is reached, you must submit a statement to the court indicating that the case has been settled before the hearing date. The case number should appear on the statement.
On the day of trial, if you have not already resolved your case with the other party, you may be asked by the magistrate to engage in settlement discussions conducted by a mediator. A mediator is not a judge and does not decide if either party is “right” or “wrong.” The mediator will not force any party to accept a settlement that is not agreeable to everyone. The mediator’s role and the goal of mediation are to help parties make their own decisions and agreements without going to trial.
15. What happens during trial? (Evidence, Witnesses, and Subpoenas) (back to top)
Trial will be conducted in a relatively informal manner by a magistrate. A magistrate has authority to decide your case. Generally at trial, the plaintiff will first present evidence that supports the plaintiff’s complaint. After the plaintiff has presented evidence, the defendant may ask the plaintiff questions. The defendant may also ask questions to any witnesses the plaintiff calls. The defendant may then present evidence. After the defendant has presented evidence, the plaintiff may ask questions of the defendant and the defendant’s witness(es).
Please note: a person representing a corporation or a limited liability company without a lawyer may not ask questions of any witnesses.
Evidence may include the relevant testimony of witnesses, original documents, or acceptable copies of documents. Some examples of evidence include contracts, receipts, public records (e.g., a marriage license or birth certificate), authenticated business records, market data reports, photographs, and tangible items (anything you can hold or touch). The court keeps any document the magistrate accepts as evidence in the court file. If you bring a document to offer as evidence you should bring (1) the original, (2) a copy for each party in the case, and (3) a copy for your own records.
Witness testimony is appropriate and effective evidence. A witness should have first-hand knowledge of the facts. Statements from witnesses who are not present at trial are considered hearsay evidence. Hearsay is not admissible as evidence.
Written estimates of value or repair cost are admissible as evidence to measure monetary loss in small claims cases. You may present documents such as receipts, cancelled checks, bank statements, contracts, or photos as evidence.
Subpoenas are used to compel the attendance of witnesses. A subpoena is a court document that orders a witness to come to your trial. Any party may ask the court to issue subpoenas. Requests for subpoenas should be made at least a week before trial at the Clerk of Courts office on the 3rd floor of the municipal court. Subpoenas are not free. The fee for a subpoena is determined by the length of time the witness is in court, the way the witness receives the subpoena (for example, if it is mailed or if you ask the court to deliver it in person), and the distance the witness has to travel to and from court. If your witness or witnesses will come to court voluntarily, subpoenas are not required, but you may still have to pay a fee. If you call an “expert” witness (mechanic, contractor, etc.), be prepared to pay them for their time. For more information about witness fees, see the Clerk of Court’s Civil Cost Sheet.
In claims for motor vehicle damage, the complaining party must present proof that he or she is the owner or lessee of the damaged vehicle. Proof that the party is the current owner or lessee includes: (1) a valid certificate of a title or the original lease agreement (if the damaged vehicle is leased), or (2) a stipulation of all parties in open court that ownership is not in dispute.
Proof of monetary loss from motor vehicle damage may be shown by producing (1) at least two estimates of repair, (2) a receipted repair bill, or (3) testimony from an expert in collision repair. Eyewitnesses who saw the damage occur or expert witnesses, such as a police officer who investigated the accident or a collision repair expert, may be subpoenaed, if necessary, and called upon to testify in open court.
The magistrate can ask questions at any time to clear up testimony. It is important during this procedure to remain polite; do not interrupt or argue. When all testimony is finished, the magistrate will tell you that the case is “submitted” and that you will receive a written decision in the mail.
The burden of proof rests with the complaining party. For example, the plaintiff is the complaining party in a complaint and has the burden to prove the claims in the complaint; the defendant is the complaining party in a counterclaim and has the burden to prove the claims in the counterclaim. The burden of proof in small claims court is a preponderance of the evidence. The magistrate will evaluate or “weigh” all the evidence presented by the parties. If the weight of the evidence presented by the complaining party is greater than the evidence presented by the responding party, then the burden of proof will be met and the complaining party will win. If not, the complaining party loses and the case may be dismissed or judgment may be granted to the defendant.
16. What happens after trial? (Magistrate’s Decision and Judgment) (back to top)
After the magistrate hears the case he or she will prepare and file a written decision; you or your attorney will receive a copy of the decision and the Court’s entry of judgment by mail. The Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law will provide a detailed explanation of the reasons supporting the magistrate’s decision. If you do not receive Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, you may request that the Magistrate provide them in an amended decision. You must make a written request within seven (7) calendar days of notice of the original decision that you receive from the Clerk of Court. Forms for requesting Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are available at the Small Claims Office and at the Court Forms section of this site.
A judge always reviews the magistrate’s decision; the Court will then enter a judgment. The judgment in a small claims case may be appealed or enforced in the same way as any other judgment of the court.
17. What happens if I lose? (Objections) (back to top)
Any party who disagrees with the magistrate’s decision may ask the court to modify or set aside the decision by filing written objections. You have 7 days from the date the magistrate's decision is entered to make a written request for detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law. After the detailed written decision is filed, you have 14 days to file written objections to the magistrate's decision detailing the errors you believe the magistrate has made. You must file your objections within 14 days from the filing of the magistrate’s decision. If a party files objections within this fourteen-day period, then any other party may also file objections up to 10 days after the first objections are filed. The objections must state the specific reasons for challenging the magistrate’s decision. If a party makes a request for findings of fact and conclusions of law, the time for filing objections begins to run when the magistrate files the decision that includes the findings of fact and conclusions of law. A fee of $20.00 is required to file an objection to the magistrate’s decision. For more information, please visit Objecting to the Magistrate's Decision.
A party may request an oral hearing by prominently writing on the first page of the objections, “An oral hearing of approximately [insert number of minutes] minutes is requested.”
When a party files objections, the case will be assigned to a municipal court judge. The judge will consider the objections and any supporting memorandum; the judge may approve (sustain), reject (overrule), or modify the magistrate’s decision and enter a final judgment. The court may adopt all or part of the magistrate's decision, conduct a hearing, take additional evidence, or refer the case back to the magistrate for a new trial. The clerk will mail a copy of the final judgment to all parties.
If objections are upheld, a new hearing may be granted. If a party’s objections are overruled, the party may appeal the Judge’s ruling to the Tenth District Court of Appeals. By law, a party has thirty (30) days from the date of the final judgment to file an appeal with the Tenth District Court of Appeals. At this point, however, the matter gets more complex and costly, requiring a transcript of the original hearing (there is a fee), and possibly the services of an attorney. Before taking this step, you should consult with an attorney as to the merits of your arguments.
18. What happens if I win? (back to top)
If you win, you become a judgment creditor. The losing party becomes a judgment debtor, and has 15 days to voluntarily pay the judgment. If you are lucky, the debtor will pay. If the judgment debtor does not voluntarily pay you after you have your judgment, you may choose to try different collection methods. Collection proceedings may take a great deal of time and they are more expensive than the filing fee for a small claims case. You should consider all the steps you may take to collect the debt.
It is always a good idea to speak with an attorney about your options.
For more information about collecting a judgment, please see Collecting Your Small Claims Judgment.
19. Who should I contact if I need legal advice or more information? (back to top)
The Court, including Small Claims Division staff, judges, magistrates, bailiffs, and other court staff, cannot give legal advice. If you have a specific question regarding your legal rights or responsibilities, you should contact an attorney. If you need or want an attorney to represent you, you may call The Columbus Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at 614-221-0754 or toll-free at 877-560-1014, or visit http://www.columbuslawyerfinder.com/ for more information about obtaining an attorney.
If you have questions about procedures in Small Claims Court you may contact the Small Claims Division at 614-645-7381 or email at email@example.com. If you are writing regarding a filed case, please include the case number and case name in any communication with the court. The Small Claims Division is open from 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M., Monday through Friday.
You may contact the Clerk of Court Civil Division at 614-645-7220 if you have a question about any of the court records for your case. The Clerk of Court is open from 8:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M., Monday through Friday.
In addition, the court maintains a website where you may view case information http://www.fcmcclerk.com/case/. You can use the case information website to check the status of your case.