Definitions of Terms Used in Small Claims Court
– A –
- Affidavit – A signed, sworn statement, witnessed by a notary public.
- Appeal – A rehearing of the court’s decision by a higher court.
- Attachment – The taking of a person’s property to collect a judgment.
– B –
- Bond – A money deposit left with the court.
– C –
- Capias Order – An order for the arrest of an individual, issued by a judge.
- Certificate of Mailing – A receipt from the Post Office for ordinary mail (check with your Post Office for the cost of a certificate of mailing).
- Clerk of Court (Clerk) – A public official whose duties include keeping court records.
- Complaint – A written statement made by the plaintiff containing legal claims against the defendant and a demand for money damages. Filing the complaint with the court begins the small claims process.
- Complaint on an Account – A claim by a business against someone who owes the business money.
- Contempt of Court – Disobeying the authority or dignity of the court, such conduct is punishable by fine or imprisonment.
- Continuance – Postponing the trial to a future date.
- Contract – An agreement between two or more people.
- Costs – Fees the plaintiff pays to file the complaint or to collect the judgment.
- Counterclaim – A claim the defendant makes against the plaintiff stating that the plaintiff owes the defendant money.
- Creditor – See Judgment Creditor
- Cross–Claim – A claim against a party on the same side of a lawsuit, usually a claim by a defendant against another defendant.
– D –
- Damages – Money awarded to a party by the magistrate or judge.
- Debtor – A party that owes money, see also Judgment Debtor.
- Default judgment – A judgment awarded by the court against another party because the party did not appear on the trial date.
- Defendant – The person being sued.
- Dismissal – The termination of a case without trial, either because the plaintiff did not appear or the case settled.
- Docket – A list of all the cases a court will hear on a specific date.
– E –
- Enforce – The process of collecting a money judgment awarded to a party.
- Evidence – Something that tends to prove or disprove a fact. Evidence includes written documents and witness testimony.
- Execution – A court order for the sheriff to take property owned by the judgment debtor to pay the debt that is owed.
- Expert witness – a person who is qualified due to his or her experience or background to give an opinion about a disputed matter.
– F –
- Fee – Money paid to the Clerk of Courts to file or serve a document.
- Foreclosure – A legal process to end a homeowner's interest in a property.
– G –
- Garnishment – Taking a percentage of the Judgment Debtor's wages on a regular basis to pay a debt.
– I –
- Interest - Money earned on a debt at a given rate as time passes. The interest rate may be provided by statute or by contract.
– J –
- Judge – A court official who hears and decides cases.
- Judgment – The final decision of a magistrate or judge as to the rights and obligations of the parties in a case. The judgment may include an amount the magistrate or judge says is owed by the debtor. A judgment may also be called an entry.
- Judgment Creditor – The party that is owed money by a judgment of the court.
- Judgment Debtor – The party that owes money by a judgment of the court.
- Jurisdictional limit – The maximum amount of money that can be awarded by a particular small claims court.
– L –
- Lawsuit – A legal proceeding against a party in court. A lawsuit may also be called an “action” or a “case."
- Lien – A legal right or interest that a creditor has in another's property.
– M –
- Magistrate – A court official that has the authority to hear and decide cases.
- Mediation – A voluntary process where parties involved in a dispute meet with a neutral third party, a mediator, to reach a settlement
outside of court.
- Motion – A written or oral request by a party for a court order or some other kind of action.
– N –
- Non-exempt Wages – The percentage of a Judgment Debtor's wages that may be garnished.
- Notary – Someone who is legally authorized to verify the authenticity of documents and signatures.
- Notice of Appeal – A filing requesting that the case be taken to the next highest court for a decision.
– P –
- Party – The plaintiff or defendant involved in the lawsuit.
- Personal Service – Hand-delivery of a court document to a party by a bailiff of the court.
- Plaintiff – The person who files the complaint.
- Proof of service – A document filed with the court stating that a party has been properly presented with copies of the complaint or other court
– R –
- Real Estate – Property in the form of land or buildings, rather than personal possessions.
- Revive – The process of making your judgment active again.
– S –
- Settlement – The parties coming to an agreement between themselves outside of court.
- Service – Delivering the Complaint and Summons to the person being sued.
- Statute of limitations – The period of time during which a lawsuit can be filed.
- Statutory Agent – A person authorized by a business entity to accept court notices.
- Summons – A court notice telling a defendant that he or she is being sued and must appear in court on a certain date.
- Subpoena – An official order of the court requiring a person to appear in court to testify as a witness.
– T –
- Testimony – Statements made by a witness under oath.
- Third–Party complaint – A claim by the defendant against someone other than the plaintiff or another defendant, claiming that the third party is
responsible for any judgment against the defendant.
– W –
- Witness – A person called to court to testify on behalf of a party about what he or she personally knows.