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 document.

  • – 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.