Defending a Small Claims Lawsuit

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I received a complaint in the mail, what is it and what do I do?

A lawsuit in Small Claims Court begins when someone files a complaint. The complaint contains legal claims against you and a demand for money damages. A claim in Small Claims Court is limited to money damages, up to $6,000. The person who files the complaint is the plaintiff and the person being sued is the defendant. If you received a complaint and summons in the mail from the Small Claims Court then you have been sued and you are a defendant. The summons contains the date and time you must appear in court. You do not need to file anything before you appear in court. If you do not appear in court on the date listed in the summons then you risk losing the case. Recent Magistrate Decisions are available to learn more about the small claims trial process.


Do I need an attorney?

  • Individuals may represent themselves or be represented by 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 getting an attorney.
  • Partnerships may be represented by a general partner or an attorney.
  • Corporations may be represented by an attorney, a non-lawyer officer, or a salaried employee; however, the following limitations apply to non-lawyer representatives: the officer or salaried employee may testify only about facts he or she has personal knowledge of, and may present documentary evidence in support of the claim or defense. He or she may not examine or cross-examine any witness, present legal arguments, or engage in other acts of advocacy. The officer or salaried employee may not file or present motions, affidavits, or file collections proceedings.
  • Limited Liability Companies may be represented by an attorney, a non-lawyer officer or salaried employee of a limited liability company (LLC). A non-lawyer representative may complete and file documents on behalf of the company in a small claims court, appear on behalf of the company at small claims court hearings, but may not engage in cross examination, argument, or other acts of advocacy. A non-lawyer representative of an LLC may not file or present motions, affidavits, or file collections proceedings.


What is a settlement?

Parties often discuss their differences with one another and attempt to resolve their dispute before they come to court. If you and the plaintiff reach an agreement to settle the case, the plaintiff must submit a statement to the Court that gives notice of the settlement. The case number must be included on the statement. The statement may be submitted in person, by U.S. Mail, or by fax to 614-645-6919. If the settlement notice is sent to the Small Claims Division before the next hearing date, the case can be removed from the Magistrate’s calendar and you will not need to appear in court. If you settle the case, but a notice is not submitted before the court date, you should appear and tell the magistrate the outcome of the case.

If you cannot settle your case before the trial, you can request mediation. In mediation, a neutral person works with the parties to reach a solution that is satisfactory for both parties. For more information about mediation, speak with a staff member in the small claims office, or call 614-645-8536, or email mediation@fcmcclerk.com.

Is Small Claims Court the right place for the lawsuit? (Jurisdiction and Venue)

Small Claims Court is the appropriate court for claims involving money damages that do not exceed $6,000 and that meet the requirements of 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 exceeding $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. No claims may be filed 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.


What if I cannot make it to my trial? (Continuance)

If you cannot make it to court on your trial date, you may request a continuance. A continuance reschedules the trial to a future date. Any party may request one continuance 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

Small Claims Division

375 South High Street, 16th Floor

Columbus, Ohio 43215-4520

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, the magistrate must grant your request. Generally, only in exceptional circumstances will magistrate grant a second request to reschedule a case.


What if I am a defendant but I have a claim against someone else? (Counterclaims, Cross-Claims, and Third-Party Complaints)

If you are a defendant and have a claim against the plaintiff, another defendant in the case, or a party that is not currently in the case, you may file either a counterclaim, a cross-claim, or a third-party complaint.

  • A counterclaim is a claim brought by a defendant against a plaintiff.
  • A cross-claim is a claim brought by one defendant against another defendant, or one plaintiff against another plaintiff.
  • A third-party complaint is a claim brought by the defendant against a new party who was not named in the original complaint.

Counterclaims, cross-claims, and third-party complaints filed in the Small Claims Court are limited to $6,000, not including costs and interest. Forms and instructions for completing the forms are available in the Small Claims office and online at the Court Forms section of this site. These claims must be filed at least seven (7) calendar days before the trial. A fee of $20.00 (plus costs for service of process) is required to file each of these pleadings.


What is “Transfer to the General Division”?

A case may be transferred from the Small Claims Division to the General Civil Division docket by any of the following ways:

  • By motion of the court at any stage of the proceedings
  • By motion of a party against whom a complaint, counterclaim, cross-claim, or third-party complaint is filed, accompanied by an affidavit, stating that a good defense to the claim exists and that states the grounds of the defense, or
  • Upon the filing of counterclaim, cross-claim, or third party complaint for more than $6,000.

A transfer fee of $45.00 is required AT THE TIME THE MOTION IS FILED as a condition for transfer. Transfer must be completed at least five (5) court days prior to trial. A party seeking transfer less than five court days prior to trial must obtain permission from the assigned magistrate. Permission will be granted only in exceptional circumstances.


Who should I contact if I need legal advice or more information?

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 smallclaims@fcmcclerk.com. 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 Small Claims Division and the Clerk of Court are open from 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 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.

If you need language or interpreter assistance, please visit: http://www.fcmcclerk.com/court/interpreting-services#request-interpreter-services.