States — A Closer Look at Small Claims
State rules for collecting your judgment
Small Claims court in Alabama is also called “People’s Court” and is a court of limited jurisdiction meaning that there are only certain matters and certain claims that it can hear. The court is a special civil court under the district court in each county. The small claims process in Alabama, as elsewhere, is designed to offer a quick, inexpensive, and informal way to settle disputes. The statutes governing Alabama’s small claims courts can be found at Code of Alabama, Title 12, Ch. 12, Sections 31, 36, 70–71; Alabama Rules of Courts; Small Claims Rules.
The monetary limit in Alabama for small claims court is $3,000. No case may be heard that exceeds the $3,000 limit. Currently, the interest that may be charged on uncollected judgments in Alabama is 12% which is not compounded.
Generally, these cases must be filed in the district or county where: the defendant resides; where the defendant has an office or conducts business; or, where the claim arose or incident occurred.
Commencing a Small Claims Case
Anyone 19 years old or older, or a business can file a small claims case. The fees for filing these claims vary by county and can change at any time, so you will need to contact the court in your county for an accurate fee. Before you file your claim, remember that the court generally hears claims for money owed; landlord/tenant disputes; personal injury. The court may not hear cases dealing with libel, slander, professional malpractice, assigned claims, and punitive damages.
Once you have determined that your case is one that the court will hear, you will need to file the appropriate forms with the court. These forms are specific with respect to issue; a claim for money and the recovery of personal property require different forms. You must supply your name and address and an accurate name, address of the defendant. If it is a corporation, check with the state attorney general’s office to get the address of the registered agent for the business. Also on the form, you will want to explain the money owed and why you believe you are entitled to collect. This form will then be given to the court clerk and a number will be assigned to it.
In Alabama, service must be done by the sheriff or process server — there is a fee for this as well. Dates for trial are set by the court and each party will be notified 14 prior to that date.
The defendant has several options when he is served: he may settle; answer the suit in writing within 14 days; counterclaim or countersue giving reasons why you owe him/her money; or, default (no answer/no show) allowing you to automatically win the case.
In Alabama, parties can represent themselves or be represented by an attorney. Attorneys cannot represent themselves, however.
Statute of Limitations
In Alabama, the statute of limitations is as follows: Written contracts (6 years); Oral contracts (6 years); personal injury (2 years); and, Property damage (6 years).
Appealing a Small Claims Decision in Alabama
Either party may appeal the court’s decision to the circuit court in the district. Parties must file the appeal within 14 days of the original decision. This appeal will be for a new trial. The appeal is a much more formal process and you should consider being represented by an attorney here.
Collecting Your Judgment
If you win your judgment, it will be enforceable for 10 years. Remember to renew it — this can be done up to an enforceable time up to 20 years. At this time the judgment along with all liens become worthless. Keep in mind, here as in other states, the judge cannot enforce your judgment — you are on your own.
Should you decide to garnish wages, you can only do so up to 25% of all income that is non-exempt. For a full list of methods of collecting a judgment, see our article on General Methods for Collecting Your Judgment.
For a more complete list of methods to collect the judgement you are entitled to, see our General Methods for Collecting Your Judgment article in our collection of articles on judgment collection resources. The methods are generally the same in all states, though the procedures you need to follow may differ in different jurisdictions.
collecting your judgment
Article of the month
What You Should Know
Before You File a Claim
States—A Closer Look at Small Claims
This month’s focus: Michigan
- Demand Letter (before the suit is filed)
- Demand Letter (after the judgment is awarded)
Note: The first letter was originally published by one of our authors, Pat Schroeder, at http://www.thelawinsider.com/insider-tips/how-to-write-a-demand-letter/.
Collect Your Judgment Links
- ABA Guide to Solving Legal Disputes, Chapter 5, Small Claims
- ADR—Alternative Dispute Resolution: A Clients Guide to Language and Procedure, Chapter 5
- Small Claims Court Terms
Tip of the Week
September 27, 2010
If you have been awarded a judgment, waited the 30 days required, sent a demand letter giving the debtor a time limit for paying his/her debt; what should you do if you still have no money? You know that the court can do little, but before you take steps to garnish wages or bank accounts, consider suggesting negotiation or mediation if the debtor gives any impression that they want to settle the matter.