$10.00 – Filing Fee to the Court (for claims up to and including $1,000)
$15.00 – Filing Fee to the Court (for claims up to and including $3,000)
$20.00 – Filing Fee for Civil Court - It is the responsibility of the plaintiff to prepare
Paperwork and have it served.
Fees are payable at the time of filing. Landlord/Tenant cases are typically heard every Wednesday and Small Claim/Civil Actions typically heard the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month. Before filing any paperwork for a Landlord-Tenant Matter call the Court for our scheduled docket dates.
Unrepresented New Yorkers may go to NYCourthelp.gov to find forms for some Civil Matters.
What is a Small Claim?
A Small Claim is a claim for money only, not exceeding $3,000, where the person you wish to sue either lives, works, or has a place of business within the Town of Highlands, (including corporations). No partnership, association, corporation or assignee, except a municipal corporation, public benefit corporation, school district or public library, may bring an action in the small claims part of a justice court. Such cases must be brought in the civil part of the court which is subject to different rules. A corporation may appear in defense of any small claim action brought pursuant to this article by an attorney, as well as, by an authorized officer, director or employee of the corporation. The appearance of any officer, director or employee of the corporation will be deemed to constitute authority on the part of that person to bind the corporation to a settlement or at trial.
While you do not need a lawyer in small claims cases, in the Town of Highlands, you may retain an attorney if you so desire. If you retain an attorney and the case is not settled, the actual trial may be in the daytime. The return date contained in the Small Claims Notice is the Trial Date and you should be prepared to present your case or defense.
Sue the Correct Party
An employee or an owner(shareholder) of a corporation is not normally the person liable for the debts or actions of the corporation or company. The corporation or company should be named as a defendant to be certain that the judgment will be issued against the correct party. If the wrong party is named and served, the case may have to be dismissed and you may have to start your action again. It is suggested that all parties who are, or may be liable be named in the summons. You may have to locate the true name by searching at the County Clerk's office for Business Certificates or corporation filings to obtain the true party.
Getting Ready for Trial
On the trial date, you must be present in Court with your witnesses, your account books, receipts, records and other documents that are relevant to your case. It has been the experience of the Judges of the Court that many claims are lost and cases dismissed because of the plaintiffs' and defendants' failure to produce proper and legally sufficient proof and evidence.
After you have filed your Small Claim with the Clerk, you should use the time between the filing and the actual trial date to gather together all of your documentary evidence and to arrange to have any and all witnesses present at the trial. This is your case and it is your responsibility to prepare it properly. The Court is not permitted to help you prove your case because the Court must remain fair and impartial and cannot help either the plaintiff or the defendant with their presentation.
Suggestion: Bring photocopies of your records and other proof for the Court and make copies for your opponent. A final word of advice is that preparation is the key to presenting your case which is true, even for attorneys and you would save yourself and the Court time, if you are able to narrow the issues when you appear in front of the Judge. For example, you need not use several photos depicting the same image when one will suffice. Write out questions you intend to ask your opponent or witnesses, organize your thoughts and questions in a chronological order so the facts are made clear to the Judge.
Written testimony or affidavits, letters or statements from 3rd parties are not admissible in Court.
The Trial: Procedure and Order
Make sure you bring with you the original and two copies of any bills or estimates, as well as contracts, photographs and any other documentation or evidence which you desire to introduce at trial. Trial may not be adjourned in order to allow either party to produce a document or other item of proof which they neglected or forgot to bring to trial, without good reason.
If the matter goes to trial, the plaintiff presents his/her case first. As plaintiff, you should tell your story clearly. You should have some notes to refresh your recollection and it is usually best to start with the first event relevant to your case and proceed in chronological order. All witnesses including the plaintiff and defendant shall testify under oath, and may be subject to cross-examination by the opposing party. After the plaintiff's case is completed, the defendant, will present his/her case and may then take the witness stand and/or call witnesses to testify.
During the entire process the judge will ask you questions. After both sides have completed their case the Judge may make a decision right on the spot or he may settle the case if both sides agree at that time, or he may reserve decision and you will receive a written decision in the mail sometime later.
Use of Attorneys
If your case is complicated, either by facts or legal issues, it might be wise to consult an attorney, and have him/her represent you at trial.
Coming to Court on the Trial Date
You must come to court either to prove or defend the case. If you do not appear at the time set for the hearing, the Court will dismiss your claim if you are the plaintiff, or may grant default judgment against you if you are the defendant and take an inquest to determine the amount of the judgment.
There are certain circumstances under which a default can be re-opened, but they are complicated and normally require you to hire an attorney. It should also be noted that not all defaults are vacated so it is important that you appear in Court, whenever scheduled.
Defendants in Small Claims Cases
As a defendant you can also make a counterclaim. It cannot exceed $3,000 in amount. A counterclaim must be filed with the Court within 5 days of receiving the claim, and you must pay a fee of $3.00 plus cost of mailing.
If you cannot appear on the date for trial, you must request an adjournment well in advance of the trial date. If you know well enough in advance, you may write a letter to the Clerk of the Court, and send a copy of the letter to your opponent. If it is too late to write a letter, you must have someone appear for you in Court and give the same information to the Judge. If you do not appear or if your excuse is unsatisfactory or if you have failed to advise your opponent, the Court may dismiss your case, if you are the plaintiff, or grant a default judgment against you if you are the defendant.
All parties are encouraged to settle their disputes prior to trial whenever possible. If both parties agree to settle the case prior to trial, the Court should be advised by the plaintiff that the case is settled and the amount agreed upon for our records to avoid coming to Court.
If the case is settled prior to trial and the payment is not forthcoming, the case can be rescheduled for trial. All cases settled either before trial or at trial are contingent upon the payment being made. A case may be settled by stipulation, which is an agreement between both sides made in or out of court, and if out of court it must be signed by both parties and filed with the Court, to be enforced later. If the amount agreed upon is not paid, then the court will issue a judgment.
After the decision is rendered you have 30 days to appeal. If you decide to appeal, you must file a Notice of Appeal and a $5 fee with the Court and serve the Notice of Appeal upon the other party and file an Affidavit of Service.
Information required for Small Claims Summons:
1. Name of Defendant
2. Address of Defendant
3. Name of Plaintiff
4. Amount of money which you seek (maximum of $3000)
5. A clear and concise statement in layman's language of the basis for your claim
6. Address of Plaintiff, day-time phone number for plaintiff