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Small Claims Court Guide

How to Sue in Small Claims Court

Go to Small Claims Court in either the borough where you live, or where the person or party you are suing (the defendant) lives or works.

Fill out an application and pay the clerk a small filing fee--individuals pay a small fee, while businesses pay a slightly higher fee--which covers the cost of preparing and sending a summons by certified mail to the defendant.

In the application, be sure you provide your name and address, the reason you are suing, and the amount you are suing to recover. Also include any provable expenses or losses incurred because of what happened to you, such as the cost of using taxis while your damaged car was being repaired.

Write the exact name and the home or business address of the defendant. The name of the person or business must be complete and correct. If the defendant does business under a trade name, such as "Fizzie Appliances" or "Fizzie's," you will need to know its legal name, which might be "Fizzie's Appliance Stores, Inc." To obtain the real name, go to the office of the County Clerk in the borough where the business is conducted.

Preparing Your Case

You will need originals or copies of all relevant documentation, such as receipts, contracts, and canceled checks. You may wish to prove damages by bringing the damaged item to court, showing photographs of the item before and after the damage occurred, or submitting the report of a repair person. You may present witnesses as long as they have knowledge of the facts. Witnesses essential to your case may be subpoenaed if necessary.

The Trial

The case is heard by a judge, or, if all parties consent, by an arbitrator, who is a lawyer. If you choose an arbitrator, your case will be heard much sooner than with a judge and in an informal setting, rather than in a courtroom. You must understand that an arbitrator's decision is binding and may not be appealed. Proceedings are simple, each side having the opportunity to explain its position, produce witnesses and documentation.

The Judgment

The maximum amount you can sue for in Small Claims Court is $5,000.00.

If a judgment is awarded in your favor, you should try to contact the defendant to collect your judgment. If the defendant does not pay you, you should seek the assistance of a sheriff or city marshal located in the county in which the defendant lives or works. You must provide the sheriff/marshal with the information needed to locate assets (money or property) of the defendant, and the sheriff/marshal can then seize those assets to satisfy your judgment. The sheriff/marshal may request mileage and other fees before he or she seizes the assets. In many circumstances, these fees later can be added to the original judgment amount--which covers the cost of preparing and sending a summons by certified mail to the defendant.

Property which may be seized by an enforcement officer includes bank accounts, wages, houses or other real estate, automobiles, stocks and bonds. Upon satisfactory completion, you will receive a check from the sheriff's or marshal's office.

If the defendant owing the judgment is a Consumer Affairs (DCA) licensee, contact DCA's Consumer Services/Small Claims Collection Unit for help in getting the money owed you. DCA rules require all licensees to pay outstanding judgments within 30 days of their "entry"--the date on which the Clerk of the Small Claims Court signs and files the judgment--but this rule applies only to activities regulated by DCA.

NYC Small Claims Courts

GENERAL INFORMATION PHONE NUMBER FOR ALL BOROUGHS: (212) 791-6000

Bronx County
851 Grand Concourse
Bronx, NY 10451
(718) 590-2693
Clerk's Office hours: 9am-5 pm, Mon.-Fri.

Kings County (Brooklyn)
141 Livingston Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(347) 404-9020
Clerk's Office hours: 9am-5 pm, Mon.-Fri.

New York County (Manhattan)
111 Centre Street
New York, NY 10013
(646) 386-5484
Clerk's Office hours: 9am-5 pm, Mon.-Fri.

Queens County
89-17 Sutphin Boulevard
Jamaica, NY 11435
(718) 262-7123
Clerk's Office hours: 9am-5 pm, Mon.-Fri.

Richmond County (Staten Island)
927 Castleton Avenue
Staten Island, NY 10310
(718) 390-5421
Clerk's Office hours: 9am-5 pm, Mon.-Fri.

Additional Help

Each borough has Court Dispute Referral Centers which provide information and referrals to mediators who will help you reach a mutual agreement without pursuing litigation. For further information, call (212) 791-6000.

Also, the New York State Unified Court System has a comprehensive brochure, A Guide to Small Claims Court, that explains the process and how to collect a judgment. This publication is available free at the Clerk's Office in each Small Claims Court or by visiting the New York State Unified Court System Web site and clicking on Small Claims Booklet.

If your Small Claims Court award is from a NYC DCA licensee, contact the DCA Consumer Services Division-Small Claims Collection Unit, 42 Broadway, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10004. To obtain a list of business categories that DCA licenses, go to our Licenses Web page. Visit our Publications page to download free guides for businesses and consumers.