Small Claims Guide
Small Claims cases are heard in Kettering Municipal Court by a Civil Magistrate almost every Tuesday of the year beginning at 2:30 p.m. You can file a small claim in our Court for damages with a monetary value of up to $3,000. (Note: A new Ohio law raising the Small Claims damages amount up to $6,000 goes into effect September 27, 2016.) If you are seeking damages greater than $3,000, you must file a Civil lawsuit instead. Our Court handles Civil claims up to $15,000. If your claim is for more than $15,000, you will need to file it with the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court.
The following information outlines the basic procedures of Small Claims Court for both the Plaintiff (party suing) and the Defendant (party being sued). Please read these guidelines very carefully.
If you still have questions about presenting your case after reading this information, you can contact the Dayton Bar Association Attorney Referral Service at 120 West Second Street, Hulman Building, Dayton, Ohio 45402, 937-222-6102. The Referral Service can provide you with names of local attorneys who can give you advice or perform other services for a fee. The Kettering Municipal Court Clerk’s staff will assist you in any way they can as you file your claim, but please remember that these individuals are not attorneys and they cannot provide you with legal advice.
For more detailed information on the steps involved in the Small Claims process, you can also view a Small Claims Court Citizens Guide provided by the Ohio Judicial Conference.
Filing My Claim
Your first step in filing a Small Claims complaint is to come to the Clerk’s Office and file a Small Claims Complaint form. This form is available in our office as well as online. Once you have filed your complaint, the person or business you are suing (the Defendant) must receive an official copy of the complaint from the Court. This process is called “being served.” An initial certified mailing service is included in the cost of filing a Small Claims. You can also choose to have your claim delivered by a Court Bailiff, a Sheriff or an outside process server (see current cost listing). The Clerk’s Office can explain more details about these service options when you file your complaint.
In order for your case to go forward, your claim must served to the Defendant. If we are unable to get service of the claim to the Defendant on the first attempt, the Clerk’s Office will send you a notice alerting you of failure to get service on your complaint. There are some secondary options if your first attempts for service failed. If, for example, you opted for the Court to send the claim by certified mail and it is unclaimed or refused, you can request for the Clerk’s Office to send it again by ordinary mail. This request must be made in writing. If the letter is undeliverable by the Post Office, we will need a better address to try again. Additional certified mailings can be processed at an additional cost. Once service is perfected—meaning that the defendant has received an official copy of your claim from the Court—your case can go forward. If we cannot achieve service, the case cannot proceed.
Who is My Claim Against?
If you are the Plaintiff, pay particular attention to the person or business you name as a Defendant. Your claim may be against more than one party (person or business), and if so, name any other parties you feel might be involved in owing you the money. If there is any doubt in your mind in determining who among two or three parties may owe you the money or be liable, then file your claim against all of the parties in question. Just be sure that all parties you are suing are involved in the case and have a potential responsibility or liability. If you need professional advice concerning who to sue, contact the Dayton Bar Association Attorney Referral Service.
Claims Against the Plaintiff
If you are the Defendant, you may have a claim against the Plaintiff arising out of the same transaction—this is called a Counterclaim. There may also be another party involved who should be named as an additional Defendant or as a Third Party Defendant along with you so that the Court may determine which of the Defendants, if any, is liable for the claim of the Plaintiff. If you have a claim against the Plaintiff, then you should file that claim so that the Court can hear both your claim and the Plaintiff’s claim at the same time and determine which party is liable to the other. If either situation applies to you as a Defendant, then bring this to the attention of the Clerk’s Office and express your desire to file either or both of the above procedures. A Counterclaim or Third Party Claim must be filed and served at least seven (7) days prior to the trial date.
Your Trial Date
You will receive your trial date when you file your claim if you are the Plaintiff, or through a notice by mail if you are the Defendant. You are entitled to only one trial, so it is important to come to Court on the day of your trial fully prepared to present your case. This will help ensure the Magistrate can make a fair determination for the parties involved. If, for some reason either party cannot appear at the scheduled trial date, you can contact the Clerk’s Office to receive a continuance—each party is entitled to only one continuance. All continuances must be requested by 12:00 noon on the Friday prior to the trial.
Witnesses and Evidence
The Plaintiff and the Defendant should bring their witnesses to the trial, along with any written documents, checks, receipts, leases, repair estimates, or papers reflecting ownership. For auto accidents, bring your damage estimate, police report if you have one and any other document that may substantiate the case.
Letters from friends and even sworn affidavits are not acceptable in Court because these documents prohibit the other party from cross-examining or questioning the person who wrote the letter or who gave the affidavit. Instead, bring witnesses to court to testify on your behalf. Keep in mind: it is possible to lose because you failed to present the proper evidence to substantiate your case.
Subpoenas for Witnesses
If either the Plaintiff or the Defendant wishes to bring in a witness who cannot come or is not willing to appear for you, then you may have the Clerk of Court’s Office issue a subpoena for this witness. You will be charged a court processing cost, service fee and witness fee (see current cost list). The request to the Clerk must be made at least five working days before your trial or hearing. If the request is not made at least five working days in advance of the trial and the witness is not served, the Court may choose not to grant a continuance because this witness is not present to testify on your behalf.
If the Defendant fails to appear for the trial after having been properly notified by mail, the Court will assume that the Defendant admits the claim of the Plaintiff and will render a judgment in favor of the Plaintiff and against the Defendant accordingly.
If the Defendant appears for the trial and the Plaintiff fails to appear for trial, then the case normally will be dismissed at the cost and expense of the Plaintiff.
The Court understands that both the Plaintiff and the Defendant are not attorneys and that they have little or no legal experience. To help you better understand Small Claims court procedures, you may want to review the Small Claims section of the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure.
Decision and Judgment
The Court’s decision and judgment will be made in writing and will be mailed to all parties involved. In the event either party is dissatisfied with the decision of the Magistrate, they may appeal that decision by filing Objections to the Magistrate’s Report within 14 days of the filing of the Report of the Magistrate. A form to file objections will be provided by the Clerk of Court’s Office upon request.
Collection and Enforcement of Judgments
If you win a judgment and the other party does not pay, you may start collection proceedings such as bank and earnings garnishments, padlocks, replevins (repossession) or other actions permitted under the law. Filings on these actions can be made in the Clerk’s Office Civil Division. The Ohio Judicial College Small Claims Guide provides more information to assist you on this topic.
All evidence presented at the trial will be held in the case file for at least 60 days after the date file stamped on the Final Judgment Entry unless an appeal has been filed in the matter.