Small claims courts are courts of limited jurisdiction that are designed to hear civil cases between private litigants. Their purpose is to prevent clogging up the formal court system with relatively petty matters through a less formal forum. Small claims courts also limit the judgments awarded. This limit is generally set at $5,000 – though it may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
The rules of civil procedure and evidence are typically simplified in small claims proceedings to allow non-lawyers to litigate their matters without the help of a costly attorney. Formal and costly procedures such as depositions are not allowed in small claims, and generally speaking, neither is a trial by jury.
Filing Small Claims in Hillsborough County
Any individual over the age of 18 can file in Hillsborough County Small Claims Court for damages up to $5,000. You may bring an action in Hillsborough County if the defendant resides there, the cause of action occurred there, or any property involved with the action is located there. In order to file the case, you will first need to bring all information and papers to the proper courthouse and fill out the appropriate forms. A deputy clerk at the location will assist you in doing so.
There is a court fee that varies based on the amount of your claim. For claims up to $100, the fee is $55. For claims over $100, and up to $500, the fee is $80. For claims above $500, but no more than $2,500, the fee is $175. Any claim above $2,500 up to the $5,000 limit will cost $300 to file.
After you file, the next step is to serve the defendant. You must know the full name of the individual you want to sue and an address at which he or she can be served. In the case of filing a claim against a business, the process depends on whether or not it is incorporated. If the business is incorporated, you have to include the name under which it is incorporated as well as a name and address of either a corporate officer or the registered agent. If you have trouble finding this information, you may contact the State of Florida Corporate Information Department.
This service may be completed in one of two ways. You can have the sheriff or a certified process server serve the summons and a copy of your lawsuit on your behalf. The court’s administrative office can give you a list of certified process servers should you choose this method. You may also attempt to execute service of a summons on any party within the state of Florida through certified mail with a return receipt requested. You can receive assistance from a deputy clerk at the courthouse for executing service this way.
For more information about the Hillsborough County small claims process, visit the Hillsborough County Court’s website.