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 Wayne County, Michigan
Any individual over the age of 18 can file in Wayne County Small Claims Court for damages of up to $3,000. You may bring an action in Wayne 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 file an affidavit and claim form at the Civil Division counter on the 2nd floor of the Madison Center Building. These forms, along with fee information about filing a claim in the Wayne County Small Claims Division, which depends on the amount of your claim, can be found at this location as well.
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 if it is incorporated. If it 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 search the Michigan Secretary of State website.
This service may be completed in one of three ways. You may send through certified mail – return receipt requested. This is generally the easiest way and can be taken care of by the clerk at the courthouse for a $10 fee. If the certified mail method is unsuccessful, then you will have to use one of the other two methods. The first of these is to utilize the court’s bailiff services for a fee of $24.50 per defendant. If this method does not work, you will be advised of the Post Office Verification Process, which is used to obtain a valid forwarding address of the sought defendant. If this is ineffective, you must obtain a valid address for the defendant yourself, or your case will close. Your final option is to personally serve the defendant. You may either employ anyone 18 years of age or older to do so, or you may hire a certified process server - proof of service must be notarized. The important thing to keep in mind is that Proof of Service must be returned to the court sooner than 7 days prior to your court date.
For more information about the Wayne County small claims process, visit the Wayne County Court’s website.