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FAQ: County Civil Court

Small Claims

Small Claims - (561) 355-2500

General Information
Filing the Claim
After the Case is Filed
Appeals and Relief from Court Decisions
Fees
General Information
Do I need an attorney?

No, but you may seek the assistance of counsel if you choose. It is suggested that, while you have the right to file and to represent yourself, you contact an attorney to assist you in the legal process. The Palm Beach County Bar maintains an Attorney Referral Service. The Clerk & Comptroller's Self Service Center can provide you access to an attorney for a nominal charge, solely for the purpose of providing procedural advice, and not as your legal representative.

Small Claims Rule 7.010.(a) provides: “…These rules shall be construed to implement the simple, speedy, and inexpensive trial of actions at law in county courts.”

Small Claims forms are available through the Self Service Center and in the Florida Small Claims Rules. Or, forms may be completed online using the Clerk & Comptroller's interactive form preparation program.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO INCLUDE YOUR NAME, ADDRESS AND TELEPHONE NUMBER ON EVERY DOCUMENT YOU FILE WITH THE COURT.

Can I reduce my claim to $5,000 in order to bring a small claims case?

Yes. You can limit your claim to $5,000, even if you feel that you are owed more than that amount, and file a Small Claims case if you want to take advantage of the simplified procedure. However, your recovery will be limited to a maximum of $5,000.

Who may file a claim or have a claim filed against them?

The party who files a claim is referred to as the "Plaintiff". Any person 18 years or older or any individual doing business as a company may file a Small Claims case. The party who is sued is referred to as the "Defendant". A claim must designate the proper Plaintiff(s) and Defendant(s). The determination of the proper party will depend on whether the party is a person or a business and how that business is set up. Failure to name the proper parties may result in the rejection of the claim or in a defective (unenforceable) judgment.

  • Individuals - if the party is a person, that person is designated by his or her legal name.
  • Minors - If the Plaintiff is a minor (under the age of 18), he or she may not be a Plaintiff directly but must sue through the minor's parent or legal guardian. However, a minor may be sued directly or through the minor's parent or legal guardian.
  • Businesses - If the party is a business, you must name the proper legal entity. There are different forms of business enterprise, and the exact details will control how to determine the correct party to a lawsuit (see below). Florida Statutes determine the proper legal entity. You can contact the Florida Secretary of State, Division of Corporations at (850) 488-9000 to get information on a corporation. The Division of Corporations can also tell you the names and addresses of the corporate officers, the name and address of the registered agent for the corporation and the current status of the corporation. For more information, go to Florida's Division of Corporations online information center: www.sunbiz.org.
  • Sole Proprietorships - A sole proprietorship is an unincorporated business owned by one person. The person may or may not use a trade name or fictitious name in the operation of the business. In either case, the proper party is the individual owner. Example: "John Doe, individually and d/b/a John's Garage" or “Mary Smith, individually and d/b/a Flower Creations”
  • Partnerships - A partnership is an unincorporated business owned by two or more persons. The proper parties are the actual partners. Example: "John Doe and Jane Doe, individually and d/b/a John and Jane's Garage."
  • Corporations - A corporation is a legal entity with a separate legal identity from its owners, regardless if there is one owner or many. The proper party is the corporation. Example: "John's Garage, Inc." You can get information on corporations from the Florida Division of Corporations by calling (850) 488-9000 or by going to their online information center at www.sunbiz.org. You should determine the correct name and address of the Registered Agent for service of process. Please see Florida Statutes for particulars.
Filing the Claim

When filing a lawsuit in any court in Florida including Small Claims Court, correct venue is necessary to avoid a dismissal. It is recommended that you consult with an attorney before filing, as fees are not refundable if the case is dismissed. While you are free to do your own research, this is a potentially complex issue. In addition, you may lose legal rights if your claim is not properly filed within the time provided by law. Florida Statutes are also accessible online.

Where do I file my case?

This requirement is referred to as "venue". There are a number of different statutes and rules that affect venue. If the potential lawsuit is one based on Florida law, venue is controlled by Florida statutes. Florida’s laws regarding venue can be found in Title VI, Chapter 47 of the Florida Statues.

How do I file my case?

The forms used for a Small Claims action may be purchased from the Clerk & Comptroller's Self Service Center, or you may use the Clerk's low-cost online form preparation program.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO INCLUDE YOUR NAME, ADDRESS AND TELEPHONE NUMBER ON EVERY DOCUMENT YOU FILE WITH THE COURT.

A Small Claims case is begun with the filing of a Statement of Claim. The form requires the name(s) and address(es) of the party or parties you are suing, the amount of money you are suing for and an explanation of why you are suing. You must also include your name, mailing address and telephone number on the form. Your case may be dismissed if the court cannot locate you.

Small Claims Rule 7.050 provides: “If the claim is based on a written document, a copy or the material part thereof shall be attached to the Statement of Claim.”

What is the statute of limitations?

Florida Statutes regulate how long a Plaintiff has to file suit. The length of time varies with the type of matter. If your suit is brought under Florida law, details can be found at Chapter 95.11, Florida Statutes.

What does it cost to file a small claims case?

Filing fees are determined by law and regulation and are subject to change. View the current Fees & Costs.

After the Case is Filed
What happens after I file my small claims case?

You are responsible to make sure that service of process occurs on all Defendants. The Defendant(s) is given a copy of the Statement of Claim and the Summons, which sets forth the date and time of the pre-trial conference.

It is your responsibility to proceed with obtaining proper Service of Process in accordance with Florida law. General rules for Service of Process can be found in Ch. 48, Florida Statutes, however there are special rules for service of process in some specific matters and on some specific defendants. The choice is up to you to select either the County Sheriff or a private process server to make service. The Sheriff’s Office and the process servers set their own fees and have their own requirements regarding form of payment. In each case, remittance of service of process fees is separate. The Sheriff or Process Server must file a Return of Service or give it to you for filing. If there is not a proper Return of Service in the file, the action cannot proceed.

At the Pre-trial Conference, you should be prepared to present your case in court although you will not be permitted to present witnesses at that time. If both parties to the dispute are present, mediation is ordered. At mediation, decision-making authority rests with the parties, but the Mediator will endeavor to assist in a resolution of the dispute. All statements made during a mediation conference are confidential and cannot be used as evidence if the case goes to trial. If the dispute cannot be settled at the Pre-trial Conference, a trial date will be scheduled. You must appear at the trial with all witnesses and whatever documentation of your claim you have to present.

If any Defendant fails to respond or appear to defend against the statement of claim, the Clerk may enter a Clerk’s default, or the judge may enter a default judgment against that Defendant.

Can I have a jury trial on my small claims case?

Yes. The Florida Small Claims Rules provide:

“RULE 7.150. JURY TRIALS - Jury trials may be had upon written demand of the plaintiff at the time of the commencement of the suit, or by the defendant within 5 days after service of notice of suit or at the pretrial conference, if any. Otherwise jury trial shall be deemed waived.”

What do I do if the judgment is paid?

Florida Statute 55.141 provides:
"(1) All judgments and decrees for the payment of money rendered in the courts of this state and which have become final, may be satisfied at any time prior to the actual levy of execution issued thereon by payment of the full amount of such judgment or decree, with interest thereon, plus the costs of the issuance, if any, of execution thereon into the registry of the court where rendered.

(2) Upon such payment, the clerk shall execute and record in the official records a satisfaction of judgment upon payment of the recording charge prescribed in s. 28.24(12). Upon payment of the amount required in subsection (1) and the recording charge required by this subsection and execution and recordation of the satisfaction by the clerk, any lien created by the judgment is satisfied and discharged.”

Appeals and Relief from Court Decisions
What is an appeal?

An appeal is a specific kind of request made after a trial or certain rulings by the court, asking a higher court to decide whether the original court decided the issue correctly. There are strict procedural and time requirements for filing an appeal, and very strict procedures and mechanisms by which an appeal must be pursued.

How long do I have to file?

The law establishes timelines for appeals, motions for new trials and other types of relief from court decisions. Please consult Florida Statutes and the Rules of Civil Procedure, the Rules of Appellate Procedure and the Small Claims Rules for more information.

The rules of procedure relating to these matters can be found at:

Fees
What fees are involved?

Fees vary, depending on the dollar amount of the claim, the type of action or matter and what is being requested. See the current Fees & Costs for more information.


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