Small Claims provides a forum for resolving money disputes up to $5,000. In small claims cases, the parties represent themselves and can not be represented by an attorney. The case will be heard by a judge. The judge's decision is final and cannot be appealed.
The cause of action for a small claims case must have occurred in the City of East Lansing and/or the defendant must live or do business in the City of East Lansing. Actions of fraud and actions of libel, slander, assault, battery, or other intentional torts shall not be instituted in the Small Claims division (Michigan Compiled Law 600.8424).
How to File a Small Claims Lawsuit
To file a small claims lawsuit, an Affidavit and Claim, Small Claims (DC84) (PDF) form must be completed. The entire form must be completed prior to filing and paying the filing fee. The forms are available online or for pickup at the 54B District Court.
The plaintiff is responsible for paying the filing and service fees. If the judge rules in favor of the plaintiff, the fees may be added to the judgment against the defendant. Once the small claim form has been filed, a hearing date will be scheduled. The defendant must be served with a copy of the complaint filed against them at least seven days prior to the hearing date.
Any competent adult (except the plaintiff) can personally deliver the affidavit and claim to the defendant. That person must complete a proof of service and return it to the court. The proof of service must be signed in front of a clerk at the court.
The court clerk can send the affidavit and claim by certified mail for an additional fee ($12 if you are suing an individual, $6.50 if you are suing a business). The defendant is the only one that can sign for the papers. The Postal Service will return the green signature card directly to the court to show service was completed. Please keep in mind that if the Postal Service allows anyone else to sign for the papers then service has not been made.
A professional court officer/process server can deliver the affidavit and claim to the defendant. Court officers charge $24 plus mileage. The court clerk can give you the names of approved court officers.
Cases may go to mediation. Michigan Court Rules define "mediation" as a process in which a neutral third party (mediator) facilitates communication between parties, assists in identifying issues and helps explore solutions to promote a mutually acceptable settlement. Unlike litigation where one party wins or loses, mediation helps parties reach a mutually satisfactorily resolution in a non-adversarial manner. If you have any questions about the mediation process, please call the Dispute Resolution Center of Central Michigan at (517) 485-2274.
Small Claims Hearing
At the hearing, both sides appear before the judge and present their evidence in support or defense of the claim. Evidence may consist of documentation supporting the claim or witnesses who will testify on the behalf of the plaintiff. The plaintiff may also testify on their own behalf and must bring all evidence and witnesses to the court date.
If the judge rules that there is enough evidence to support the plaintiff's claim, they may enter a judgment against the defendant. It is up to the plaintiff to collect the money from the defendant. The court does NOT collect money for the plaintiff once a judgment is obtained.
Prior to the hearing, either side has the right to have the case removed from the Small Claims Division and transferred to the General Civil Division by completing the Demand and Order for Removal (DC86) (PDF).