Frequently Asked Questions
Before you file a claim, you should contact the person or business you plan
to sue and attempt to settle your dispute. This effort may save you time and money. In some
instances, it costs as much or more than the actual claim to file and seek collections. You should
also find out if the person or business you plan to sue has any money or assets to pay your claims,
if you should win. Otherwise, you may have a difficult time collecting on a court judgment. Remember,
it is up to you, not the court, to take further legal action against the person or business
if they do not pay the judgment. This process can be handled through the mail; you only have to
come to the courthouse when or if the case is set for a hearing.
An individual who has reached the age of 19, a partnership, or a corporation
may file a claim, with or without an attorney. If a partnership files without an attorney, the person
representing the partnership must be a partner or employee of the partnership. If a corporation files
without an attorney, the person representing the corporation must be an officer or full-time employee
of the corporation.
You or your attorney should go to the Small Claims Division of the District
Court in the county where the person or business you wish to sue lives or has an office, and file a
Statement of Claim (Complaint) form.
Statement of Claim (Complaint - General).
This form is available in the Clerk's Office. By law, the Court Clerk cannot give you legal
advice nor can they assist you in filling out forms (you, an individual or an attorney of your
choice may do this). If you are physically unable to fill them out yourself, this office
will gladly make reasonable accommodations in order to help you complete the necessary paperwork.
Once you complete the complaint, you become the "plaintiff" in the case and
the person you are suing is the "defendant". The information that you must have in order to complete
the case is the defendant's correct and complete address and/or their place of employment. You must
pay a filing fee at the time the claim is filed. Filing fees are non-refundable. NO
OUT OF STATE PERSONAL CHECKS. If
you can't afford to prepay this fee, you can fill out an Affidavit of Substantial Hardship form
and ask the judge to delay payment and the costs will be taxed at the conclusion of the case. You may
attain this form from the Court Clerk or download it here
Affidavit of Substantial Hardship. The cost of filing the case is as follows and
is broken down into a fee description according to the amount of the claim
(amount of monetary damages you are seeking or claiming) and the fee charged at
the time the case is filed. The fees for filing a claim with more than one
defendant, additional fees or services will be added to what the defendant owes
if you (the plaintiff) wins the case. Otherwise, you (the plaintiff) will be
responsible for those fees accumulated over the course of the claim. Pleadings
issued for service by certified mail on an individual must be made by restricted
delivery ($10.86 for one ounce and $0.20 for each additional ounce).
|Fee Description||Claim Amount||Fee at Filing|
|Filing Fee (One Defendant)||Up to $1,500.00||$60.00|
|Filing Fee (One Defendant)||$1,501.00 up to $3,000.00||$134.00|
|Additional Service Fees||Claim Amount||Fee|
|Additional Defendant||Any Amount||$20.00 per additional defendant.|
|Additional Plaintiffs||Any Amount||$50.00 ($500 max)|
|Certified Mail (1oz.)||Any Amount||$10.86|
|Subpoenas||Any Amount||$20.00 per subpoena|
CERTIFIED MAIL - When requesting service wherein the address provided
is a post office box, or is out of state, the papers may be served by certified mail. You should
prepare an envelope, green card, and green and white sticker. Be sure that the Clerk's address
is the return address, to-wit: CIRCUIT CLERK, P.O. BOX 1810, COLUMBIANA, ALABAMA 35051. You must
affix the proper postage onto the prepared envelope. Certified mail fee at this time is as follows:
Restricted Delivery, $10.86, however, you must be sure that you allow for additional weight, which
is $0.20 per additional ounce.
Once the forms are completed, this office will process the complaint and
assign your case a number (You should use this number whenever you contact the court concerning
your case). After it is processed
in our office, it is then sent to the Sheriff's Department for service on the defendant(s) or issued
by Certified Mail whichever process you stated. Once served with a Statement of Claim, the
defendant has 14 days to complete the Answer form and to file it with the Clerk's Office. We will
notify you of the service date by mail with a computer print-out. Please do not call for service date
(We do not check service by phone.) If the defendant files an answer, the case will be set for trial
in 6 - 8 weeks from the receipt of the answer. You should have sufficient time or notification of
the trial in order to subpoena any witnesses and otherwise prepare your case for trial. If you have
a conflict with the trial date, you will need to file a motion to continue.
If the defendant fails to file an answer, the plaintiff can take a judgment
by default by filling out a default request and affidavit form. This form is available here
Application, Affidavit and Entry of Default Judgement.
Please note that this form must be notarized.
You may choose to settle with the plaintiff before the date the claim is
set for trial. If you do settle, then the claim may be dismissed, with no judgment entered against
you. If you choose not to settle or you are unable to settle, you must answer the Complaint within
14 calendar days after being served, admitting or denying all or part of the claim. Remember, your
answer must be filed within 14 calendar days or a default judgment may be entered against you. The
Answer form is available for download here
As the defendant, you may also choose to file a Counterclaim
Defendant's Answer (Counterclaim)
, which is a claim that you have against the plaintiff.
All parties to a small claims case are encouraged to try and reach a settlement
agreement prior to trial.
All settlement agreements should be in writing and should state who is to
pay the court costs. If the defendant does not agree to pay the court costs as part of the settlement,
the plaintiff will be responsible.
If a settlement agreement is reached before the trial, the plaintiff must
immediately notify the clerk so that the trial can be cancelled.
If an agreement cannot be reached, both the plaintiff and defendant should
get together all papers, receipts, bills, sales tickets, estimates, photographs, etc., having to do
with the claim. These are to be brought to court the date of the trial.
You should write down the details and facts of the case to assist you in
telling your side of the story at the trial.
As the plaintiff or defendant, you may bring any witnesses you feel can help
explain your case. If there is any reason to believe a witness will not voluntarily appear, you
may ask the clerk to issue a Witness Subpoena requiring that person to appear. This form is
available for download
Order to Appear(Subpoena) and
Subpoena Request Form. You will be
required to pay a witness subpoena fee. You will need to make sure you allow at least two
weeks for service of your subpoena prior to trial date, especially if your witness is located in
BE ON TIME. If you are late, the judge may dismiss your case (if
you are the plaintiff) or he may enter a default judgment against you (if you are the defendant). If
something comes up which would prevent you from being on time or appearing at the trial, you MUST
inform the judge your case is assigned to as soon as possible and request a continuance (delay) of the trial.
A trial in Small Claims Court is an informal hearing before a judge. There
is no jury. When the case is called, the plaintiff will present his/her evidence and his/her
witnesses. The defendant will then present his/her evidence, and call his/her witnesses.
After hearing both sides of the case and looking at the evidence, the judge
will make a decision and render a judgment based on the law and the facts presented. A copy of
the judgment will be mailed to each party or their attorney.
If either of you (plaintiff or defendant) disagrees with the decision, you
may appeal the case by filing a NOTICE OF APPEAL form with the clerk of Small Claims Court
within 14 calendar days after the date of judgment. This form is available here
Notice of Appeal. The Clerk's Office also has this form.
The appeal will be heard in the Circuit Court. The party filing the appeal
must be prepared to pay a filing fee of $302.00 for a non-jury trial or $402.00 for a jury trial and
post a bond to cover any unpaid court costs. You may need the assistance of an attorney if you choose
to appeal because the simplified procedures of Small Claims court do not apply in Circuit Court.
If the defendant does not pay the judgment (after the appeal time has run
14 days), it is up to you and not the court to take one of the following actions to collect
Forms for the following are available in the clerk's office.
- Garnishment of Wages - It must meet state and federal requirements in order to collect
using this method. Must have name and address of Defendant's employer.
Process of Garnishment
- Garnishment of Bank Account - Must know of the defendant's bank and bank address.
- Execution for Levy on Property - Obtain a court order authorizing the sheriff to
pick up any property belonging to the defendant and sell it to satisfy the judgment. The
property levied cannot be under a recorded mortgage (plaintiff can check with the probate court
Writ of Execution
It is important to mention, you cannot garnishee a retirement check,
disability check, welfare, child assistance, unemployment, or social security check. All of the
above actions require an additional filing fee. (SEE FEES) The clerk has
the necessary forms and sometimes the method of collection may become involved, you may wish to
have an attorney explain the procedure and assist you in filing the appropriate forms. Again the
court clerk cannot give you legal advice.
The court has no way of collection outside of the above mentioned methods
and judgments are good for up to ten years. It is important to mention, it is easier to get
a judgment than it is to collect on it. A judgment is not a guarantee of collection.
The plaintiff can request a certificate of judgment and have it recorded in
the county probate court. It will then go on record and must
be satisfied before the defendant can borrow money or sell property.