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Filing With Small Claims Court

Posted October 31, 2012 in Advice Column, Urbandale

For most people, the thought of filing a lawsuit in order to recover money they are owed brings feelings of dread.

Litigation practice is expensive, time-consuming and definitely a job best left to professionals. Unlike cases on television, cases aren’t decided in an hour. Civil litigation can take years to resolve. However, there is one legal venue that is specifically designed to simplify the litigation process: Iowa’s small claims court system.

Iowa Code Chapter 631 establishes Iowa’s small claims court system. Small claims court avoids the time, expense and formal procedure of litigation in district court. It is intended to provide a forum for the average person to resolve disputes that don’t involve a large amount of money.

Generally speaking, civil claims (as opposed to criminal claims) may be brought in small claims court if the amount in controversy is $5,000 or less. The filing fee for a small claims case is $85, instead of the $185 filing fee for district court matters. The proceedings provide an expedited process for resolving claims; the statute provides that cases must be resolved within 90 days or less. The rules governing the form and content of legal pleadings is relaxed in the small claims. Forms are standardized and are provided by the clerk of court.

Except as specifically provided by the Code, no separate written pleadings or motions are filed. Examination of the witnesses is to be in such a way to “bring out the truth.” In some cases, the judge will question the parties and witnesses, instead of relying on examination and cross-examination by the litigants.

Although the proceeding itself is generally designed to be informal, the standards governing what evidence is necessary and acceptable to prove the case are not. A party must still focus on the legal issues, understand the governing statue or case law, present admissible evidence, and argue the correct legal principles.

Unlike some other states, Iowa allows an attorney to represent a party in small claims court. This can be a huge advantage to a litigant. The presence of counsel in a small claims proceeding can often be the determining factor between winning or losing a case, especially in a situation where the other party is unrepresented.

Done correctly, small claims is a very cost-effective way of resolving claims. This specialized division of the judicial system provides an inexpensive, quick and informal venue for dispute resolution.

Information provided by Thomas Sherzan, attorney for Abendroth and Russell Law Firm, 2560 73rd St., Urbandale, 278-0623,

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