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District of Columbia Courts

Small Claims FAQs

Can my case be heard by a jury?

Any party can make a request to have their case heard by a jury. The request must be in writing and signed. The written request must be filed with the Small Claims Clerk’s Office before the first court date. The Court may extend the time to file the request for a jury demand upon request by the party. If the defendant wants to request a jury trial, a verified answer requesting the case to be heard by a jury must be filed on or before the first court date. A “verified answer” is an answer that the defendant has sworn to in front of a clerk or notary public. After a jury demand is made, the case will no longer be heard in the Small Claims Branch. The case will be assigned to an Associate Judge in the Civil Division of Superior Court. In jury demand cases, however, all documents must be filed with the Small Claims Clerk’s Office. The case type will change when a jury demand is filed. For example, case number 01 SC2 0003 will change to 01 SCJ 0003. There is a $75 fee for filing a jury demand, unless the fee is waived by the judge.

Do I need a lawyer to help me with my small claims case?

The Small Claims Branch is less formal than other branches of the Court. The procedures are simple and costs kept low so that most people do not need a lawyer to represent them in their small claims case. You must be 18 years old to file a case. Someone who is under the age of 18 or an incompetent person can only sue through a "representative or next of friend". An “incompetent person” is someone who a judge believes cannot make legal decisions for him or herself. A “representative or next of friend” is a person acting for the minor child or incompetent person. A business that files a claim in the Small Claims Branch must have a lawyer.

Do I need to file an answer?

In most small claims cases, defendants are not required to file an answer, plea, or other defense(s) in writing. Instead, defendants can just tell the judge why they disagree that they owe some or all of the money the plaintiff is suing for when they are in court.

How can I serve the statement of claim on the defendant(s)?

"Service of process" is how each defendant is given a copy of the statement of claim and supporting documents. You must serve most Small Claims Branch statement of claims upon the defendant(s) within sixty (60) days of filing the original statement of claim. In collection and subrogation cases only, you have 180 days to serve the defendant(s).

How do I add a new party to the case?

A motion seeking to add a new party (plaintiff, defendant, respondent) must be eFiled. If the judge grants the motion, a paper version of the amended complaint with the new party should be filed in hard copy so that a summons can issue from the clerk's office, so that the new party will be served.

How do I add a party to my case?

If you think that another party needs to be added to your case so that the judge can hear all relevant issues, you must comply with Superior Court Rules 14 or 19 and the person(s) must be served within 100 miles from the place of the hearing or trial. SCR-Civ. 4(k)(1)(B).

How do I collect my money judgment?

The Superior Court does not collect or pay the judgment award to the winning party. The winning party must collect the money judgment that was ordered by the judge. Legal action to collect a money judgment cannot be done until ten business days after the clerk dockets or enters the judgment on its official record. If the losing party does not pay the winning party, the winning party may apply for a writ of attachment on a judgment. A writ of attachment is a form issued by the Court that allows the winning party to get monies from the losing party's wages and/or bank account and other property owed to the winning party. Only one writ of attachment may be issued against a person's wages at a time. You must apply for the writ of attachment in the Small Claims Clerk’s Office.

How do I file a claim against the plaintiff?

If a defendant wants to file a claim against the plaintiff in the same case, a written set-off or counterclaim must be filed, pursuant to Superior Court Rule for Small Claims 5. A set-off is a separate claim that the defendant has against the plaintiff that can be used to reduce the amount of money the defendant owes the plaintiff. If the defendant wins the set-off, the May 2011 12 amount of money the defendant wins will be subtracted from any money the defendant owes the plaintiff. If the amount of the set off is bigger than the amount of the plaintiff’s claim, the plaintiff is not required to pay any money to the defendant at the end of the case. If the defendant wants to be able to collect money from the plaintiff, the defendant must file a counterclaim. There is no filing fee for a set-off. A counterclaim is a separate claim that the defendant has against the plaintiff. With a counterclaim, the defendant can get a judgment against the plaintiff for money the plaintiff owes the defendant. A counterclaim form can be obtained from the Small Claims Clerk’s Office or on the internet at http://www.dccourts.gov/dccourts/superior/civil/forms.jsp. The cost to file a counterclaim is $10.00, unless the fee is waived by the judge.

How do I file a lawsuit in the small claims clerk's office?

You start a case by filing a statement of claim in the Small Claims Clerk's Office. The Small Claims Clerk’s Office is located in Court Building B, 510 4th Street, NW, Room 120. The party who files the case is called the plaintiff. The defendant is the person who is being sued. The statement of claim is a document that explains why the plaintiff believes the defendant owes the plaintiff money.

How do I file a motion?

A party can ask the judge to make a ruling or order something to be done by filing a written motion or making an oral motion in court during the trial or hearing. Usually, one side files a motion, the other side files a written response, and the court holds a hearing, where the parties give brief oral arguments. If a motion is based upon facts that are not clear to the judge from the documents previously filed by the parties, it must be in writing and filed with an affidavit or sworn testimony of the person filing the motion, his agent, or some other competent person. The motion must state the full facts upon which it is based. All motions and related papers must be on 8-1/2 x 11-inch white paper and signed by the filing party with his or her address and telephone number. See SCR-Civ. 10-I. A motion form can be obtained from the Small Claims Clerk’s Office or on the internet at http://www.dccourts.gov/dccourts/superior/civil/forms.jsp. If you do not use the motion form provided by the Small Claims Clerk’s Office, the motion must contain a case caption at the top of the paper and the statement, “THIS MOTION HAS BEEN SET FOR HEARING IN SMALL CLAIMS May 2011 13 COURT ON ____________ [date] AT ____________ [time].” The clerk will insert the date and time of the motion hearing at the bottom of the motion. The Small Claims Clerk’s Office will send notice of motions filed by any party who does not have a lawyer to the opposing party by regular mail.

How do I make a request to continue my initial hearing?

A party can call the Small Claims Clerk’s Office at (202) 879-1120 to request a continuance of the initial hearing. A continuance, if granted, will delay the initial hearing until a future date. You must first call the other party and try to agree to change the date. If both parties agree on a new date, a praecipe (an official form used to request the clerk or court to perform an act) to continue the case must be filed in the Small Claims Clerk’s Office. The praecipe must request that the clerk continue the initial hearing to a specific date within 21 to 30 days and note that all parties have agreed to change the date of the hearing. The praecipe must be signed by all pro se parties and at least one lawyer, if a party has a lawyer. The parties can agree to continue the case only one time. You can get a praecipe form in the Small Claims Clerk’s Office or on the internet at http://www.dccourts.gov/dccourts/superior/civil/forms.jsp. The clerk will mail a notice with the new hearing date to all parties.

How do I prepare for court?

"All parties can bring witnesses (people who have first-hand knowledge of the case) to court to testify under oath at the hearing. If a witness will not agree to appear in court, the Court can issue a subpoena ordering the person to show up in court or give the Court documents that support the case. The subpoena must be served on the witness by a process server. The process server does not have to be approved by the Small Claims Clerk’s Office but must be over the age of 18 and cannot be a party to the case. The subpoena can be served in the District of Columbia or within 25 miles of the Court. All parties should bring to court, documents (contracts, receipts, promissory notes, letters, canceled checks, pictures or other written material) or other proof that relate to the case and all court documents filed in the Small Claims Clerk’s Office. A subpoena can also be issued to order a person to bring documents to court. There is no filing fee to issue a subpoena to a witness or to request documents. The subpoena should be issued well before the hearing date so there is time to serve it. Proof of service of the subpoena should be filed in the Small Claims Clerk’s Office, noting the manner of service, name of the person served and signed by the person who made the service, five business days before the court date. The proof of service is on the back of the subpoena form."

How may I collect on the money judgment?

Through various attachments and writs. See the Landlord and Tenant Clerk for additional information, forms, and costs.

What can I do if I lose?

"If you are the losing party because the Court issued a default or default judgment, you may file a motion to vacate the default or default judgment. The Court issues a default judgment when you do not show up at your court date. If your wages and/or bank accounts or other properties have been “attached,” (seized or taken because of a court order) and you want to get back your property, you may file a motion to quash the writ of attachment. This motion can be added to the motion to vacate the default judgment. Any party can file a motion for a new trial or a motion to alter or amend the judgment. These motions must be filed ten business days after the judge’s order, which is called an “entry of the judgment.” See SCR-Civ. 59. A hearing on the motion will be scheduled within 21 to 30 days of filing where you will argue in favor of your motion. The losing party can file a motion to stay execution of a judgment (to prevent further action by the winning party to collect the judgment) while a motion for judicial review, motion for a new trial or motion to alter or amend a judgment is waiting to be heard by the judge. These motions should be filed with the Small Claims Clerk; there is a $10.00 fee, unless your costs have been waived by the Court. See page 6 for more details about fee waivers. Either party may appeal a judge’s decision. To “appeal a judge’s decision” means to have the judge’s decision looked at by another judge, usually a panel of judges from a higher court.

What do I do if my case has been rescheduled due to court closings?

When the Court is closed because of inclement weather or an emergency, hearings will be rescheduled as follows:Civil Action Cases
Trials – All parties are to appear in court when the court resumes for business unless notified otherwise by judicial staff.

All other hearings will be rescheduled for a new date and notice of the new date will be mailed to all parties.Landlord and Tenant Cases
Jury Trials Only – All parties are to appear in court when the court resumes for business unless notified otherwise by judicial staff.

All other hearings will be rescheduled for a new date and notice of the new date will be mailed to all parties.Small Claims and Conciliation Cases
Jury Trials Only – All parties are to appear in court when the court resumes for business unless notified otherwise by judicial staff.

All other hearings will be rescheduled for a new date and notice of the new date will be mailed to all parties.

What should I do if the case settles before the court date?

If the parties reach an agreement or settlement out of court prior to the court date, the plaintiff must file a praecipe (an official form used to request the clerk or court to perform an act) asking the Court to dismiss the statement of claim and mark the case as settled. If the defendant has filed a counterclaim or other action, the defendant must also file a praecipe to dismiss his or her claim and mark the case as settled. The parties may also file their settlement agreement with the Court. Praecipes are available in the Small Claims Clerk’s Office or on the internet at http://www.dccourts.gov/dccourts/superior/civil/forms.jsp.

Will my court costs and interest be included in my judgment?

The judge decides if one party must pay the costs of the lawsuit for the other party. Your judgment can include fees paid to the Marshal and the Court. Your judgment will not include fees paid to the special process server to serve the defendant. See SCR-SC 15(a). Certain judgments include payment of interest on the amount owed. See DC Code § 15-109. The judgment interest rate is the legal or statutory rate of interest, unless the claim is based on a contract that states another rate. The legal or statutory interest rate is available in the Small Claims Clerk’s Office (Court Building B, Room 120) and on the internet at http://www.dccourts.gov/dccourts/superior/civil/index.jsp. Judgments against the District of Columbia or its employees or officers can not include an interest rate of more than 4% per year. If the action is based on a contract, the judgment interest rate is the rate stated in the contract, from the date it was due and payable, until paid. See DC Code §§ 28-3302 and 15-108.