Small Claims Division
The Small Claims Division is responsible for maintaining files on lawsuits of $10,000 or less. Below is a guide to help you through your small claims case. Other than providing this guide and forms, circuit clerks are prohibited by law from giving any legal advice.
NEED TO KNOW:
The Small Claims Court is designed to hear civil cases involving claims of $10,000.00 or less, exclusive of court costs and interest. (Illinois Supreme Court Rules 281-289)
The Small Claims Court is located at the County Courthouse.
The Small Claims Court is located at the County Courthouse. Anyone can file a lawsuit in the Small Claims Court if the amount claimed is not more than $10,000.00. If you choose to act as your own attorney you must do all the investigations and preparation normally done by the attorney, including representing yourself in Court, securing witnesses, and collecting documents. Neither the Judge nor the Clerk will do this for you. When the claim is less than $1,500.00, a corporation may defend as a defendant in small claims proceeding through any officer, director, manager, department manager, or supervisor of the corporation as though the corporation was appearing in its proper person. For the purpose of this rule, the term “officer” means president, vice president, registered agent, or another person with the responsibility of managing the affairs of the corporation.
If someone owes you money or has damaged you in some way, you can file a lawsuit in the Small Claims Court. Examples include a suit for damages to an automobile from a motor vehicle accident, a suit to recover back wages, a suit to recover unpaid rent or a suit to enforce the payment of bills.
To begin a Small Claims action you must file a Complaint with the Clerk of the Circuit Court. A Complaint is a paper explaining who you are suing, where they live, how much money they owe you, and why they owe you money. You must list the defendant’s exact name and address. If the defendant is a corporation, you must list the name and address of an officer of the corporation or the name and address of its registered agent. You can find this information by checking a book called the Corporation Index in the Office of the County Clerk or Recorder of Deeds in the County Courthouse, or by calling the Corporation Search Department of the Illinois Secretary of State, in Springfield, Illinois. The Complaint is signed by the plaintiff and the statement is sworn to before a Notary Public or the Clerk of the Circuit Court. If you file a Small Claims Suit, you are called the Plaintiff. If you have been sued in the Small Claims Court, you are called the defendant.
Persons are sometimes employees of someone else, (another person or corporation), and it may be that the employer is the one responsible for the claim. Be sure to sue the right party or the complaint may be dismissed and you will have wasted both time and money.
The Circuit Clerk of the county where you are filing your complaint will charge you a fee for filing a lawsuit. The fee must be paid when the complaint is filed. The amount of the fee may vary from county to county and depends on the amount that you are requesting in your complaint and whether you wish a trial before a jury. A fee must be paid for a trial by jury. This fee will vary depending on if you request a 6 person or a 12 person jury.
There is another fee charged for the delivery of the summons to the defendant. A summons is a written notice to each defendant named in your complaint that you have filed the claim, telling them the date the case is scheduled in court for the first appearance. If the defendant lives in the county where you filed the complaint, this summons may be delivered to the defendant by certified or registered mail, restricted delivery, or by the sheriff of the county where the defendant lives. If the defendant does not live in the county where you are filing the complaint, the summons MUST be served by the sheriff.
If you win, the Judge may award you the costs of bringing the lawsuit.
To file a case, go to the Office of the Circuit Clerk, at your Courthouse and ask the Clerk for a Small Claims Complaint form.
The Clerk will give you a complaint form. You should complete this form carefully, stating the nature and amount of your claim, giving dates and other relevant information. If the claim is based upon a written instrument, such as a contract, lease, or promissory note, a copy must be attached to the original and all copies of the complaint, unless the instrument is unavailable to the plaintiff. The completed complaint form should then be returned to the Clerk, who will give the case a file number and set an “appearance date” (time and date when both plaintiff and defendant will first appear in court) on the summons. You will be expected to pay the filing fee (and jury fee if you demand a jury trial) at the time you file your case. There is no additional cost for having a trial before a Judge.
If you choose to have summons served by mail, the small claims clerk will keep the summons and mail them to you. If you choose to have summons served by the Sheriff, the clerk will mail the summons to the county in which the defendant resides. The Judge cannot discuss the case with you prior to trial. The Judge and Circuit Clerk are prohibited from giving any legal advice about the case.
Generally speaking, every complaint must be filed either in the county where the defendant lives or in the county in which the transaction or some part of it took place.
When you file your suit, you should set a court date (called a return date) of not less than 14 nor more than 40 days after the issuance of the summons. If the defendant does not appear, it may be that he was not served with the Complaint and Summons. If this is the case, then you must prepare an Alias summons, and in most cases, it will be now necessary to have the Sheriff serve the alias summons. (The plaintiff and/or plaintiff’s Attorney must always appear on the summons return date, regardless if service has been had or not. FAILURE TO APPEAR WILL RESULT IN THE CASE BEING DISMISSED FOR WANT OF PROSECUTION). If you fail to appear for the trial you will lose the case. If there is some good reason why you cannot appear, have someone PERSONALLY APPEAR before the Judge and request a continuance to another date. A telephone call to the Clerk IS NOT SUFFICIENT.
The Rules of Court require that in all cases where the summons is to be served by Certified Mail, the plaintiff must complete a sworn affidavit as to the last known address of the defendant.
If you and the defendant reach an agreement as to how much is going to be paid and how much you are going to accept, that is called a settlement. If you receive your settlement money before the court date, please notify the Clerk of the Small Claims Court in person or by mail informing the Clerk that the case has been settled and asking that the case be dismissed
The most important thing you can do is know the exact date and time for trial and be there on time. You should bring any papers, pictures, or other physical objects which have something to do with your case and be prepared to show them to the Judge. You may also bring witnesses to testify in support of your case. A WITNESS is someone who can help explain why you should win your case. Make sure that your witness is present on the exact date and time for the trial. If a witness is necessary for your case and is reluctant to come to Court, you may need a SUBPOENA. a subpoena commands a person to appear and testify at a trial. In order for a subpoena to be legal, you must advance a witness fee of twenty (20) dollars and mileage to and from the Courthouse at the time of service of the subpoena on the witness. This amount may be attached to the subpoena by the Clerk when it is given to the Sheriff for service.
A trial in the Small Claims Court is a simple and informal court hearing. The Judge listens to both parties and their witnesses and examines any physical objects that they have brought and then decides the case. The plaintiff goes first, followed by the defendant. If the defendant fails to appear for the trial the Judge may enter Judgment for the plaintiff. If the plaintiff fails to appear, the case will be dismissed. When testifying try not to be nervous. Speak slowly and loudly. The Judge may ask questions. Answer them as clearly and directly as you can.
The Judge may permit the plaintiff and the defendant to ask questions of any witness, or of each other. The Judge does not want you to argue with the witness or make statements to the Judge why you don’t believe what the witness is saying. Be prepared before trial with a list of questions you wish to ask the other side.
The plaintiff must prove the case by the “greater weight of the evidence” to win the case (i.e. the plaintiff must prove his/her version to be more true than not). For instance, in order for plaintiffs to prove damages, they must either show a paid bill or have testimony by someone who can testify as to the specific damages and the cost of repair or replacement.
At the time of the filing of the Complaint, the plaintiff must decide whether to make a demand for Jury Trial and decide if he/she wants the matter to be tried by a jury of six or a jury of twelve. If the plaintiff does not file the demand at the time that the suit commenced, the right to a Jury Trial is waived. The defendant must at the time of the first appearance in response to the summons make a demand for Jury Trial; otherwise, the defendant shall be deemed to have waived a jury. The party demanding a jury must pay a fee (705 ILCS 105/27.2 S)
If you have been sued in Small Claims Court and you deny that you owe the plaintiff the amount listed in the complaint, you and/or your attorney must appear on the return date set forth in the summons. If the defendant denies the claim, the case will be set for trial at a later date. If the defendant admits the amount shown on the complaint, a judgment will be entered against the defendant and in favor of the plaintiff for the amount requested plus the court costs.
If you are the plaintiff and the Judge decides in your favor (the Court had found that the defendant owes you the money), the Judge’s decision in the case is called a JUDGMENT. If the Court has awarded a judgment in your favor, you should ask the defendant to pay you immediately. If the defendant is not present, you should inform the defendant that a judgment has been awarded and ask for payment.
If the defendant refuses to pay you the amount of the judgment, you must begin collection proceedings. Neither the Judge nor the Clerk may collect money for you. You are responsible for the preparation of all documens and the payment of all additional fees and charges.
A Memorandum and the Judgment may be filed with the Recorder of Deeds, creating a lien on any real estate the defendant owns.
Collection proceedings may be by WAGE DEDUCTION SUMMONS, if you know where the defendant is employed, or by NON-WAGE GARNISHMENT SUMMONS, if you know where the defendant has a bank account. The parties to whom you direct the Wage Deduction Summons or Non-Wage Garnishment Summons must file a sworn answer. After this is filed with the Circuit Clerk, you must appear in Court and the Court will then enter a judgment against the garnisher for the amount shown in the sworn return and sign a turn over order. A certified copy of this order should be sent to the garnishee for your money. You may use this step as often as necessary for the collection of the total judgment awarded plus the additional costs.
If you don’t know where the defendant works, has a bank account, or owns the property, you can have the Clerk issue a CITATION TO DISCOVER ASSETS. Both parties must appear at the citation hearing. The defendant is placed under oath and must answer questions by you concerning employment, locations of bank accounts, and other sources of income, as well as property, owned. The plaintiff must appear in Court or the Citation proceeding will be dismissed.
The Clerk of the court will provide you with the necessary forms for the collection of a Judgment. Additional costs of collection can be added to the amount recoverable from the defendant. If the defendant is true without assets, you may be wasting money.
After a Judgment has been collected, a form called a RELEASE AND SATISFACTION OF JUDGMENT should be prepared for filing with the Circuit Court Clerk.
A Judgment can be appealed by either party to the Fourth District Appellate Court in Springfield, Illinois.
If you need additional information you can call the Circuit Clerk Small Claims Office at the County Courthouse. If you need legal assistance, you can contact an attorney of your choice or the County Bar Association. Supplemental processes, such as Alias Summons, Wage Deductions, etc., can be obtained at the Circuit Clerk’s Office at the County Courthouse.
THIS INFORMATION IS PROVIDED TO ASSIST YOU IN FILING A SMALL CLAIMS CASE AND NOT TO SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. CONSULT AN ATTORNEY IF YOU HAVE LEGAL QUESTIONS.
SMALL CLAIMS DIVISION
|Emily (Small Claims under $10,000)||ext. 161|
|Karen (Small Claims over $10,000)||ext. 162|
Appearances shall be limited to attorneys and parties only. Any cases wherein an attorney can appear for a client while accomplishing a productive hearing shall be so held. The court is following health and safety protocols set by the Illinois Supreme Court and state and local health departments.
The Office of the Circuit Clerk is available to take payments by mail, online, or an after-hours drop-box by the Courthouse door. Please call our office for further information.
ATTENTION: Positively NO cellphones, laptops, or any other electronic devices are allowed inside the courthouse. Please leave them in your vehicles or at home. Thank you for your cooperation.