What is the Jurisdiction of the Magistrate Court?
The Magistrate Court handles claims of not more than $15,000. Any person may file a claim in Magistrate Court in his or her own name, without an attorney. (You may have an attorney represent you at your own expense, but the Court does not appoint attorneys for civil cases.)
How to Bring a Case in Magistrate Court
DECIDING TO SUE:
The first step is deciding whether to sue. Remember, you must prove that the person or business you are suing owes you something. In deciding to sue, consider whether you have any evidence to prove your case. Witnesses usually must have personal knowledge of the "facts" they would testify to for their testimony to be admissible.
If you sue an individual, they must be a resident of Clayton County. If you sue a corporation, it must do business in Clayton County or the registered agent for the corporation must be located in Clayton County. If you sue a sole proprietor for a business, the sole proprietor must be a resident of Clayton County. The Court or the Clerk of Court cannot advise you on who to sue, or if you have a good suit. For legal advice an attorney should be consulted.
In order for the court to pass judgment in your case, you have to sue the correct entity. The person you sue is called the "Defendant." If the defendant owns a business which is not incorporated, and your claim is against the business, you may sue the person and the trade name he or she does business under in the county where the owner resides, regardless of where the business is (Example: John Doe d/b/a John's Grocery). You can usually find out the exact trade name, as it is registered in the Clayton County Superior Court records. You can personally go to the Clerk's Office and find this information.
If the Defendant is a corporation, you must sue the corporation itself, rather than someone who works for the corporation. Remember, you must sue a corporation in the county where it is doing business or is incorporated. You may also sue a corporation in the county where the registered agent is located (Registered Agent is the party that should be served for the corporation). If you need to verify if a business is incorporated, and get the registered agents' name and address for the corporation, you need to call the Corporation's Listing office of the Secretary of State (404 656-2817) or check the web at www.sos.state.ga.us/corporations/corpsearch.htm.
HOW TO FILE
A Statement of Claim should be filled out. On this form, you will put the name and address of the person or corporation you are suing, tell the exact amount of money you are suing for and explain why you are suing. You may represent yourself or sue on behalf or a minor should you be the guardian. However, you cannot represent someone else if you are not an attorney.
In addition, you must put your name and mailing address on the claim form. The Clerk will use this address to send you notice of the date and time when your case will be heard by the Magistrate. Your case may be dismissed if the court cannot locate you and you fail to appear in Court when your case is called for trial.
WHERE TO FILE:
You may personally file or mail the notarized claim form to the Magistrate Court of Clayton County, located at the Courthouse, 9151 Tara Boulevard, Jonesboro, Georgia 30236. Claims against Defendants residing outside the State of Georgia are usually filed in the state where the Defendant is located, but you should consult an attorney regarding these cases to determine whether service can be obtained and suit begun in Georgia.
If you are suing someone, you must pay a filing fee and a service fee. The fee for filing your claim is $47.00. In addition, each Defendant must be served by the Sheriff at a service cost of $50.00. (Example: If you sue one Defendant, the cost is $97.00.) An additional service fee of $50.00 is assessed for each defendant to be served even if they are at the same address as the first Defendant.
NOTIFYING THE DEFENDANT:
The Sheriff will serve the Defendant a copy of the complaint and summons. The papers will inform the Defendant of the nature of your suit. The Defendant has thirty (30) days from the date that he or she was served with the complaint in which to answer the complaint. If the defendant fails to answer the complaint within thirty days, law does permit the Defendant an additional fifteen (15) days in which he can file an answer (totaling 45 days), upon payment of costs. If the Defendant answers the claim, the clerk will notify you in writing of the trial date, place and time of the hearing by regular mail, hence the need for a correct address.
CLAIMS BY THE DEFENDANT AGAINST THE PLAINTIFF:
The Defendant is allowed to make a counter claim against you related to your claim against him. If the Defendant makes such a claim, he must state his claim in his answer. A copy of the answer/claim will be mailed to you. The Magistrate may set your claim and the Defendant's claim for the same trial date or set separate trial dates. You do not have to answer a counter claim until your court hearing. If the Defendant's claim is for more than $15,000.00 actual damages, the case may be transferred to the State Court of Clayton County, as Magistrate Court does not usually have jurisdiction of claims in excess of $15,000.00.
HOW TO KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON WITH YOUR CASE:
You may look at your case online at any time by using our Court Case Inquiry. Information such as service on defendant, court dates and findings is available through this site.
PREPARING FOR TRIAL:
The Plaintiff must prove the Defendant is indebted to him and the amount of damages owed. Although the Magistrate Court is a "People's" court, the judges are still required to apply the rules of evidence when considering your case. The court will not accept affidavits or letters which are considered "hearsay." Usually witnesses are required by law to testify upon the basis of their personal knowledge of the facts, and not upon the basis of what someone else told them. You may need to seek the advice of an attorney in order to learn how to prove your case. The judges or clerks of this court cannot tell you how to prove your case, or give other legal advice to either party.
While waiting for trial you should gather all your documents (receipts, repair bills, warranties, etc.) and have them ready. If you have witnesses, you should notify them of your court date. Should a witness refuse to come to court you may have the clerk issue a subpoena for their appearance and you would have it served upon them prior to your court date, as provided by law.
Georgia Law requires the court to have the parties attempt to negotiate a settlement before the trial. If you reach an agreement to settle your case, you will need to put these terms in writing.
If you settle your case and the party is willing to pay you on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis, and this arrangement is acceptable with you, you should ask the clerk for a Consent Judgment form. This form will enable you to put the terms in writing, with both parties' signatures and the judge's signature. Should the party fail to pay as per the Consent Judgment terms, you would not be required to appear in court to start collection proceedings. Even though you receive a judgment in your favor, whether it is a consent judgment or one rendered in court by the judge, if the party does not work, have money or assets, you may not be able to collect your judgment. The court cannot force a party to pay you the money owed to you.
Civil trials are usually held during the week on Tuesdays at 8:30 a.m. and Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. at the Clayton County Courthouse, 9151 Tara Boulevard Jonesboro, GA. It is very important for you to appear on time with all your evidence and witnesses. If you appear late, or if you fail to appear, your case may be dismissed.
When your case is called the Court will inquire as to the length of time it will take you to present your case and how many witnesses will testify on your behalf. Your testimony is usually essential in proving your case. After the court calls the calendar and determines the length of each case, you will be excused for a few minutes to attempt to negotiate a settlement before the judge hears your case. You should make an earnest attempt in reaching a settlement. Remember, you are the one most familiar with your case; the judge is not. It would be more conducive to reach a settlement on your own than to have the judge make a decision that is not in your favor.
The Plaintiff has the burden to prove to the court the liability of the Defendant and the amount of damages claimed. The Plaintiff will have the first opportunity to tell the court their side of the case and present evidence or witnesses on their behalf. After each of these witnesses has testified, the Defendant may ask the witness any questions pertaining to their testimony. After presentation of the plaintiff's case, the Defendant may then present evidence and testimony to support his case. The Plaintiff may ask the Defendant and his witnesses questions relative to their testimony. Remember, on cross-examination of the other party or their witnesses, you must ask questions and not make statements or be argumentative, even if you do not agree with the testimony! After all the evidence has been presented, the court will consider all the relevant evidence and make a decision. Once the judge has made a decision, it will be reduced to writing and you will be given a copy of the judgment. This is usually done before you leave the courtroom.
If the Defendant does not answer a complaint within 45 days from the date of service, the plaintiff may then receive a judgment. This is called a judgment by default. When you receive a judgment by default it is usually for the full amounts you are asking for plus the amount of the court costs you paid to initiate the action. However, if your claim is for unliquidated damages, you will still have to prove the amount of damages in court to receive your default judgment (Example: auto-accident).
Both parties have the right to appeal a case which is tried by the Court. If you think the judge has made the wrong decision, you may appeal to the State Court. Appeals must be made within thirty (30) days from the date of the judge's decision. The party filing the appeal will have to pay costs and copy expenses. The person who files an appeal may be required to pay any legal expenses of the other party if the court finds the appeal lacks substantial justification (is frivolous). However, there is no appeal from a default judgment.
COLLECTING THE JUDGMENT:
In many cases collecting a judgment is harder than proving your case in court. The court does not collect your judgment for you. If you receive a judgment and you are not voluntarily paid, there are several methods of collection the law provides (provided that the party is not indigent). You should consult an attorney if you have questions about the best method of collecting a judgment, but upon receiving a judgment from the court you may want to:
- Have the court issue a Fi Fa for you (proof of your judgment) which places a lien against the losing party and any property he may own. The cost for issuing the Fi Fa is $9.00.
- File a garnishment against Defendant's paycheck in the county where the employer is located.
- File a garnishment on Defendant's bank account, which is done in the county where the bank is located.
- Levy against real and personal property. The Sheriff will require the Fi Fa to levy against any personal property. If you want to levy against real property, you should contact an attorney for the procedure.
- Turn your judgment over to an attorney or a collection agency for collection.
SATISFACTION OF JUDGMENT:
When a judgment is satisfied, the judgment creditor or his or her attorney must direct cancellation and satisfaction of the JUDGMENT WITHIN 60 DAYS. Filing an original signed letter at the Magistrate Court Clerk's Office, stating the judgment has been satisfied, with the case number and the names of the parties is sufficient. If you requested that a fi fa be issued, the original fi fa will need to be marked satisfied and recorded on the Lien Docket at the Superior Court Real Estate Office WITHIN 60 DAYS. Failure to record this information could make you liable for damages up to $500.00.
IMPORTANT THINGS TO REMEMBER
- If you should move after you file your claim, notify the clerk in writing of your new address.
- Once a court date has been set by the clerk, continuances are granted by consent of both parties or for legal cause only.
- It is very important that you sue the correct party. If you have any doubts as to who you should sue, you should consult an attorney.
- The court cannot force the losing party to pay you.
- Finally, it is important to remember that this site only provides basic information for suing in the Magistrate Court. If you have any questions that do not require legal advice, the Clerk will be happy to assist you. The Clerk can be reached at (770) 477-3443, 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon and 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. For questions which require the giving of legal advice you will be referred to seek that advice from an attorney.