How Does Small Claims Court Work in Alabama?

Q:      I loaned a guy $1,200.00, he wrote me an IOU, and now he won’t pay me back.  I’ve called a couple lawyers but they said I’m on my own.  What should I do?   

 A:      It sounds like you should quit loaning people money that you can’t afford to lose— you’re not a bank, are you?  If the guy refuses to pay you after sending him a letter requesting the repayment I would sue him in Small Claims Court. You can file a Small Claims lawsuit in almost any civil case where the amount in controversy is $3,000.00 or less.  You do not need a lawyer to represent you because the rules are relaxed and your case will be decided by a Judge and not a jury. 

            To initiate a case in Small Claims Court you need to fill out a Statement of Claim (Complaint) and file it with the clerk’s office in either the county where your claim occurred or where the Defendant (person you are suing) resides.  In Mobile County the Small Claims Clerk’s office is on the 3rd floor of the Mobile County Government Plaza on the North side of the building (closest to Government Street).  You can get a Complaint form at the courthouse or you can find one on the internet at http://eforms.alacourt.gov/.  

             You are required to provide the correct legal name and address of each Defendant and a brief description of your claim.  In your case I would write something like “I loaned John Doe $1,200.00 on January 1, 2007 and he wrote me an IOU which I have attached to this Complaint.  John Doe has refused to pay me back and he has not responded to the letter I sent him on April 1, 2007 requesting the repayment of the loan.”  

             If the amount in controversy in your case is between $1.00 and $1,500.00 the filing fee is $46.00.  If the amount in controversy is over $1,500.00 but does not exceed $3,000.00 the filing fee is $120.00.  Once you file the Complaint the clerk will send it to the Sheriff to serve upon the Defendant.  After he receives your Complaint the Defendant has fourteen (14) days to respond by filing an Answer.  If he does not file an Answer after being served you win but you may still have to go to Court to prove the amount of your damages.

             On the day of your trial you should arrive at the courthouse early dressed appropriately.  Don’t disrespect the Judge who will decide your case by going to Court looking like a slob in jeans, shorts, a t-shirt, tank top, or flip flops, and do not wear a hat.   Be well prepared and bring copies of any documents that you wish to present as evidence.  You can bring witnesses who have personal knowledge of the facts of your case with you or you can ask the clerk to subpoena them for trial.  Probably the most important piece of advice I can give you about presenting your  Small Claims case is to keep it simple and to the point.  The Judge will not appreciate a dog and pony show. 

             At the conclusion of your case the Judge will probably tell you that he will put his ruling in the mail although he may rule right then and there.  If either party is unhappy with the ruling they have fourteen (14) days to appeal by filing a Notice of Appeal with the Court. If you win your case the Court will give you a Judgment against the Defendant but just because you have a Judgment doesn’t mean that the Defendant will automatically pay it.  You may have to file a Process of Garnishment or a Writ of Execution to satisfy your Judgment with wages, bank accounts or property of the Defendant.  But that’s a topic for another day.  Good luck with your Small Claims case.

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