Most victims of theft or fraud are ripped off by less than a thousand dollars.
Sometimes people are accused of stealing or breaching a contract, when
in reality it is a simple misunderstanding. Oftentimes, the cost of hiring
an attorney to represent you will be greater than the amount of money
in controversy. In those instances, if you do not have an attorneys’
fees clause in your contract or if there is no statutory award of attorneys’
fees for your claims, hiring an attorney simply does not make sense. If
you find yourself in this situation, filing or defending a Small Claims
case as a self-represented litigant (commonly referred to as a pro se
party) is your best option.
There is no need to be nervous about representing yourself, Small Claims
Courts do not even permit attorneys to file cases. If you file a Small
Claims case, the Defendant may hire an attorney, at which point you will
be allowed to hire an attorney. However, attorneys are very rare in Small
Claims cases. So rare, in fact, that despite having taught classes on
Small Claims procedures, I have only entered my appearance in one Small
Claims case ever.
Kinds of Small Claims Cases.
In Colorado, Small Claims Courts are available for people with damages
that do not exceed $7,500.00. Although other cases are permitted, Small
Claims cases generally involve people fighting over money, personal property,
or the performance of a contract. However, Small Claims Courts cannot
hear cases which involve libel, slander, or evictions.
Where Do You File?
Before filing a Small Claims case, make sure you are filing in the correct
Small Claims Court. To sue someone in Small Claims, the Small Claims Court
must be located in either:
(1) the county where the defendant lives, or
(2) the county where the defendant is enrolled in as a full time student
at an institution of higher education, or
(3) the county where the defendant is regularly employed, or
(4) the county where the defendant has a regular place of business, or
(5) the county where real property is located in the case of security
deposit dispute or in the case of enforcement of
What Do You File?
Colorado has standardized forms for parties to fill out and file. These
forms are identified by their JDF (Judicial Department Form) Numbers.
Before doing anything, you should review Colorado’s Small Claims
Instructions (JDF 248) (https://goo.gl/juEXuy) and Colorado’s Small Claims Handbook (https://goo.gl/0fqeou). These documents will have important information for you and I encourage
you read these documents before filing anything, whether you are the Plaintiff
or the Defendant.
If you are a Plaintiff, the first step is to fill out a Notice, Claim &
Summons to Appear for Trial (JDF 250) (https://goo.gl/YmsAho).
Leave the Notice and Summons to Appear for Trial box shown here blank:
Once JDF 250 is completed, you can file it in a Small Claims Court. When
you go to the courthouse to file your case, the court will pick a date
and time for trial. That is when the clerk will fill in the Notice and
Summons to Appear for Trial box. Remember that the case must be filed
in the proper county or you risk wasting your filing fee.
If your claim is $500 or less, the filing fee will be $31. If your claim
is more than $500 and less than $7,500, the filing fee will be $55. After
you have filed JDF 250, you must have the Defendant served with the paperwork.
Service can be completed by the sheriff, or by anyone over the age of
18 that is not a party to the case. Make sure the Notice, Claim &
Summons is served more than 15 days before the court date.
If you are a Defendant that has been served a Notice, Claim & Summons
in a Small Claims case, you must file a Response and/or a Counterclaim
by filling out those sections in the Notice, Claim & Summons shown here:
Note that the schedule of filing fees is included for your information.
Once these sections are completed, you can file the Response and Counterclaim
with the Court. If you are filing before the trial date, you must mail
a copy to the Plaintiff.
If you have questions about initiating or responding to a Small Claims
case, most courthouses have Self-Represented Litigant Coordinators provided
by the state to help you fill out the documents correctly. While they
cannot offer legal advice, Self-Represented Litigant Coordinators are
a good resource to make sure you are following the correct procedures,
which will help ensure that your filing is not rejected by the court.
See a list of Self-Represented Litigant Coordinators here (https://goo.gl/BrNnih).
How to Prepare
To prepare for your Small Claims case, you need to be organized. The first
thing you need to do is make an outline of your argument. In your outline,
you want to first describe your legal issue. Second, you want to describe
the rule that affords you a legal right. Third, you want to analyze why
under your circumstances you deserve to win. Fourth, you want to conclude
Here is an example of a Plaintiff’s legal argument outline: Let’s
say that you sold your car to your neighbor for $1000 and the neighbor
was supposed to pay you $500 the day you sold the car and $500 two weeks
later. However, the neighbor only made the first $500 payment. Now it
is three weeks after you reached the deal and the neighbor owes you $500.
Therefore, the issue in this case is a breach of contract. The rule is
that when you enter into a contract, you need to follow the terms of the
contract. The analysis is that under the terms of the contract, the neighbor
was supposed to pay you $500 one week ago, but did not pay you. The conclusion
is that the neighbor owes you $500. Your outline will be used for your
own testimony to the court. Also, you will want to come up with questions
for the Defendant and any witnesses that will help you prove your argument.
You will also need to gather any photographs, receipts, emails or other
evidence that you think will help you prove your case. You should organize
your evidence to make it coincide with your outline. Make several copies
of your evidence so you can share them with the court and the other party.
You also need to make sure your witnesses are going to be available on
the day of trial. You can subpoena your witnesses by following the instructions
in JDF 79 (https://goo.gl/4lM6NM).
Moving back to our car sales example, let’s now say you are the Defendant
deciding what evidence you need to defend your case. You acknowledge the
contract, but one week after making the arrangement, you lost your job.
Knowing you had $500 due in a week, you emailed the Plaintiff and asked
for a two-week extension to make a payment. The Plaintiff emails you back
and says, “that is fine.” You call to confirm this with the
Plaintiff, but Plaintiff’s husband says Plaintiff is not home. However,
he (the husband) saw your email and replied, “that is fine.”
When you are preparing for trial, you want to bring the original contract
(if it was written out), as well as the emails. You will also want to
make sure the husband is at trial to testify, so you will want to follow
the rules for subpoenas.
If you are nervous about your trial, you may want to go to the courthouse
and watch a few Small Claims cases so you can understand how the process
works. You can call the courthouse and find out when Small Claims trials
will take place and where to go to watch them. Also, you may want to practice
making your argument out loud or in front of a mirror.
First, do not be late! If you are a late Plaintiff, your case will most
likely be dismissed. If you are a late Defendant, you will most likely
have a judgment entered against you. You need to know when your trial
is scheduled and where it is scheduled. Some courthouses are small and
easy to navigate, while other courthouses are large complexes with several
buildings on the grounds. It is not enough to be at the courthouse on
time—you must be in the courtroom on time! I also recommend that
you dress appropriately. While a suit and tie is not necessary for Small
Claims court, you certainly want to be presentable, so I recommend dressing
in business casual attire. This means pants should be khakis for men and
knee-length skirts or casual pants for women, and shirts should be long-sleeved
collared or polo tees for men and blouses or knit sweaters for women.
On your trial date, you will most likely be ordered to mediate before the
actual trial takes place. Mediation is a process of negotiations between
the parties to try and help you settle the case without holding a trial.
Sometimes the court has mediators available to help, while other times
the court simply asks you to speak with the other side and see if a settlement
may be reached. Everyone has been a mediator at some point in time—if
you have ever helped to sides reach an agreement, you have mediated. Mediation
is confidential except for a few extraordinary circumstances, like threats
of violence. Therefore, anything that is said to try and settle the case
during the mediation will not be admissible in the trial. Mediation is
usually voluntary, but when the court orders mediation, you must participate.
However, you will not be punished if you cannot reach an agreement.
If you cannot reach an agreement at mediation, you will have a trial. The
Plaintiff will present their case first. The Plaintiff will call his or
her first witness. Oftentimes the only two witnesses will be the Plaintiff
and the Defendant. In that case, the Plaintiff will call himself or herself
as a witness to testify about their case and present evidence. Then the
Plaintiff can call the Defendant and any other witnesses to testify. The
Defendant will have a chance to question the witnesses after the Plaintiff does.
After the Plaintiff has called all of the Plaintiff’s witnesses,
it will be the Defendant’s turn to present their arguments, witnesses
and evidence. The Plaintiff will have a chance to question the witnesses
after the Defendant does. Once both parties have presented their cases,
the court will decide who wins.
Please understand that these are general rules for Small Claims trials.
The court has the ability to deviate from the traditional trial format.
I have mediated and watched many Small Claims cases and have seen courts
make adjustments to the format for many different reasons. Therefore,
it is extremely important to pay attention and follow the court’s