How To File Small Claims Court In Maryland

This is how to file small claims court in Maryland

This guide aims to help you grasp the process of filing a small claim in the District Court of Maryland.

This court handles small claims with less formality, simplifying rules of evidence and procedure for individuals who represent themselves.

Here are the key conditions your case must meet to be tried as a small claim:

  • The claim is for $5,000 or less.
  • The claim pertains solely to money, not property return or service performance.
  • You have no intentions of requesting discovery, like written interrogatories answered under oath before trial.

How To File Small Claims Court In Maryland

If your case doesn’t meet all three conditions, it isn’t considered a small claim, and this guide doesn’t apply.

While the small claim filing process is straightforward, the specific actions required may vary based on your circumstances.

This guide provides information on the steps you need to follow and decisions you need to make at each stage.

If your case becomes more complex than covered here, you may want to consider hiring an attorney for assistance.

Step 1: Attempt to Resolve the Issue Out of Court

  1. Considerations for Resolution:
    • Save time, emotional stress, and money by attempting to resolve the issue outside of court.
    • Self-resolution efforts can also aid in evidence collection if a court case becomes necessary.
  2. Talk With Your Opponent:
    • Initiate a direct conversation with the individual involved in the dispute, preferably in person.
    • Prepare by determining the amount you believe you are owed and your willingness to compromise.
    • If an agreement is reached, document it in writing with both parties’ signatures.
  3. Write a Letter:
    • If direct communication fails, compose a letter outlining the reasons for the owed money and the payment request.
    • Clearly express the desired resolution and specify a deadline for compliance.
    • Notify the recipient of your intent to file a small claims court lawsuit if payment isn’t made and retain a copy of the letter.
  4. Consider Mediation:
    • Explore the District Court’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Program, which includes mediation.
    • Mediation is a less formal approach, often resulting in mutually beneficial solutions.
    • If mediation doesn’t lead to an agreement, you retain the option to proceed to court.
    • For more information on mediation, refer to the brochure “Mediation – Is Going to Trial Your Best Option? – Alternative Dispute Resolution” or contact the Alternative Dispute Resolution Office at 410-260-1676 or 1-866-940-1729.

 

Step 2: Contemplate Filing a Claim

  1. Exhausted Resolution Attempts:
    • After attempting dialogue, sending a demand letter, or engaging in mediation without a satisfactory resolution,
  2. Evaluate Filing a Claim:

Assessing the Probability of Winning

This is how to file small claims court in Maryland and winning

  1. Filing Within Statute of Limitations:
    • To secure a win, ensure your claim is filed within the statute of limitations.
    • The statute sets a time limit, typically up to three years, beyond which your claim becomes invalid.
    • Promptly resolve debts to avoid exceeding this limit.
  2. Burden of Proof:
    • In court, the “plaintiff” (the one bringing the case) bears the burden of proof.
    • Prove your case by a “preponderance of the evidence,” showing you are most likely correct.
    • The “defendant” does not need to prove anything; their role is to challenge your case.
  3. Necessary Evidence:
    • Gather essential evidence, such as witness testimonies, contracts, letters, invoices, or estimates.
    • Ensure you possess the required evidence to substantiate your claim before proceeding to file.
  4. Supportive Exhibits:
    • Exhibits play a crucial role in bolstering your case.
    • They include documents or tangible items that tell your case’s story.
    • Exhibit types can range from evidence (e.g., contracts, letters) to items you’ve created (e.g., interest worksheets).
    • Create exhibits that cover each stage of your case comprehensively.
  5. Exhibit Management:
    • Do not send original documents (checks, letters, contracts) as exhibits; copies suffice.
    • Keep a full set of all exhibits in a separate file for potential use during trial.
    • Make extra copies of each exhibit for trial presentation.

Evaluating the Suit’s Viability

  1. Maximum Recovery Evaluation:
    • Weigh the maximum potential recovery against the costs and effort involved in a trial.
    • Determine the amount you are likely to be awarded if you win.
  2. Collectibility Consideration:
    • Assess the likelihood of collecting the awarded money from the defendant if you win.
    • Contemplate whether the time, effort, and costs of a trial outweigh the potential recovery.
  3. Factors Affecting Maximum Recovery:
    • Calculate the debt owed, including interest if previously specified in writing.
    • Explore potential additional claims, such as penalties, bounced check fees, or court costs.
    • Consider statutory penalties, court costs, and attorney’s fees, depending on specific circumstances and agreements.
  4. Inability to Recover Certain Costs:
    • Note that you cannot recover the value of your time, travel expenses to court, or compensation for inconvenience and aggravation.

Evaluating the Potential for Collection

  1. Collection Challenges:
    • Winning in court does not guarantee collection.
    • Some parties may not pay willingly, have financial constraints, or may have filed for bankruptcy.
    • Explore alternative collection options if the defendant does not comply willingly.
    • Consult with a clerk for guidance on available options.

Step 3: Initiating the Small Claim Process

Basic Information: There are four fundamental steps in the small claims process:

a. Filing a Complaint:

  • The plaintiff (the party seeking payment) submits a Complaint form to the court.

b. Payment of Filing Fee:

  • The plaintiff pays the required filing fee, which can be found in the District Court’s Civil Cost Schedule.

c. Issuance of Writ of Summons:

  • The court issues a Writ of Summons to officially inform the defendant of the filed lawsuit.

d. Proof of Notification:

The court employs standardized paperwork and procedures for each of these steps, with forms available at any District Court clerk’s office.

Completing the Complaint Form: The Complaint form is of utmost importance in your case, as it provides essential information to the court:

  • That you are initiating legal action.
  • The identity of the defendant.
  • The reason for the lawsuit.
  • The amount of money you are seeking.

 

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