YOU MAY COMMENCE YOUR SMALL CASE BY MAIL (SEE BELOW).
The Clarkstown Small Claims Court is a special part of the Justice Court, that is designed primarily for use by laymen. Some of the technical rules of evidence and procedure are not strictly applicable in Small Claims Court. However, certain of these rules and others are applicable and are contained on this site. It is extremely important that you read this material in its entirety before commencing a small claim and trying to present your case in small claims court.
What is a Small Claim?
A Small Claim is a claim for money only, not exceeding $3,000, where the person you wish to sue either lives, works, or has a place of business within the Town of Clarkstown, (including corporations). No partnership, association, corporation or assignee, except a municipal corporation, public benefit corporation, school district or public library, may bring an action in the small claims part of a justice court. Such cases must be brought in the civil part of the court which is subject to different rules. A corporation may appear in defense of any small claim action brought pursuant to this article by an attorney, as well as, by an authorized officer, director or employee of the corporation. The appearance of any officer, director or employee of the corporation will be deemed to constitute authority on the part of that person to bind the corporation to a settlement or at trial.
While you do not need a lawyer in small claims cases, in Clarkstown, you may retain an attorney if you so desire. If you retain an attorney and the case is not settled, the actual trial may be in the daytime. The return date contained in the Small Claims Notice is the Trial Date and you should be prepared to present your case or defense.
Sue the Correct Party
An employee or an owner(shareholder) of a corporation is not normally the person liable for the debts or actions of the corporation or company. The corporation or company should be named as a defendant to be certain that the judgment will be issued against the correct party. If the wrong party is named and served, the case may have to be dismissed and you may have to start your action again. It is suggested that all parties who are, or may be liable be named in the summons. You may have to locate the true name by searching at the County Clerk's office for Business Certificates or corporation filings to obtain the true party. The County Clerk of Rockland County, Paul Piperato, can be reached at (845)638-5070 for information. The County Clerk's office is located at 1 South Main Street - Suite 100, New City, N.Y. 10956, and their hours are 7 A.M. to 6 P.M. Monday - Friday.
Getting Ready for Trial
On the trial date, you must be present in Court with your witnesses, your account books, receipts, records and other documents that are relevant to your case. It has been the experience of the Judges of the Court that many claims are lost and cases dismissed because of the plaintiffs' and defendants' failure to produce proper and legally sufficient proof and evidence.
After you have filed your Small Claim with the Clerk, you should use the time between the filing and the actual trial date to gather together all of your documentary evidence and to arrange to have any and all witnesses present at the trial. This is your case and it is your responsibility to prepare it properly. The Court is not permitted to help you prove your case because the Court must remain fair and impartial and cannot help either the plaintiff or the defendant with their presentation.
Suggestion: Bring photocopies of your records and other proof for the Court and make copies for your opponent. A final word of advice is that preparation is the key to presenting your case which is true, even for attorneys and you would save yourself and the Court time, if you are able to narrow the issues when you appear in front of the Judge. For example, you need not use several photos depicting the same image when one will suffice. Write out questions you intend to ask your opponent or witnesses, organize your thoughts and questions in a chronological order so the facts are made clear to the Judge.
Written testimony or affidavits, letters or statements from 3rd parties are not admissible in Court. You must bring the witness into Court unless your documents qualify under Alternatives to Expert Witnesses. (see below).
You may be able to establish or prove some parts of your case by your own testimony. Some cases will require additional witnesses to the transaction. In some cases involving the need for and cost of repairs, the value of damaged goods, and the need for and the value of medical, dental or other services, you may need the testimony of an "Expert Witness". An "Expert Witness is a person who, because of his/her training and/or experience, is legally permitted to testify as to his/her opinion concerning the need for, and value of certain work, labor and services or the value of damaged goods, or whether proper procedures were employed by the opposing party, or the cause of the damages or defect. If you cannot obtain an "Expert Witness" to testify for you, see the section below on Alternatives to Expert Witnesses.
A non-expert witness is an ordinary witness who observed the incident, or can testify to some other important aspects of the case. If he/she will not come to Court with you voluntarily, the Clerk of the Court may issue a Subpoena, and give you instructions on how to have the Subpoena served. You must pay such witness, at the time of the service of the Subpoena, the statutory witness fee of $15.00 per day, plus 23 cents per mile both to and from the Court. (CPLR Sections 2303 & 8001). "Expert Witnesses" may not be subpoenaed because they cannot be forced to testify. If you require an "Expert Witness" to prove part or all of your case, it is your responsibility to see that he/she is in Court. "Expert Witnesses" are entitled to be paid by you for their services and Court appearance.
Alternatives to Expert Witnesses to Prove Both the Need for and Value of Repairs or Replacements or Substituted Performance.
Under certain circumstances you may be able to prove part, or all of your case without producing an "Expert Witness" to establish the reasonable value of merchandise, labor, or services such as repairs, as well as the need for the repair or service. A rule of law in Section 1804 of the Small Claims Act, allows a party to produce and place in evidence an itemized bill or invoice, receipted or marked paid, or two itemized estimates for services or repairs, from two different stores, dealers, repair centers or professionals, on their regular official stationery, letterhead or billhead. One estimate is not sufficient. Both estimates must be dated and signed by an owner or authorized employee of the store, dealer, repair center or professional.
The Trial: Procedure and Order
Make sure you bring with you the original and two copies of any bills or estimates, as well as contracts, photographs and any other documentation or evidence which you desire to introduce at trial. Trial may not be adjourned in order to allow either party to produce a document or other item of proof which they neglected or forgot to bring to trial, without good reason.
If the matter goes to trial, the plaintiff presents his/her case first. As plaintiff, you should tell your story clearly. You should have some notes to refresh your recollection and it is usually best to start with the first event relevant to your case and proceed in chronological order. All witnesses including the plaintiff and defendant shall testify under oath, and may be subject to cross-examination by the opposing party. After the plaintiff's case is completed, the defendant, will present his/her case and may then take the witness stand and/or call witnesses to testify.
During the entire process the judge will ask you questions. After both sides have completed their case the Judge may make a decision right on the spot or he may settle the case if both sides agree at that time, or he may reserve decision and you will receive a written decision in the mail sometime later.
Use of Attorneys
If your case is complicated, either by facts or legal issues, it might be wise to consult an attorney, and have him/her represent you at trial.
Coming to Court on the Trial Date
You must come to court either to prove or defend the case. If you do not appear at the time set for the hearing, the Court will dismiss your claim if you are the plaintiff, or may grant default judgment against you if you are the defendant and take an inquest to determine the amount of the judgment.
There are certain circumstances under which a default can be re-opened, but they are complicated and normally require you to hire an attorney. It should also be noted that not all defaults are vacated so it is important that you appear in Court, whenever scheduled.
Defendants in Small Claims Cases
As a defendant you can also make a counterclaim. It cannot exceed $3,000 in amount. A counterclaim must be filed with the Court within 5 days of receiving the claim, and you must pay a fee of $3.00 plus cost of mailing.
If you cannot appear on the date for trial, you must request an adjournment well in advance of the trial date. If you know well enough in advance, you may write a letter to the Clerk of the Court, and send a copy of the letter to your opponent. If it is too late to write a letter, you must have someone appear for you in Court and give the same information to the Judge. In that case, you must also notify your opponent so that he/she will not bring in all his/her witnesses and prepare for trial. If you do not appear or if your excuse is unsatisfactory or if you have failed to advise your opponent, the Court may dismiss your case, if you are the plaintiff, or grant a default judgment against you if you are the defendant.
All parties are encouraged to settle their disputes prior to trial whenever possible. If both parties agree to settle the case prior to trial, the Court should be advised by the plaintiff that the case is settled and the amount agreed upon for our records to avoid coming to Court.
If the case is settled prior to trial and the payment is not forthcoming, the case can be rescheduled for trial. All cases settled either before trial or at trial are contingent upon the payment being made. A case may be settled by stipulation, which is an agreement between both sides made in or out of court, and if out of court it must be signed by both parties and filed with the Court, to be enforced later. If the amount agreed upon is not paid, then the court will issue a judgment.
After the decision is rendered you have 30 days to appeal. If you decide to appeal, you must file a Notice of Appeal and a $5 fee with the Court and serve the Notice of Appeal upon the other party and file an Affidavit of Service.
Commencing a Small Claim by Mail
You may commence your small claim case by printing this form (This form requires Adobe Acrobat to view - to download Acrobat, click here.). You must fill out the form completely and mail the form to the Clarkstown Justice Court. All required fields must be filled out. After the form is completed, you will print it out and sign it, and mail it to the Clarkstown Justice Court along with your check for the statutory filing fee in the amount of $10 (for a claim up to $1000), and $15 (for a claim over $1000 up to $3000), made payable to the Clarkstown Justice Court.
When commencing a small claims action, you must, as noted above, sue the correct party. If there are additional parties and addresses, which are required for service there will be no additional charge for the same cause of action. You must provide the addresses for each defendant who must either live, work or have a place of business within the Town of Clarkstown. If there is only one defendant, then simply name that defendant together with the complete address. In order to obtain the proper name, use the billhead which you received from the defendant, or you may go to the County Clerk's office and look up the proper corporate or company name. You may also bring the completed form to the Court and file it in person. The Court hours are 9 A.M. to 4 P.M. Monday - Friday. The Court meets both, in day and evening sessions. Day sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning at 9:30 A.M. and 1:30 P.M. and evening sessions on Tuesdays beginning at 7:30 P.M. Mail completed form to Clarkstown Justice Court at 20 Maple Avenue, New City, N.Y, with your personal check or money order in the proper amount, payable to Clarkstown Justice Court.
Information required for Small Claims Summons:
- Name of Defendant
- Address of Defendant
- Name of Plaintiff
- Amount of money which you seek (maximum of $3000)
- A clear and concise statement in layman's language of the basis for your claim
- Address of Plaintiff, day-time phone number for plaintiff
- Affirm you have read the web site information or Small Claims Brochure by placing initials here. (The date which the Court has given you for the trial will be set by the Clerk and you will receive it in the mail).
NOTE: After you have completed the form, mail the form together with, a stamped self-addressed envelope and the proper fee to the Clarkstown Justice Court, 20 Maple Ave. New City, N.Y. 10956. You will receive a receipt with your Court date upon it, which shall be set by the Clerk upon receipt of your small claim. A small claim requires 21 days for the first class mailing, as well as return receipt requested to the defendant. Therefore, the date will be set at least 22 days after receipt of the claim by the Clerk. Do not forget to sign and initial the form prior to mailing. Enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope and the receipt with your court date will be mailed to you. Do not forget to initial the form that you have read the brochure.
You must mail the completed form together with your check payable to the Clarkstown Justice Court in one of these amounts:
- $10 for claims in the amount of $1000 or less.
- $15 for claims in the amount of more than $1000.
Demand for a Jury Trial
NOTE: If you desire a jury trial, you must, before the day upon which you have been notified to appear, file with the Clerk of the Court a written demand for a trial by jury. You must also pay to the clerk a jury fee of $10.00 and file an undertaking in the sum of $50.00 or deposit such sum in cash to secure the payment of any costs that may be awarded against you. You will also be required to make an affidavit specifying the issue of fact which you desire to have tried by a jury and stating that such trial is desired and demanded in good faith. Under the law, the Court may award $25.00 additional costs to the plaintiff if a jury trial is demanded by you and a decision is rendered against you.
This Small Claims guide was prepared by the Justices of the Justice Court of the Town of Clarkstown.