Small Claims Information and Frequently Asks Questions
This information is provided to help you through your small claims case. If you feel you need legal advice or help, then you should consult an attorney.
What is Small Claims Court?
A case where a person (called the Plaintiff) files suit against another (called the Defendant), for an amount of money not in excess of $10,000.00. This may be for non-payment on an open account, wages, damages to an automobile, etc., or for any reason where the Plaintiff believes the Defendant to be indebted to him and the Defendant has refused to pay. The purpose of the Small Claims Court is to allow individuals to collect from a debtor, by presenting their own case in Court, which in most instances, eliminates the need of hiring an attorney. Of course, any party may be represented by an attorney.
Where is it located?
Go the the Office of the Clerk of the Court, Courthouse, Princeton, Illinois, and request Small Claim Forms.
Who can use the Small Claims Court?
Anyone can file a lawsuit in the Small Claims Court if the amount claimed is not more than $10,000.00. If you choose to act as your own attorney, you must do all of the investigation and preparation normally done by the attorney, including representing yourself in Court, securing the attendance of witnesses, collecting documents acceptable as evidence, giving parties to the lawsuit proper notice as to motions and the like. (The Judge, Clerks or Bailiffs will NOT do this for you!)
Can a Corporation represent itself?
No Corporation may appear as claimant, assignee, subrogee or counterclaimant in a small claims proceeding, unless represented by counsel. A Corporation may defend as defendant any small claims proceeding in any court of this State through any officer, director, manager, department manager or supervisor of the corporation, as though such corporation were appearing in person.
How do I file a Small Claims Case?
To file a Small Claims suit, a "complaint" must be filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court, located in the courthouse in Princeton Illinois. Small Claims complaint forms and summons forms are available, free of charge, from the Circuit Clerk. The complaint form should be filled in as completely as possible. The exact name and address of the defendant is critical so that proper notice can be given to the party you are suing. Also, a short statement as to the nature of the claim is required. If the claim is based on a written instrument or contract, copies must be provided to be attached to the original complaint and the copy of the complaint, which is to be served on the defendant. The Complaint is filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court upon payment of the appropriate filing fee.
When preparing your summons, you will select the appropriate date from fourteen (14) to forty (40) days from the day you file your case. If the defendant appears and does not contest the claim, and your complaint is verified (notarized), then the Court may enter a judgment in your favor and against the defendant for the amount claimed plus allowable Court costs (usually the filing fee and the Sheriff's fee.) If the defendant appears and contests the claim, then the case will be assigned for trial on a subsequent specified date. The Judge will tell you the date and time.
How much will it cost to file my Claim?
View Our Current Fee & Service Schedule Here to determine the appropriate filing fee and appearance fee determined by the monetary amount you are suing for.
Can the Defendant present claims of their own?
Yes, by filing a counterclaim for the items he/she is claiming, and there is a counter-claim charge. This may be done by using a complaint form, and changing the name of the document to "Counterclaim." This must be served on the other side.
Will the trial be before a Judge or a Jury?
At the time of filing the complaint, the plaintiff must make a demand for a jury trial and decide if they want a jury of six or twelve persons. If the Plaintiff does not file a jury demand at the time the suit is begun, then they are deemed to have waived a jury trial.
The Defendant must, at the time of filing their appearance make a demand for jury trial by either six or twelve jurors or be deemed to have waived a jury trial. The party demanding a jury trial must pay an additional fee for either a six or twelve person jury as covered in Our Current Fee & Service Schedule.
If there is no jury demand, then the trial will be heard by a Judge; this is referred to as a bench trial.
What will happen at the trial?
The Judge must follow the same rules of law and evidence used in civil cases whether or not you have a lawyer. The Plaintiff has the burden of proving sufficient facts to establish that they are entitled to a judgment, by a preponderance of the evidence. The defendant, of course, has the right to present their case to establish that the plaintiff is not entitled to a judgment.
At the time of trial, you should bring with you all the evidence that might have some bearing on the case, including any bills, letters, leases, other writings, documents, photographs, or other physical objects to be used at trial. Also, you should bring with you to Court and have ready to present to the Judge any repair bills for damages claimed, if applicable. A bill that has been marked on its face as having been paid is normally admitted into evidence as establishing that the repair work has been done and that the charge for the work was reasonable.
There is no Court reporter provided. If you wish to have a transcript of the testimony, you will have to contract for the services of a qualified court reporter, and you will be responsible for the costs incurred.
You have the right to present the testimony of witnesses other than yourself to the Court. A witness is a person who can help explain why you should win the case. Make sure that your witnesses appear on the exact date and time for trial. If a witness is necessary for your case and is reluctant to come to Court, you may use a subpoena which must be served on the witness personally along with payment to that witness of the proper fees and mileage reimbursement. This form is also available from the Circuit Clerk. Written statements or affidavits from witnesses who are not present are not admissible into evidence.
The Plaintiff presents their evidence first, subject to cross-examination by the defendant. If the Plaintiff proves sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case, then the defendant may present evidence on their behalf. The Judge will rule on the admissibility of evidence and exhibits from time to time as may be necessary and then, at the end of the case, will usually issue an immediate ruling on the case. When the Judge, often referred to as the Court, decides the case, they enter a judgment either for the Plaintiff or the Defendant for whatever amount is found to be due and assess Court costs.
Can I Appeal the Judgment?
Yes. Either party has the right to appeal the ruling to the Third District Appellate Court, in Ottawa, Illinois. Normally, appeals are not taken from Small Claims, as they can be very costly and time consuming.
How do I get my money if I win?
Collecting your judgment is not automatic, and the Judge, Clerk, Bailiff, Sheriff, or other Court related personnel cannot do this for you. Collection of any judgment awarded is your responsibility. As a matter of common courtesy, you should first ask the defendant about arrangements for payment if they were in Court when the judgment was entered. If the Defendant was not in Court at the time, notify them about it and ask about payment. Unpaid judgments do carry interest at a statutorily determined rate. If the defendant refuses to pay or does not make satisfactory arrangements for payment, then you must collect the judgment yourself. Subsequent procedures may consist of issuing Citation, Petition for Rule or Affidavit for Wage Deduction. You may need legal counsel for advice as to the proper procedure; the Judge, Clerks or Bailiffs cannot give you legal advice or tell you what to do.
What happens if the Judgment is settled or paid in full?
A successful party must file a form entitled "Release and Satisfaction of Judgment" at the Circuit Clerk's Office. (Sometimes a judgment for a specified amount is entered in favor of the defendant.) The party paying the judgment should get such a form from the Circuit Clerk's Office, complete it properly, and have it signed by the Plaintiff, or their attorney, and then file it with the Court at the Circuit Clerk's Office.
What happens if the Defendant pays the Claim before the Court Date?
If the Defendant pays the Claim before the date on the summons, the plaintiff may come to the Circuit Clerk's Office and fill out a form dismissing the case before the Court hearing date. Then it will not be necessary for either side to be in Court.
*The Circuit Clerk Record Search is intended to be a summary of information for the public. It does not take the place of legal information held in the actual Court file. The Bureau County Circuit Clerk accepts no liability for discrepancies between the electronic version and the official printed document.