If you're owed money and your case is not very complex, you may be able to file for a judgment in a North Dakota small claims court. The small claims court handles different types of cases that involve minor disputes and amounts of money under $10,000. Case types include landlord-tenant disputes, contract or payment disputes involving services or items, minor auto accidents and debt collection.
According to the official website of the North Dakota Attorney General, you should attempt to contact the person you want to sue in writing before filing in small claims court. You might be able to settle the case outside of court by requesting the money and stating your plan to go to court in writing. You can send the letter by restricted delivery, certified, with a return receipt or have an uninvolved adult personally hand the letter to the person you want to sue. If you settle with the defendant anytime before getting a small claims judgment, you need to tell the court clerk immediately.
You must file your case in the small claims court of the correct North Dakota county. If the defendant is a partnership, limited liability company or corporation, you file in a county where the defendant has a place of business or where the subject of your claim occurred. If the defendant is a person, in most cases, you can file in the county where the defendant lives.
You can get the forms you need at the small claims court office. All counties require a claim affidavit, a sworn statement on which you explain your case, including what happened and how much the defendant owes you. You also receive an affidavit of service form from the clerk, which you'll use after you serve the defendant. You'll have to fill out informational forms, such as a form you use to give the court your personal information. You'll need to send blank forms to the defendant, but these forms vary by county and should be given to you by the clerk. You'll have to pay a filing fee, which differs by county, to file your claim paperwork. Keep a record of all amounts you pay related to your case, since you might be able to get the money back from the defendant if you win.
After you've filed the forms in small claims court, you have to serve copies to the defendant. The clerk will give you an affidavit of service form, and you must return the completed form to the court after you serve the defendant. You may mail the forms using certified mail, with restricted delivery and a return receipt, or you can ask an adult who is not involved in the case to personally hand the forms to the defendant. The person who mails or personally serves the defendant has to fill out the mail or personal service section on the affidavit, sign it and have his signature notarized. The completed affidavit must be filed in court as soon as possible so you can continue with your case. The defendant has 20 days after receiving the papers to respond. He can file an answer in court, disputing your claim, and he can include a claim of his own. The defendant can also request a hearing or ask that your case be moved to a district court. You'll receive a copy of any answer or request he makes to the court. If he requests a hearing, you'll receive notice of the date and time of the hearing. If the defendant does not respond at all within the 20 days, you'll win the case by default.
Hearings in a North Dakota small claims court are informal, so you don't have to bring an attorney. You and the defendant will go before the judge, referred to as a "judicial referee," and explain your claim. If you have evidence and witnesses, you can bring the evidence and witnesses to the hearing. Both you and the defendant can ask questions, and the judge will ask you questions to determine the facts of the case. If the judge rules in your favor, you'll receive a judgment against the defendant. The judge may decide the case is too complicated for small claims court. If that happens, your case is dismissed so you can file it in district court, and you can get a refund for your filing fee.
Anna Assad began writing professionally in 1999 and has published several legal articles for various websites. She has an extensive real estate and criminal legal background. She also tutored in English for nearly eight years, attended Buffalo State College for paralegal studies and accounting, and minored in English literature, receiving a Bachelor of Arts.