How to File in Small Claims Court in New Jersey

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New Jersey’s Small Claims Court allows a litigant to file a lawsuit against a person or a business that owes them $5,000 or less. The party filing the lawsuit (the plaintiff) does not need a lawyer to sue – they can do this themselves, though they may wish to seek legal advice. Small claims cases are usually actions for breach of contract, property damage or landlord-tenant disputes.

Small Claims Court in the State of New Jersey

Lawsuits for $5,000 or less typically end up in New Jersey Small Claims Court. Some examples of small claims lawsuits include:

  • A business or individual failed to comply with an oral or written contract (the entity being sued is the defendant).
  • Damage occurred to an individual's car during an accident.
  • Party filing the lawsuit (the plaintiff) put a down payment on something and wants it back.
  • Plaintiff's property was lost or damaged.
  • Plaintiff bought a product that doesn’t work.
  • Plaintiff paid for work that was faulty or incomplete.
  • Plaintiff was not paid for work they did.
  • Someone wrote the plaintiff a bad check.
  • Plaintiff gave their landlord a security deposit that was not returned.

Not every case is a small claims case; certain types of cases cannot be filed in a New Jersey small claims court, regardless of amount of damages:

  • Malpractice claims against professionals, such as doctors, dentists or lawyers.
  • Child support or alimony claims.
  • Wills and inheritance cases.
  • Lawsuits seeking anything other than money.

How to File a Small Claims Lawsuit in New Jersey

Plaintiffs must be at least 18 years old to file in small claims court. If they are younger, a parent or guardian must file on their behalf. To file a non-vehicle small claims case for breach of contract, rent, or a tort (civil wrong causing the claimant to suffer harm or loss) in New Jersey, a plaintiff must:

  • Fill out and sign the Small Claims Complaint form.
  • Fill out and sign the Small Claims Summons and include the address of the entity they are suing.
  • Include the filing fee — one defendant is $35 and each additional defendant is $5. Claimants can also request a fee waiver if they can't afford the fee.
  • Make copies of the documents they are submitting to the court and put them in a safe place. Litigants must remove all personal identifiers from the documents they will submit to the court.
  • Upload the forms to the Judiciary Electronic Document Submission (JEDS) portal and pay the fee. Claimants also have the option of mailing the complaint form, summons, and fee to the county Superior Court of the defendant.

Scheduling a Court Hearing

The plaintiff will get a postcard in the mail with their court date; if they cannot appear at that time, they must call the court to reschedule. The case will not move forward until the defendant receives the complaint and summons. The court will ask both parties to testify at the trial, and each can present witnesses, but not written statements.

Submission of Documents to the Court

The plaintiff must submit documents to the court that they’ll need to prove their case before the trial date through the JEDS system or via email. These include:

  • Sales receipts, canceled checks or money orders.
  • Leases, bill, contracts. or estimates.
  • How to File a Vehicle-Related Small Claims Case
  • Letters or photos.

How to File a Vehicle-Related Small Claims Case

To file a vehicle-related case in New Jersey a plaintiff must:

  • Fill out and sign the Small Claims Complaint form for motor vehicle-related claims.
  • Fill out and sign the Small Claims Summons and include the address of the entity they are suing.
  • Include the filing fee

one defendant is $35 and each additional defendant is $5. Claimants can also request a fee waiver. Make copies of the documents they are submitting to the court and put them in a safe place. Litigants must remove all personal identifiers from the documents they will submit to the court. Upload the forms to the Judiciary Electronic Document Submission (JEDS) portal and pay the fee. Claimants also have the option of mailing the complaint form, summons, and fee to the county Superior Court of the defendant.

Preparing for Court

The plaintiff will get a postcard in the mail with their court date – if they cannot appear at that time, they must call the court clerk to reschedule. The case will not move forward until the defendant receives the complaint and summons.

The court will ask both parties to testify at the trial, and each can present witnesses, but not written statements. The plaintiff must submit documents to the court that they’ll need to prove their case before the trial date through the JEDS system or via email. These include:

  • Sales receipts, canceled checks or money orders.
  • Leases, bill, contracts or estimates.
  • Leases.
  • Photos

Suit for Return of a Tenant's Security Deposit

To file a claim for a security deposit up to $5,000, a plaintiff must:

  • Fill out and sign the Small Claims Complaint form for security deposit-related claims.
  • Fill out and sign the Small Claims Summons and include the address of the entity they are suing.
  • Include the filing fee

one defendant is $35 and each additional defendant is $5. Claimants can request a fee waiver. Make copies of the documents they are submitting to the court and put them in a safe place. Litigants must remove all personal identifiers from the documents they will submit to the court. Upload the forms to the Judiciary Electronic Document Submission (JEDS) portal and pay the fee. Claimants have the option of mailing the complaint form, summons, and fee to the county Superior Court of the defendant.

The plaintiff will get a postcard in the mail with their court date. If they cannot appear at that time, they must call the court to reschedule. The case will not move forward until the defendant receives the complaint and summons. The court will ask both parties to testify at the trial, and each can present witnesses but not written statements.

The plaintiff must submit documents to the court that they’ll need to prove their case before the trial date through the JEDS system or via email. These include:

  • Sales receipts, canceled checks or money orders.
  • Leases, bills, contracts or estimates.
  • Letters or photos.

What the Defendant Can Expect

After receiving notice of the lawsuit, the defendant must attend the trial date stated on the notice. If the defendant fails to show, the court may enter a money judgment against them. Defendants who cannot attend on the date set by the court can ask for a new trial date. The court will ask both parties to testify at the trial, and both can present witnesses, but not written statements; witnesses must be available on the trial date.

The defendant must submit documents to the court that they’ll need to prove their case before the trial date through its JEDS system or via email. These can include:

  • Sales receipts, canceled checks or money orders tp substantiate the amount of money at issue.
  • Leases, bills, contracts or estimates.
  • Letters or photos.

Both parties will question their own witnesses and those brought by the other party, so the parties should write down their questions down and have them ready for the trial. The court will attempt to help the parties settle the case through a settlement conference before it goes to trial. If they cannot reach a settlement, a judge will likely hear the case. This may happen on the original court date or later.

Filing a Fee Waiver

If for some reason a party in a small claims lawsuit cannot pay the fees, they can avoid doing so if their assets and income are low enough. They’ll include the fee waiver with the other documents they file with the court.

When filing a fee waiver, the claimant must:

  • Give the court their reasons for seeking a fee waiver and include supporting facts as to why it should grant the request, including a disclosure of their financial and employment situation.
  • Identify themselves as a plaintiff or defendant.
  • Make sure the form is complete, signed and signed.
  • Make copies of the form and supporting documents.
  • Mail or deliver the form and all supporting documents to the court. Litigants must remove all personal identifiers from the documents they will submit to the court.

Appealing the Court's Decision

Either party can appeal the decision in a small claims case and must do so with the Appellate Division of the Superior Court within 45 days of the decision. When filing a Notice of Appeal, the litigant must request a transcript of the case from the court's Appellate Division, which is necessary for the appeal to be considered. The fees for filing are:

  • $250 submitted with the Notice of Appeal.
  • $300 submitted to the Appellate Division clerk within 30 days of filing the appeal notice. This fee is refunded in the event the party filing the appeal wins. If they lose, the money may be used to pay court or settlement costs.

The party appealing the decision can bring or mail their documents to Appellate Division courts, which are located around the state. They must also send copies to all the parties who appeared in court and to the court office and judge that handled the case.

Collecting a Small Claims Award

A person who wins a small claims case is known as a judgment creditor; the party who loses is the judgment debtor. The court cannot guarantee that a judgment creditor will receive payment. However, the winning party can file a Writ of Execution – a court document allowing a special civil part officer to collect a judgment from a debtor's personal property or bank account. The fees for a Writ of Execution are:

  • $35 filing fee.
  • Mileage for the distance the officer travels from the courthouse to the debtor’s home or business.
  • Service fee of $7 for the officer to serve the Writ of Execution.
  • Sales and advertising, if the officer sells the debtor’s property.
  • Ten percent is charged by the special civil part officer to the debtor on top of what they owe the creditor.

Items that may be used to satisfy a Writ of Execution include a motor vehicle, office equipment, jewelry, clothing or household items. The debtor can keep $1,000 worth of clothing or other personal property. If they do not have more than $1,000 in personal property, a writ cannot be used to satisfy the judgment.