The New Jersey Small Claims Court allows you to sue to collect on money that you believe someone owes you. These courts have limited jurisdiction, which means that they are only allowed to hear cases involving amounts within specified limits. The procedures in small claims court are simpler than those in regular civil actions, so you can file and present your case fairly quickly and cheaply, usually without a lawyer. Small claims cases typically involve tenant/landlord disputes, and actions for breach of contract and property damage.
Qualify under the claim limits of the court. New Jersey law allows a plaintiff (the party bringing the suit) to file an action in small claims court where the disputed amount is $3,000 or less. That limit goes up to $5,000 if the plaintiff is suing over a security deposit. However, any claim involving professional malpractice, probate or a family law matter cannot be heard in small claims court even if the amount in dispute falls within the monetary limits.
Meet the filing requirements. To file a petition in small claims court, a plaintiff must be at least 18; if a plaintiff is under 18, the petition must be filed by a parent or guardian. A small claims case must be filed in the county in which the defendant resides or is located (if a business). For multiple defendants located in different counties, the plaintiff can choose any county in which any one defendant is located. If no defendant is located in New Jersey, the petition must be filed in the county in which the dispute took place.
Prepare the complaint. You can visit the clerk of the Office of the Special Civil Part, located in the county courthouse, to get a small claims packet, which includes all the information you need to file a complaint, including instructions about filing a summons and a complaint. The complaint must include the following information: your name and contact information; the names and contact information of all defendants (if known); the amount of money you are claiming; a statement indicating the reasons you believe the money is owed to you; and whether there is any other case involving you and the defendant or defendants.
File the petition with the clerk of the small claims court. You must sign the petition and pay the appropriate filing fee. If the case involves a single defendant, the fee is $15; for multiple defendants, there is an additional $2 fee for each one. You will also have to pay a $7 fee to have an official copy of the petition served on each defendant. If you are unable to afford these fees, you can ask the court to waive them.
Even though small claims cases are usually simple and straightforward, you should consider consulting an attorney for advice about your case, especially if it's more complicated than a typical small claims case.
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