Small claims courts help resolve disputes for small amounts. In Atlanta and the rest of the state of Georgia, you can file a small claims lawsuit in magistrate court for claims of less than $15,000. Examples of common problems you can resolve in this court include a mechanic charging for work that was not done, a merchant refusing to honor a warranty, an individual refusing to repay a loan and a landlord refusing to return a security deposit. You can represent yourself or hire an attorney. Magistrate courts in Georgia do not have jury trials.
Determining Eligibility to File
In Georgia, you must file small claims cases in the county where the defendant lives if you are making a claim against an individual. If you are making a claim against a corporation, you must file where the representative agent of the corporation is located. If you are making a claim against an unincorporated business, you must file where the business is located. Based on these rules, you can only file a small claims case in the Atlanta magistrate court if the defendant is in one of the cities in Fulton County. You also must be within the statute of limitations for your case. The statute of limitations refers to the laws that determine the amount of time you have to file a suit from the day the associated event occurred. This varies by the type of case.
Filing Your Case
File a sworn statement of claim form with the clerk of the magistrate court. The form must contain your full name, address and telephone number; the defendant's full name and address; the amount of money you are claiming; and a brief statement of your charges against the defendant. Attach copies of your supporting documents, such as contracts and receipts. Pay the filing fee as well as the fee for the court to serve the defendant with the summons.
Serving the Defendant
The magistrate court will send the defendant a copy of your claim form and copies of the evidence you provided. The defendant must respond within 30 days, by mail or orally in court. He can respond with a counterclaim related to the subject of the case, which the judge will hear at the same time as yours. If the defendant fails to respond, you can ask the judge for a default judgment. This would be against the defendant and you'll automatically win the case. However, you must prove to the judge that you are entitled to the amount you are claiming.
Preparing for the Trial
The Clerk of the court will schedule a trial date for 15 to 30 days after the defendant responds. You will receive notification of the date, time and location by mail, so make sure you give the Clerk your new address if you move. While you wait for the trial, gather all the evidence you need to support your case and contact the witnesses. Ask the court for a subpoena for any evidence you can't obtain on your own and for unwilling witnesses.
Show up to the court on the day of the trial and arrive on time. If you don't appear, the judge might hear the defendant's case and make a judgment, which may not be in your favor. Or, the judge might postpone or dismiss the case. When both parties are present, the judge will listen to both sides before making a judgment. Each party can question and dispute the other's testimony. The judge might award a monetary judgment to the winner, which in some cases is both parties, depending on the merits of the claim and counterclaim, if any.