How to Sue in a Small Claims Court in North Carolina

By Fraser Sherman

In North Carolina small claims courts — sometimes called magistrate's court — you can wrap up a lawsuit in 15 to 30 minutes, usually without an attorney. The most you can sue or be sued for is $10,000, but some counties impose a lower limit. The courthouse clerk can tell you the maximum in your jurisdiction.

Find the Location

To sue someone in North Carolina, find out where he lives. You must file your suit at the courthouse in the defendant's county of residence. If you have multiple defendants living in different counties, you can name them all as defendants in a single lawsuit in any one of their home counties.

Tip

The North Carolina court system maintains an online list of county courthouses, their location and the directions to get there.

Choose Your Suit

The North Carolina court system has multiple complaint forms. File the one appropriate to your situation. Pick any needed forms up at the courthouse or access them online through Legal Aid of North Carolina's website. Among the standard complaint forms:

  • Complaint for money owed.
  • Complaint to recover possession of personal property.
  • Complaint in summary ejectment. Landlords use this one to have a tenant evicted.

If none of the standard forms fit your situation, you can write your own complaint, using the same format. Keep in mind some issues can't be resolved in small claims court:

  • Criminal offenses.
  • Traffic tickets.
  • Disputes over child support.

Complete the Paperwork

The complaint gives the court your name and address, as well as that of any defendants. If the defendant is a corporation, give the business name, not the names of the managers or owners. State the county in which you're filing suit. The complaint is also the place to spell out the details of the suit — the property you want to recover, the amount of money the defendant owes or whatever your end game may be.

File the Suit

To file suit, you'll need to make a copy of the complaint for each defendant, plus one for yourself. Write each defendant a summons as well. Drop them off at the courthouse, or send them by mail, along with the $96 filing fee. If you're mailing the paperwork, you have to pay by money order or cashier's check.

The clerk will fill out the summonses with the date and time of the trial. You can then pay $30 per defendant to have the county sheriff deliver the paperwork for you. The alternative is to send the summons by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested. If you go this route, you must also have a notary certify that you followed correct procedure.

If you win the case, you may able to add the cost of your legal expenses to what the defendant owes you.

Tip

If you can't afford the fees, you can petition the court to let you file as an indigent. If the clerk of court is satisfied you have no money, she can waive the fees. If you're on Supplemental Security Income, food stamps or certain other aid programs, the clerk may accept that as proof you're indigent.

About the Author

A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.

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