In Knoxville, Tennessee, a plaintiff (the individual or business suing another party) can bring a small claims action in Knox County General Sessions Court when they have a civil claim for an amount no more than $25,000. Anything over that amount must be filed in regular civil court.
Small claims court allows individuals and businesses to bring civil cases against a defendant (the party being sued) in an easy and quick manner without the need for legal representation.
What Is Small Claims Court?
Small claims court (known as General Sessions Court in the state of Tennessee) is a special court where an individual can bring a legal case against another party for a small amount of money. It allows people to resolve disputes without the need for expensive legal representation.
It is an easier and quicker alternative to regular civil court. Small claims court has fewer formal rules of procedure, and the parties do not need attorneys. They typically present their own arguments and evidence, although they may be represented by attorneys if they wish.
Small Claims Court Requirements in Tennessee
In Tennessee, individuals at least 18 years old and emancipated minors can file small claims actions. Most small claims courts also allow business entities, like partnerships or corporations, to file claims.
In the Volunteer State, the most award in general sessions court that a plaintiff can ask for is $25,000. Anything over that amount is filed in regular civil court. Eviction or personal property actions do not have a monetary limit.
Small claims court cases are heard in Knox County's General Sessions Court, which is located in Knoxville at City County Building, 400 Main Street, 3rd Floor, Knoxville, TN 37902.
Process for Filing a Small Claims Action in Knoxville
To file a small claims lawsuit in Knoxville, the plaintiff must first prepare their case by gathering all relevant evidence or documents that support it. They must complete the necessary forms to file with the court clerk's office, which they can find on the Tennessee court website or at the Knox County General Sessions Court.
They'll also need to pay a filing fee, the exact amount of which depends on the amount of money they are seeking.
Statute of Limitations
The deadline for filing a small claims case (known as the statute of limitations) depends on the type of case the plaintiff files. For example:
- Personal injury: 1 year.
- Property damage: 3 years.
- Breach of contract: 6 years.
It's important to note that these deadlines can change depending on the specific circumstances of the plaintiff’s case. For example, if the plaintiff is incarcerated or a minor, the statute of limitations can be tolled, or temporarily stopped.
If the plaintiff has any questions about the applicable statute of limitations, they can consult with an attorney or seek guidance from the court.
Serving Notice of a Small Claims Action in Tennessee
Plaintiffs are required to serve the defendant with notice that they have filed a lawsuit against them and when to appear in court. Plaintiffs can serve defendants in one of several ways:
- Personal service: A sheriff or a private process server serves the defendant by handing them the documents. They fill out an affidavit of service, which is a document that proves the defendant was served.
- Certified mail: The plaintiff can serve the documents on the defendant by certified mail, with a return receipt request.
- Publication: If a plaintiff cannot locate the defendant, they must publish the notice in a local newspaper, and the court will consider the defendant properly served.
The plaintiff must provide to the court proof of service, such as a return receipt. The state does not require defendants to file an answer before the court date. When the defendant appears in court, they can put forth a defense at that time.
What Is a Small Claims Judgment?
At the court hearing, both the plaintiff and the defendant do their best to make compelling arguments. They can show documents and include witness accounts that support their case. After the evidence is presented by both parties, the judge will issue a judgment stating whether the plaintiff has won their case.
If the plaintiff is awarded a judgment, the defendant is required to pay the amount awarded by the court to the plaintiff, but the plaintiff won’t automatically get what they initially asked for in their claim. The court requires them to explain how they determined the amount of the claim they’re seeking and show supporting evidence for it.
If the defendant fails to pay, the plaintiff can take steps to collect the amount of the judgment, such as garnishing the defendant's wages or placing a lien on their property.
Dismissal and Default Judgment
If the defendant is awarded a judgment, the case is dismissed, and the plaintiff is not entitled to money or any other relief. If one side fails to show up for the hearing, the other party automatically wins by default.
How to Appeal a Small Claims Judgment in Knoxville
If the plaintiff or the defendant disagrees with the court’s decision, they can file an appeal. The party in disagreement has 10 days after the decision to file an appeal in the Circuit Court.
If either party appeals the decision, the case is heard by the court on a “de novo” basis. De novo translates as "from the beginning," so the prior small claims ruling will have no bearing on the appeal.
Additionally, the appealing party can request that a jury be present to reach a verdict on the case, but they must make this request within 10 days of filing the appeal.
- Lawyers/NOLO: Tennessee General Sessions Court (Small Claims Court)
- Knox County Tennessee: General Sessions Judges
- Find Law: Tennessee Code Title 16 Courts Section 16-15-501
- Knox County.org: Civil Sessions Court Kiosk
- TN Courts: Trial and General Sessions Court Forms
- Find Law: When Can You Serve Someone via Publication in a Newspaper?
- TN Courts: Guidelines and Helpful Information for People With a Case in General Sessions Court
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.