Small Claims cases are heard in Kettering Municipal Court by a Civil Magistrate almost every Tuesday of the year beginning at 2:30 p.m. You can file a small claim in our Court for damages with a monetary value of up to $6,000. If you are seeking damages greater than $6,000, you must file a Civil lawsuit instead. Our Court handles Civil claims up to $15,000. If your claim is for more than $15,000, you will need to file it with the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court.
The following information outlines the basic procedures of Small Claims Court for both the Plaintiff (party suing) and the Defendant (party being sued). Please read these guidelines very carefully.
If you still have questions about presenting your case after reading this information, you can contact the Dayton Bar Association Attorney Referral Service at 937-222-7902 or the Legal Aid Line of Western Ohio at 1-888-534-1432. The Referral Service can provide you with names of local attorneys who can give you advice or perform other services for a fee. The Clerk’s Office staff will assist you in any way they can as you file your claim, but please remember that these individuals are not attorneys and cannot provide you with legal advice.
For detailed information on the steps involved in the Small Claims process, you can view a Small Claims Court Citizens Guide provided by the Ohio Judicial Conference. You can also pick up a copy of this booklet at the Clerk’s Office. For more information on Small Claims, contact the Clerk’s Office Civil Division at 937-296-2461.
The Court understands that both the Plaintiff and the Defendant are not attorneys and that they have little or no legal experience. To help you better understand Small Claims court procedures, you may want to review the Small Claims sections of the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure and the Ohio Revised Code, Chapter 1925.
Filing My Claim
Your first step in filing a Small Claims complaint is to come to the Clerk’s Office and file a Small Claims Complaint form. This form is available in our office as well as online. Once you have filed your complaint, the person or business you are suing (the Defendant) must receive an official copy of the complaint from the Court. This process is called “being served.” An initial certified mailing service is included in the cost of filing a Small Claims. You can also choose to have your claim delivered by a Court Bailiff, a Sheriff or an outside process server (see current cost listing). The Clerk’s Office can explain more details about these service options when you file your complaint.
In order for your case to go forward, your claim must be served to the Defendant. If we are unable to get service of the claim to the Defendant on the first attempt, the Clerk’s Office will send you a notice alerting you that the defendant did not receive your service copy of the complaint. There are some secondary options if your first attempts for service failed. If, for example, you opted for the Court to send the claim by certified mail and it is unclaimed or refused, you can request for the Clerk’s Office to send it again by ordinary mail. This request must be made in writing and fees paid. If the letter is undeliverable by the Post Office, we will need a better address to try again. Additional certified mailings can be processed at an additional cost. Once service is perfected—meaning that the defendant has been served with the complaint based on the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure —your case can go forward. If service is not perfected, the case cannot proceed.
Who is My Claim Against?
If you are the Plaintiff, pay particular attention to the person or business you name as a Defendant. Your claim may be against more than one party (person or business), and if so, you can chose to name any other parties you believe might be involved in owing you the money. Just be sure that all parties you are suing are involved in the case and have a potential responsibility or liability. If you need professional advice concerning which party(ies) to sue, contact the Dayton Bar Association Attorney Referral Service or the Legal Aid Line of Western Ohio.
Claims Against the Plaintiff
If you are the Defendant, you may have a claim against the Plaintiff (person suing you) arising out of the same transaction. This is called a Counterclaim. There may also be another party involved who should be named as an additional Defendant or as a Third Party Defendant along with you so that the Court may determine which of the Defendants, if any, is liable for the claim of the Plaintiff. If you have a claim against the Plaintiff, then you should file that claim so that the Court can hear both your claim and the Plaintiff’s claim at the same time and determine which party is liable to the other. If either situation applies to you as a Defendant, then bring this to the attention of the Clerk’s Office and express your desire to file either or both of the above procedures. A Counterclaim or Third Party Claim must be filed and served at least seven (7) days prior to the trial date.
Your Trial Date
You will receive your trial date when you file your claim if you are the Plaintiff, or through a notice by mail if you are the Defendant. You are entitled to only one trial, so it is important to come to Court on the day of your trial fully prepared to present your case. This will help ensure the Magistrate can make a fair determination for the parties involved. If, for some reason either party cannot appear at the scheduled trial date, you can contact the Clerk’s Office in writing to request a continuance. All continuances must be requested by 12:00 noon on the Friday prior to the trial.
Witnesses and Evidence
The Plaintiff and the Defendant should both bring their witnesses to the trial, along with any written documents, checks, receipts, leases, repair estimates, papers reflecting ownership or any other items you believe can support your case. For auto accidents, bring your damage estimate, police report if you have one and any other document that may substantiate the case. Please bring several copies of your evidence since the Magistrate will retain one in the case.
Letters from friends and even sworn affidavits are not acceptable in Court because these documents prohibit the other party from cross-examining or questioning the person who wrote the letter or who gave the affidavit. Instead, bring witnesses to court to testify on your behalf. Keep in mind: it is possible to lose because you failed to present the proper evidence to prove your case.
Subpoenas for Witnesses
If either the Plaintiff or the Defendant wishes to bring in a witness who cannot come or is not willing to appear for you, then you may have the Clerk’s Office issue a subpoena for this witness. You will be charged a court processing cost, service fee and witness fee (see current cost listing). The request to the Clerk must be made at least five working days before your trial or hearing. If the request is not made at least five working days in advance of the trial and the witness is not served, the Court may choose not to grant a continuance because this witness is not present to testify on your behalf. Please note that if the witness resides outside of Montgomery County, additional time for service of the subpoena will be required.
If the Defendant fails to appear for the trial after having been properly notified by mail, the Court will assume that the Defendant admits the claim of the Plaintiff and will render a judgment in favor of the Plaintiff and against the Defendant if the Plaintiff has sufficient factual information in the Complaint to support the claims.
If the Defendant appears for the trial and the Plaintiff fails to appear for trial, then the case typically will be dismissed at the cost and expense of the Plaintiff unless the court determines otherwise or the court may make such other ruling it deems just and proper under the circumstances.
Decision and Judgment
The magistrate’s decision on the case will be made in writing and will be mailed to all parties involved. In the event either party is dissatisfied with the decision of the magistrate, they may object to that decision by filing Objections to the Magistrate’s Report within 14 days of the filing of the report of the magistrate. After 14 days, the case will be sent to the judge, who will render a final decision. A copy of the final judgment will be mailed to all parties. At that time the party that has judgment can start collections. If the losing party disagrees with the final judgment they have the right to appeal to a higher court. This must be done within 30 days of the final judgment.
Collection and Enforcement of Judgments
If you win a judgment and the other party does not pay, you may start collection proceedings such as bank account or earnings garnishments, padlocks, replevins (repossession) or other actions permitted under the law. Filings on these actions can be made in the Clerk’s Office Civil Division. The Ohio Judicial College Small Claims Guide provides more information to assist you on this topic. Please be aware that there are additional costs for these services.
Parties who have submitted exhibits to the Court will be notified, upon finalization of the case, of their right to recover their exhibits for a period of sixty days. Any exhibits not recovered will be destroyed pursuant to Ohio Rules of Superintendence Rule 26.