In Wisconsin, small claims actions are limited to $10,000.00 or less for a money judgment based on a breach of contract claim. Third-party complaints, personal injury claims, and actions based in tort are limited to $5,000.00 or less. If your claim exceeds this amount, you will need to file in Circuit court. You may adjust your claim amount to meet the requirements; however, you cannot later file a claim for the additional amount if the claim involves the same events. Eviction actions are also heard in small claims court. Except for replevin actions, small claims court does not have the authority to hear cases where either party is seeking injunctive relief, i.e., an order that a party take an action or refrain from taking an action.
Generally, you do not need a lawyer for conciliation court, but it may be helpful to discuss your case with a lawyer to obtain advice about the specific laws that may apply.
If you have decided to pursue a claim, you must first determine where to file the action. A small claims action is typically filed with the clerk of court in the county where the claim arose, where the property is located, or where the defendant lives or does substantial business.
The forms necessary to initiate a claim, which are called a Small Claims Summons and Complaint, are available for download online or for purchase in the county courthouse. All small claims cases currently require a filing fee of $94.50 to be paid when the forms are filed with the court.
Most small claims cases permit service by mail. Counties differ on whether they want the plaintiff to serve the defendant or whether the small claims clerk will mail, so make sure to check with your county clerk. Some small claims cases require personal service on the defendant, notably, all eviction actions. If personal service is required and is not successful with reasonably diligent effort, you may publish the summons and complaint in an approved newspaper.
The Summons and Complaint will include a “return date”. In a money action, counties differ in whether they require a written answer, an in-person appearance at the return hearing, or both. In an eviction action, the return date is a mandatory appearance by all parties.
To defend a claim in conciliation court, it is extremely important that you appear on the court date. If you fail to appear at the hearing, the court will likely order a judgment by default against you. As a defendant, you can attempt to settle the case. You may contact the other party directly or, if necessary, use a mediation service.
Unfortunately, a successful claim does not guarantee payment on the judgment. The court does not collect payment for you and you may need to take further action to obtain your payment. This process can be more difficult and will likely include additional expenses.
If the judgment has been paid, the plaintiff should complete a Satisfaction of Judgment form. Either party may file this form with the clerk of courts and pay the filing fee. If the plaintiff does not complete this form, the defendant should contact the plaintiff directly and request the form be completed.
Common Types of Small Claims Cases:
– Claims for money
– Personal injury actions
– Repossession of property/replevin
Tips for Small Claims Court:
– Understand the process of small claims court before filing your claim
– Be prepared for the hearing by compiling a list of facts you want to present
– Make sure your side of the story is clear and well organized
– Contact individuals who have knowledge of the events involved in the claim and ask them to be present at the final evidentiary hearing
– Bring all evidence (contracts, letters, bills, photographs, etc.)
If you have any questions on the Small Claims process, you should reach out to an attorney for a consultation. An attorney will be able to assist you in understanding the Small Claims process and review your forms. Also, an attorney can discuss with you whether representation may make sense for your claim and, if desired, refer you to an attorney for representation.
Attorney Samantha Hargrave and Attorney Meridith J.O. Socha