Small Claims Division Information
The Small Claims Division is designed to allow individuals to settle certain disputes in court with relaxed rules of procedure without attorneys. Individuals who are represented by an attorney must file their claim in the civil division. Individuals are allowed to sue in small claims court for different types of damages. Small claims court is often used as a means to recover money for damages to personal property, to recover personal property or to settle disputes involving contracts. All claims are limited by a set dollar amount, which is set by the state law. The current amount of a claim cannot exceed $5,000.00 in the Small Claims Division. (Administrative Order 18. Administration of District Courts)
No action can be brought in small claims court by a collection agency, collection agent, assignee of a claim or by any person, firm, partnership, association or corporation engaged, either primarily or secondarily, in the business of lending money at interest. By definition this includes credit bureaus and collection agencies.
Corporations, that are not classified as lending institutions, which have been organized under the laws of the State of Arkansas, have which have no more than three stockholders or in which eighty-five percent or more of the voting stock is held by persons related by blood or marriage within the third degree of consanguinity may sue or be sued in small claims court. An officer of the corporation is required to sign all documents pertaining to the action and must appear in court for all hearings and trials. (Administrative Order 18. Administration of District Courts)
The entities listed above who are not allowed to file in Small Claims, or persons with an attorney appearing on their behalf must file in the Civil Division of District Court. Attorneys are not allowed to practice in the Small Claims Division. If an attorney appears in a Small Claims case, the case must be transferred to the Civil Division. All actions filed in the civil division are subject to the Inferior Court Rules, the Rules of Civil Procedure and the Uniform Rules of Evidence.
District Court has no jurisdiction over matters involving personal injury or eviction cases. If there is a question regarding proper jurisdiction for filing, whether or not you have a case, etc., you MUST seek the advice of an attorney. Court clerks are prohibited from giving legal advice/practicing law and the clerk will be unable to provide you with advice on your case. Court clerks are also prohibited from recommending. You may call the bar association, refer to the yellow pages, or get recommendations from family and friends. The Court cannot appoint attorneys in Small Claims or Civil matters.
The clerk is allowed to provide information regarding the procedures of this Court ONLY, being very careful not to give legal advice, fill out forms on your behalf or to perform any investigative work for you. Please remember that the clerk of court is prohibited from practicing law. Therefore, the clerk will not provide advice about a case that is filed with the Court. The clerk’s main purpose is as an unbiased keeper of the records.
TO FILE A SMALL CLAIMS CASE
1. FILING FEE.
The State Legislature sets the filing fee of a Small Claims cases. That fee is currently $65.00 and must be paid at the time of filing your case.
2. FORMS TO FILE.
Our Clerk’s office has four (4) page carbon forms that may be picked up at our office to be filled out to file your case. The Clerk’s office does not fax or e-mail these forms to anyone. The forms must be completely filled out and signed at the time of filing. If you have copies of a contract, receipts, etc. that you wish to be part of your file, please provide copies of those at the time of filing.
3. SERVING THE DEFENDANT(S).
Once your case has been filed, the Defendant(s) in your case must be served your complaint within 120 days of the filing of your complaint. You may have the person(s) and/or agent for service of a company served by one of the following methods:
• Certified Mail Restricted Delivery
• Process Servers
• Sheriff's Office - Washington County / Benton County (or other county if applicable)
To find a Corporation's Registered Agent for service call 1-888-233-0325 or visit the Arkansas Secretary of State’s website http://www.sos.arkansas.gov/corps/search_all.php
Certified Mail Restricted: If you choose Certified Mail Restricted Delivery, after the paperwork has been prepared, you will be provided with the paperwork to take to the post office. You will be responsible for paying for the postage for that delivery.
Process Servers: If you choose to have a Process Server serve your paperwork, you will make payment arrangements with the Process Server and you will make arrangements for the Process Server to pick the paperwork up at the Clerk's office. THE CLERK DOES NOT CALL THE PROCESS SERVER TO PICK UP THE PAPER WORK. Ask the clerk who files your case when the paperwork will be ready for the Process Server to be picked up. There is a list of Process Servers that have registered their Orders with the District Court Clerk’s office OR you may contact the Circuit Clerk’s office in the applicable county to get information about all of the Process Servers registered in that county. Please be advised the clerk is prohibited from recommending a Process Server.
Sheriff's Office: If you choose to have a Sheriff's Office serve your paperwork, you will be provided the paperwork to take to the proper Sheriff's Office. You will provide the payment for the service of the paperwork to the Sheriff’s Office at that time.
The plaintiff has one hundred twenty (120) days to obtain service of the complaint (unless a motion for more time is granted). When the complaint is not served within the allotted time, the case is dismissed without prejudice.
4. DEFENDANT’S ANSWER. A form will be provided to the Defendant(s) with the Complaint at the time of service so that the Defendant(s) may file an Answer to the Complaint. The Defendant(s) have thirty (30) days from the date he or she is served in which to file an answer to the complaint. It may be brought to the clerk’s office, mailed, or faxed to (479) 750-8564 to be filed. The Defendants are required to send a copy of the answer to the Plaintiff and to the Court Clerk’s office.
IF YOU ARE THE DEFENDANT named in a Small Claims or Civil action and have received a Complaint and Summons, or an Order or Notice to Appear in court, this means you are being sued. If you do not know why you are being sued, contact the Plaintiff and ask for an explanation. NEVER IGNORE PAPERWORK YOU ARE SERVED EVEN IF YOU DO NOT AGREE WITH THE CONTENTS.
5. TRIALS AND HEARINGS. Once the complaint has been served and an answer has been filed or the thirty (30) days in which to file an answer has passed, the court may set a hearing or trial to hear evidence. It is extremely important that you bring with you to trial all witnesses, documents, contracts, letters, pictures, bills or evidence necessary to prove your claim or defense. If you fail to do this, the case may be decided against you. If you need the testimony of a witness who will not attend trial voluntarily, you should ask the court, no later than ten (10) days before the trial date, to issue a subpoena requiring that person to attend. Subpoena requests must be submitted to the court in writing and must include sufficient information for the subpoena to be served. It is your responsibility to have the subpoena served and to pay the filing and service fees in order to do so. The various types of hearings are listed below:
• Trial - A trial is scheduled when the defendant answers the complaint and denies part or all of the allegations set forth in the complaint. The plaintiff and defendant will bring all evidence and witnesses to court and the judge will hear the case and enter a judgment based upon the evidence.
• Default Hearing - If the defendant fails to answer the complaint, the plaintiff can request a hearing. The defendant is notified of the hearing. However, the defendant may not be allowed to enter any evidence in the case, because they failed to file an answer as required. The plaintiff will show their proof of debt to the judge and the judge will enter a judgment based upon the evidence.
• Consent/Agreed Judgment – If the defendant files an answer admitting to the allegations set forth in the complaint a hearing is scheduled for the plaintiff to present evidence of the allegations set forth in the complaint.
• Hearing - A hearing may be set so evidence and/or argument may be presented to determine some issue or fact of law. For instance, a hearing may be set to determine if a case should be dismissed based upon the motions filed by the defendant or to determine if a party should be held in contempt for failing to follow an order of the court.
6. JUDGMENTS. A judgment is entered in a case once the defendant has been served and the judge has reviewed the merits of the case. If the plaintiff has met the burden of proof, the judge will issue one of many types of judgments. Below is a list of some of the judgments that are commonly used in district court:
• Default Judgment Against the Defendant - A default judgment is entered when the defendant fails to answer the complaint within the specified time.
• Judgment on the Pleadings - This type of judgment is entered when the defendant answers the complaint by admitting the debt is owed.
• Consent Judgment - This type of judgment has been signed and agreed upon by both parties prior to submitting it to the court. A consent judgment is only used in the civil division.
• Judgment Against the Defendant - This judgment is entered against the defendant in open court when the plaintiff prevails on the case.
• Judgment For the Defendant - This judgment is entered in open court when the plaintiff fails to prove their case. This type of judgment dismisses the case against the defendant.
• Dismissal Without Prejudice - This is a dismissal of the case against the defendant which allows the case to be re-filed within one year.
• Dismissal With Prejudice - When a dismissal with prejudice is entered, the case cannot be brought back before the court.
Once the judge decides the type of judgment to be entered, the judge will then determine the monetary amount of the judgment. Judgments have a life span of ten (10) years. A Writ of Scire Facias may be filed and if granted, the judgment will be revived and collectable for an additional ten (10) years.
If the Court rules in your favor and a judgment is entered, THE COURT DOES NOT COLLECT THE MONEY FOR YOU. While a judgment carries legal weight, it may be difficult to collect. Collecting the judgment can be one of the most challenging aspects of any lawsuit.
Judgments are a matter of public record. District Court does not report to any credit reporting agency; however, these agencies come to the court to retrieve judgment information to place on the losing party’s credit record.
If you are granted a monetary judgment, you must wait ten (10) days from the date that the judgment is entered, before trying to collect the judgment or before you can take any further action.
7. SCHEDULE OF PROPERTY. If a monetary judgment is entered against the defendant, the following paragraph is included in the body of the judgment:
Furthermore , pursuant to Act 610 of 1991, the defendant must prepare a schedule, verified by affidavit, of all his property, both real and personal, including moneys, bank accounts, rights, credits and choses in action held by himself or others for him and specify the particular property which he claims as exempt under the provisions of the law. The Defendant’s schedule of exempt property must be filed with the clerk of the court within forty-five (45) days of entry of the final judgment order. The schedule of property is used to assist the plaintiff in the collection of the judgment. If the defendant fails to file the schedule of property, the plaintiff may request a hearing to bring the defendant before the court to show cause why he should not be held in contempt of court for failing to file the schedule of property.
Either party may file an appeal within thirty (30) days from the date of the judgment. The district court clerk has a duty to prepare and certify such records when requested by the appellant. The appellant must request the record in writing to the clerk and taking in to consideration the amount of time it may take to prepare the transcript of the record. An transcript fee will be assessed for each case that is prepared for an appeal. The appellant has the responsibility to file the transcript record in the Office of the Circuit Clerk. Please check with the Circuit Clerk’s Office for the appropriate filing fee.
Once the case is appealed, the case is tried “de novo”, which means circuit court will hear the case as if it was never heard in district court. The prevailing party may continue to collect the judgment in district court unless an appeal bond or a supersedeas bond has been posted.
The prevailing party is required to wait ten (10) days from the date of judgment before attempting to on the judgment. If the judgment is not paid, the prevailing party may file the following to collect the judgment:
Writ of Garnishment - This is an attachment on the debtor’s bank, their wages or any other obligation owed to the judgment debtor. With this writ, an employer, bank, or anyone else owing the judgment debtor money, is ordered to subtract a certain amount of the defendant’s paycheck until the judgment is paid. The Clerk’s office has writ of garnishment forms and a clerk must issue the garnishment to be sent to the employer or bank and a copy must be mailed to the person being garnished informing them of the garnishment. There is a $10.00 fee to the clerk that will need to be paid at the time the writ of garnishment is issued. The clerk is prohibited from filling out forms for you. If you do not understand how to fill out the forms you will need to take them to someone who can help you. (Refer to: https://www.dol.gov/whd/garnishment/ for more information)
The bank or the debtor’s employer has thirty (30) days to file an answer to the Writ of Garnishment. Failure by the bank or employer to answer could result in the judge entering a judgment against the bank or employer.
Writ of Execution - This writ advises the sheriff to take property of the defendant (i.e. vehicle, TV, stereo, etc.) and sell these items at a public auction. The money from the sale goes first, to satisfy the Sheriff’s costs of conducting the sale and secondly to satisfy the judgment. The clerk’s office has a blank form for Writ of Execution. There is a $10.00 fee for the Writ of Execution to be issued by the clerk that will need to be paid at the time it is issued. The clerk is prohibited from filing out this form for you. If you do not understand how to fill these forms out, you will need to take them to someone who can help you.
Lien on Real Property - The judgment can be turned into a lien against real estate that the debtor owns by recording a certified copy of the judgment in the circuit clerk’s office of the county where the land is located.
10. SATISFACTION or RELEASE. Once the debtor has paid the judgment debt in full, the judgment creditor must file a satisfaction or release of judgment. The satisfaction can be used by the debtor to prove to any future creditors that the judgment has been paid and collection has ceased. If the judgment creditor has placed a lien on the debtor’s property, the judgment creditor must file a certified copy of the satisfaction with the circuit clerk's office in the county where the property is located.