The following information is designed to provide the reader with a basic understanding of the Civil Division functions. This information is general, as its purpose should only be used as a guide. It shall not be offered as legal advice. The Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office informs inquiring parties to consult with an attorney. The Small Claims Court information is written in chronological order. You will see helpful information that begins with your claim in Small Claims Court and continues with detailed information on how you can collect on a money judgment. You will gain the knowledge needed to work hand and hand with the Civil Division located in the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office.
The Small Claims Court is an informal court where individuals can sue for money only, up to $3,000 without a lawyer.
For example, if you feel that a person or business damaged something you own, you may sue that person or business for the monetary amount of your damages. You may also sue a person or business for money damages arising out of false advertising or other deceptive practices. You cannot, however, sue in Small Claims Court to compel that person or business to fix the damaged item or to require the performance of the act promised in an advertisement; your lawsuit can be only for money.
Most Small Claims Courts have a clerk who can assist you with the procedures for bringing your lawsuit. In those town or village courts that do not have clerks, the judge may assist you.
Anyone over the age of 18 years can bring an action to Small Claims Court. If you are younger than 18, your parent or guardian may file the claim for you. Corporations, partnerships, association or assignees cannot sue in Small Claims Court, but they can be sued.
If you sue in Small Claims Court, you are the claimant (plaintiff); if you have been sued, you are the defendant. You can sue more than one defendant in the same case if necessary.
If you are sued, and you believe that a third party is responsible for the claim, you may be able to bring that party into the lawsuit as a defendant. Contact the clerk of the Small Claims Court for information about a “third-party action.”
A corporation may authorize an attorney, officer, director or employee of the corporation to appear to defend a claim.
If you choose, you may be represented by an attorney at your own expense, but it is not necessary to have an attorney since Small Claims is meant to be a “people’s court” where claims may be tried speedily, informally and inexpensively. The defendant has the same choice. If there are attorneys on both sides, the case may be transferred to a regular part of the court.
There is at least one Small Claims Court in each of the 62 counties in New York State including at least one in each of the five boroughs of New York City. In the City of New York, the Small Claims Court is part of the Civil Court of the City of New York. In Nassau and Suffolk counties, the District Courts have Small Claims Parts. All city courts have a Small Claims Part. Town and village courts, with the exception of those located in Nassau County; handle Small Claims in the municipalities where they are located. The telephone book contains the addresses and phone numbers for various courts in your area. For your convenience, our office has created a helpful form that displays important phone numbers, such as courts, affiliated with the Civil Division.