Filing A Small Claims Suit In Syracuse
Every once in awhile, whether you work for yourself or someone owes you money for some other reason, you just might have to go to small claims court for some satisfaction. I say it that way because, as it turns out, you might not end up with what you’re hoping for at the end of it all. I’ll come back to that later on.
The first thing you learn is that the courthouse on Montgomery Street, next to the Civic Center, isn’t where you go anymore. You have to go to the new courthouse, which is across the street on State Street, in one of the newer looking buildings. I say that because there’s also a justice building, which I’d never been in before, which I guess is where the city jail is, since that’s where I went first.
I’d never been to the courthouse before, but I’ve seen them on TV. Yeah, TV; that’s about it for me. So I thought I knew what to expect; nope, nothing like that it seems.
You walk in and immediately you start thinking about airports. That’s because they have it set up for you to walk around as if there’s a long winding line, which there probably is sometimes. Also, you have to take everything out of your pockets and put it into a small white basket because you’re going through a metal detector. And unlike at the airport they’re all carrying guns, so you really don’t want to have to do it twice. So everything went into the basket, including my belt; no chances. I didn’t take my sneakers off like I do at the airport, but I got through with no issues.
The small claims office is on the first floor, but since you enter on the basement level that means you have to go up one flight. I walked up the one flight and it was just me after 20 steps. I could go further up or down the hall, and small claims is down the hall, the last office on the floor before the bathrooms.
I went into the room, #130, and there were more people working there than people with questions. The entire room is small claims, but it turns out there are different types of small claims. Mine was civil, since I’m suing someone that didn’t pay me. I go to the window and there’s no one there, so I have a chance to look around some.
Part of it reminds you of what you might see on TV. There are numerous people in back of the desk, which almost reminds you a little bit of a bank in that you don’t have any access to getting into the work area unless you lost your mind and decided to jump through the part where there’s no glass. There was a sign saying they don’t take personal checks, but do take credit cards; I could have left that check at home it seems.
Finally someone came over and I told her what I wanted to do. She pulled out a form and said I had to fill it out. A copy of the form is here, and it looks pretty bad. I guess with budget cuts the city can’t afford to make any new forms, so they must photocopy like crazy, then make photocopies of photocopies to get them to look this bad.
When I got to the part where I had to list the guy’s name I was suing, I asked if I put down both his name and his business name. That immediately changed things. She asked me if I was suing him or his business; I said I was kind of doing both. She asked if I had done work for him and I said yes. Then she said I couldn’t start with that form because I was suing business to business. She gave me two other forms and said I had to start with one of those first.
The one I have to start with is called the Demand Letter. Since it’s now considered a commercial claim I have to fill it out and mail it myself. The respondent has 10 days to do something, and if he doesn’t then I have to take both the second form that you’ll see below and the original form I popped up there and get them both notarized. Then I can go back in or mail them the form and the real process begins. Now, the thing is it’s actually up to me; I have between 10 and 180 days to file my claim, as long as I don’t file before whatever date I put on the demand letter.
After that, the court will set a date, and with small claims you have to request a judge if you want a judge, otherwise you end up with an arbitrator that handles the claim. Now, if you’re an individual that’s suing and you’re going for less than $1,000, it costs you $15 to file your claim; between $1,000 and $5,000, the maximum, it costs you $20. However, if you’re filing a commercial claim it’s $29.88, and you have to pay by certified check, money order or corporate check; good thing I have a corporate checking account.
Now here’s the “some satisfaction” part of the whole thing. It seems that even if you win your judgment, the court can’t make the other party pay you. What the hey? You win judgment, and then you have to follow the recommendations made by the state in getting your money. Yup, it seems that at least initially you’re doing it for satisfaction. However, they give you a book, and it seems n Syracuse they won’t tell you how to collect on your claim. But I know how; here’s two things:
1. You have to get an enforcement officer, probably the sheriff in our area. You have to provide the sheriff with information of where assets might be. You can actually pay small claims for a document that compels wherever a debtor might have assets to give you the information; that costs you $2, which isn’t a bad deal. Then the sheriff goes and gets your money for you; you’ll have to pay the sheriff, but you can get the money back when the sheriff gets your money.
2. If you’re not paid within 35 days, you can go after their business license, which if they’re incorporated in any fashion in this state is required. And, not only can they take away the business license, but you can contact the Attorney General at that point for even more pressure.
And there you go. There’s a lot more, but way too many circumstances to get into and none of them fit my needs anyway. By the way, if you click on the images, then click on it again, you can see the entire form at its real size, and since I don’t think it’s illegal you can print it as well. Now you know the process; good luck.