HOW TO FILE A SMALL CLAIMS LAWSUIT IN NEW JERSEY

Cases that cannot be filed as small claims:

  • Malpractice claims against doctors, dentists, lawyers, or other professionals
  • Claims for child support or alimony
  • Cases involving wills and inheritance
  • Claims seeking anything other than money from the defendant

Do I need a lawyer to file a small claims case?

Small claims are simpler than other case types. Most people are able to file and present their cases without an attorney.

Small claims — no auto damage

How to Sue in Small Claims Court up to $3,000

Note: You must be 18 to file a court case. If you are under 18, your parent or guardian must file the case for you.

8 steps to file a small claims case

  1. File the Small Claims Complaint with the court.
  2. Complete the Small Claims Summons.
  3. Include the current address of defendant .
  4. Attach the filing fee or request a fee waiver:
    • One defendant: $42
    • Each additional defendant: $12
  1. Check forms to make sure they are completed. Sign the forms.
  2. Make copies of all documents you will submit to the court and put them in a safe place. 
  3. You must remove all personal identifiers from the copies you will submit to the court. Keep those identifiers on the copies you keep.
  4. Mail or deliver the complaint , the summons and the fee to the county Superior Court where the person or business is. Certified mail is recommended. 
  5. *Note: If the defendant does not file an answer, you will need to pay for the papers to be hand delivered by Process Server.
  6. You will receive a postcard in the mail with your court date. If you cannot come to court on your assigned date, call the court right away. Your case might be dismissed if you do not come to court.

Serving the papers on the defendant

Your case cannot move forward unless the defendant receives the complaint and summons from the court.

The court will mail the complaint and summons to the defendant(s).

NOTE: You must give the court the correct address for the defendant or your case cannot move forward.

Preparing for trial

Both the plaintiff and defendant will be asked to give testimony in court.

You can bring witnesses. The court cannot accept written statements. You must bring your witnesses to court with you.

Bring all of the documents you need to prove your side of the case at the trial. The court cannot use text messages or emails on your mobile phone. You must print them out and bring them with you.

You will be questioning your witnesses and the witnesses brought by the other person. Write down your questions and bring them to court with you.

Bring to court records of any transactions that may help you prove your case. That could be

  • Cancelled checks, money orders, sales receipts.
  • Bills, contracts, estimates, leases.
  • Letters.
  • Photographs.
  • Other documents proving your claim.

Your day in court

  • Your court notice will tell you when you must come to court. Bring all witnesses and evidence needed to present your case.
  • The court will help you try to settle your case through a settlement conference. A staff member will try to help the plaintiff and the defendant reach an agreement.
  • If a settlement cannot be reached, your case likely will be heard by the judge This might happen on your court date, or on a later date.

Settling your case before trial

If you are able to settle the case with the defendant before the trial date, call the Special Civil Part Office right away to tell them that the case has been settled.

Small claims — auto damage

How to Sue for Motor Vehicle damage in Small Claims Court Up to $3,000

Note: You must be 18 to file a court case. If you are under 18, your parent or guardian must file the case for you.

8 steps to file a small claims case

  1. File the Small Claims Complaint with the court.
  2. Complete the Small Claims Summons.
  3. Include the address of the person(s) or business you are suing.
  4. Attach the filing fee or request a fee waiver:
    • One defendant: $42
    • Each additional defendant: $12
  1. Check forms to make sure they are completed. Sign the forms.
  2. Make copies of all documents you will submit to the court and put them in a safe place. 
  3. You must remove all personal identifiers on the copies that you submit to the court. Keep those identifiers on the copies that you keep.
  4. Mail or deliver the complaint, the summons and the fee to the county Superior Court where the person or business is. Certified mail is recommended.
  5. *Note: If the defendant does not file an answer, you will need to pay for the papers to be hand delivered by Process Server.
  6. You will receive a postcard in the mail with your court date. If you cannot come to court on your assigned date, call the court right away. Your case might be dismissed if you do not come to court.

Serving the papers on the defendant

Your case cannot move forward unless the defendant receives the complaint and summons from the court. 

Preparing for trial

Both the plaintiff and defendant will be asked to give testimony in court.

You can bring witnesses. The court cannot accept written statements. You must bring your witnesses to court with you.

Bring all of the documents you need to prove your side of the case at the trial. The court cannot use text messages or emails on your mobile phone. You must print them out and bring them with you.

You will be questioning your witnesses and the witnesses brought by the other person. Write down your questions and bring them to court with you.

Bring to court records of any transactions that may help you prove your case. That could be

  • Cancelled checks, money orders, sales receipts.
  • Bills, contracts, estimates, leases.
  • Letters.
  • Photographs.
  • Other documents proving your claim.

Your day in court

  • Your court notice will tell you when you must come to court. Bring all witnesses and evidence needed to present your case.
  • The court will help you try to settle your case through a settlement conference.A staff member will try to help the plaintiff and the defendant reach an agreement.
  • If a settlement cannot be reached, your case likely will be heard by the judge This might happen on your court date, or on a later date..

Settling your case before trial

If you are able to settle the case with the defendant before the trial date, call the Special Civil Part Office right away to tell them that the case has been settled.

Small claims — security deposits

How to Sue for the Return of a Security Deposit up to $5,000

To see the return of more than $5,000, you must file a Special Civil case.

Note: You must be 18 to file a court case. If you are under 18, your parent or guardian must file the case for you.

8 steps to file a small claims case

  1. File the Small Claims Complaint with the court.
  2. Complete the Small Claims Summons.
  3. Include the current address of the person(s) or business you are suing.
  4. Attach the filing fee or request a fee waiver:
    • One defendant: $42
    • Each additional defendant: $12
  1. Check forms to make sure they are completed. Sign the forms.
  2. Make copies of all documents you will submit to the court and put them in a safe place. 
  3. You must remove all personal identifiers on the copies that you submit to the court. Keep those identifiers on the copies that you keep.
  4. Mail or deliver the complaint , the summons and the fee to the county Superior Court where the landlord lives OR where the rental property is. Certified mail is recommended.
  5. You will receive a postcard in the mail with your court date. If you cannot come to court on your assigned date, call the court right away. Your case might be dismissed if you do not come to court.

Serving the papers on the defendant

Your case cannot move forward unless the defendant receives the complaint and summons from the court.

Preparing for trial

Both the plaintiff and defendant will be asked to give testimony in court.

You can bring witnesses. The court cannot accept written statements. You must bring your witnesses to court with you.

Bring all of the documents you need to prove your side of the case at the trial. The court cannot use text messages or emails on your mobile phone. You must print them out and bring them with you.

You will be questioning your witnesses and the witnesses brought by the other person. Write down your questions and bring them to court with you.

Bring to court records of any transactions that may help you prove your case. That could be

  • Cancelled checks, money orders, sales receipts.
  • Bills, contracts, estimates, leases.
  • Letters.
  • Photographs.
  • Other documents proving your claim.

Your day in court

  • Your court notice will tell you when you must come to court. Bring all witnesses and evidence needed to present your case.
  • The court will help you try to settle your case through a settlement conference.A staff member will try to help the plaintiff and the defendant reach an agreement.
  • If a settlement cannot be reached, your case likely will be heard by the judge This might happen on your court date, or on a later date..

Settling your case before trial

If you are able to settle the case with the defendant before the trial date, call the Special Civil Part Office right away to tell them that the case has been settled.

If you are being sued in small claims court

  • You are the defendant in a lawsuit.
  • You will receive a summons from the court with the date and time to come to the courthouse.
  • You must appear in court on the date stated on the notice.
  • If you do not come to court, a money judgment may be entered against you.
  • If you cannot come to court on the date you were given, you must call the number on the notice. You can ask for a new date.

Do I need a lawyer to defend myself in a small claims case?

Small claims are simpler than other case types. Most people are able to file and present their cases without an attorney.

Preparing for trial

Both the plaintiff and defendant will be asked to give testimony in court.

You can bring witnesses. The court cannot accept written statements. You must bring your witnesses to court with you.

Bring all of the documents you need to prove your side of the case at the trial. The court cannot use text messages or emails on your mobile phone. You must print them out and bring them with you.

You will be questioning your witnesses and the witnesses brought by the other person. Write down your questions and bring them to court with you.

Bring to court records of any transactions that may help you prove your case. That could be

  • Cancelled checks, money orders, sales receipts.
  • Bills, contracts, estimates, leases.
  • Letters.
  • Photographs.
  • Other documents proving your claim.

Your day in court

  • Your court notice will tell you when you must come to court. Bring all witnesses and evidence needed to present your case.
  • The court will help you try to settle your case through a settlement conference.A staff member will try to help the plaintiff and the defendant reach an agreement.
  • If a settlement cannot be reached, your case likely will be heard by the judge This might happen on your court date, or on a later date..

If the plaintiff does not appear, the judge could dismiss the case.

If the defendant does not appear, the judge could enter a default judgment and the defending might have to pay all or part of the money claimed in the lawsuit.

Filing fees in small claims court

  • To sue one defendant :$42
  • Each additional defendant:$12

All checks must be made payable to Treasurer, State of NJ

Do you qualify for a fee waiver ?

You might not have to pay to file your case if your income and assets are low enough. Fill out the Fee Waiver form and give it to the court along with the required documents.

You can apply for a fee waiver in any NJ state court: Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Superior Court and Tax Court.

When to file an application for a fee waiver

File your fee waiver request when you file your court case.

Under Court Rule 1:5-6, the court clerk cannot file your case unless the required fee is included.

Fee waivers in appeals of Superior Court cases

To apply for a fee waiver in the Appellate Division of Superior Court:

Step 1: You must submit your application in the Superior Court in the county where your case was first filed.

Step 2: If your application is denied in Superior Court, you then have 20 days to apply for a fee waiver in the Appellate Division.

Fee waivers in appeals of agency determinations

File directly with the Appellate Division of Superior Court in Trenton if you want to request a fee waiver in your appeal of an administrative agency determination.

For fee waiver questions, call the Superior Court Clerk’s Office at 609-421-6100.

Appealing a small claims case

Either party can appeal a decision in small claims court. You should consider whether the amount at stake in your case is worth the cost of filing an appeal.

When to file

The appeal must be filed in the Appellate Division of Superior Court within 45 days of the court’s decision.

Do I need a lawyer to file an appeal?

You do not have to have a lawyer to appeal your case. But the appeals process can be confusing. You will have to convince the appeals court that the judge made a mistake. It 

is a good idea to get a lawyer if you can.

Steps to file an appeal

  1. File a Notice of Appeal.
  2. Request a transcript of your case from the Appellate Division. You must have the official transcript in order for your appeal to be considered.
  3. Complete a Case Information Statement.

Filing Fees

  1. $250 must be submitted with the Notice of Appeal. This is the cost of the appeal.
  2. $300 must be submitted with to the clerk of the Appellate Division within 30 days of filing the Notice of Appeal. This will be refunded if you win your appeal. If you lose your appeal, the money can be used to pay settlement or court costs.

Do you qualify for a fee waiver ?

Did the small claims court waive your fee? If so, you can attach a copy of the order and a signed letter that says your finances have not changed since the case was filed.

Use the Certified Statement in Support of a Motion to Proceed as an Indigent

If you did not receive a fee waiver in your small claims case, you can submit a request for a fee waiver with your appeal.

Mail or bring your appeals documents to:

Appellate Division of Superior Court 

Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex 

P.O. Box 006 

Trenton NJ 08625

Send copies of your appeals document to:

  1. All parties in the case who appeared in court
  2. The local Superior Court office that handled your small claims case
  3. The judge who decided your small claims case

Keep a copy of each document for yourself.

Preparing your appeal

You will need to prepare a brief , which is a document that explains why your appeal should be granted.

Questions about your appeal?

Call the Appellate Division Clerk’s Office at 609-815-2950.

Collecting a Money Judgment

If you were awarded a judgment in small claims court, you are a judgment creditor .

You should contact the person who owes you the money, the judgment debtor, to talk about payment.

The court cannot guarantee payment

Although the court will try to help you collect the money owed to you, it cannot guarantee your debt will be paid.

Fees and other costs for writs of execution

The filing fee is $35.

Other Costs:

  • Ten percent fee: The special civil part officer will charge the debtor an extra ten percent on top of whatever money is recovered for you. Mileage: You will be charged for the distance the special civil part officer has to travel from the county courthouse to the judgment debtor’s home or place of business.
  • Mileage: You will be charged for the distance the special civil part officer has to travel from the county courthouse to the judgment debtor’s home or place of business.
  • See the special civil part officer mileage rates.
  • Sales and Advertising: If the special civil part officer sells personal property to get the money you are owed, you might be charged for things like advertising the sale.

Writ of Execution

A writ of execution is a court document that gives a special civil part officer the right to collect money from a judgment debtor’s bank account or personal property. Real estate cannot be used to collect money owed in the Special Civil Part.

Seizing a motor vehicle

You must be able to show that the vehicle is registered in the debtor’s name. You will need either:

  1. A certified copy of the title, or
  2. A certified lien search from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission.

The debtor might have an outstanding loan or debt on the car. You must determine if there is value or equity in the debtor’s car before you ask a special civil part officer to take it.

Other items that could be used to satisfy a writ include:

  • Office or sports equipment
  • Household items
  • Jewelry
  • Clothing

The debtor can keep $1,000 worth of personal property and clothing. If the debtor does not have more than $1,000 worth in personal property, this method cannot be used by the special civil part officer to satisfy your judgment and to collect the money owed to you.

Bank levy (taking funds from a bank account)

You can ask a special civil part officer to collect the money from the debtor’s bank account if the account is in New Jersey.

Special civil part officers are not required to search for the debtor’s bank accounts. You must provide the name of the bank, the address and no more than the last 4 digits of the account number, if possible. Do not provide the Special Civil Part Office with the debtor’s entire active financial account number. Provide it to the officer directly if necessary.

After the money has been levied upon by the special civil part officer, it is considered frozen. You must then file a Motion to Turn over Funds with the court and serve a copy upon the debtor and the bank. If the court grants the motion, the judge will sign an order that the special civil part officer will deliver to the bank. The officer will take the money from the bank, deposit it into an official business trust account, and then mail a check to the creditor or creditor’s attorney by the 15th day of the following month.

Execution against wages (Garnishing a debtor’s salary)

The judgment creditor can request an execution against a person’s wages if the debtor works in New Jersey and earns more than $217.50 per week. To request a wage execution, send a Notice of Application for Wage Execution to the debtor by regular and certified mail. File a copy of the application and a statement of how you mailed the application to the debtor with the Office of the Special Civil Part in the county where the case was heard.

If the debtor objects to the wage execution, a hearing will immediately be scheduled by the court. If the debtor does not object or the court does not allow the objection, the court will order a wage execution to be delivered to the debtor’s employer by the special civil part officer. The employer will hold back a portion of the debtor’s wages and will send this money directly to the officer. The officer will deduct a 10% commission and send the rest to you.

If the money is not collected

If the debt is not collected within two years, the debtor can choose to:

  1. Request a new writ of execution from the court by following the same procedures you followed the first time in order to have the special civil officer keep trying to get the money; OR
  2. Request to have the judgment recorded as a lien against any real estate owned by the debtor. Once your judgment is recorded in the Superior Court, the debtor cannot sell with clear title any real estate owned in New Jersey until your debt is paid.
  • To get a lien, a Statement for Docketing from the Special Civil Part Office where the case was heard. You can send the Statement for Docketing, plus a $35 filing fee payable to Treasurer, State of New Jersey, to
    • Clerk of the Superior Court
    • Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex
    • PO Box 971
    • Trenton, NJ 08625

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