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FAQs on Conciliation Court
Q: What is Conciliation Court?
The law in MN Statutes § 491A provides for a Conciliation Court, also called "small claims" court, as a place where people could have their cases heard without lawyers, expensive costs or complicated legal procedures.
You can file a claim in Conciliation Court for an amount up to $15,000.00. (NOTE: $4,000 is the limit for consumer credit cases, and $15,000 for forfeitures.) These are limits set by law. You cannot file a claim in Conciliation Court that involves:
- title to real estate
- class actions or
- medical malpractice
- actions against deceased people.
Court Administration will not accept a general claim over $15,000, and if you reduce your claim to the limit of Conciliation Court, you cannot claim more later through another claim if it involves the same event.
NOTE: Winning a judgment in Conciliation Court does not guarantee payment. If you win a judgment, you are responsible for collecting payment. As you try to collect the judgment, you may have out of pocket expenses for filing fees, transcription costs and other costs, which can be added to the amount you can collect.
Q: Has the Statute of Limitations expired in your case?
A Statute of Limitations is a law that puts a time limit on how long a person has to start a lawsuit based on a harm that happened to them. When the time is up, the person who was harmed loses the right to file a claim in court, unless there are specific legal exceptions that apply to the case. There are different statutes of limitation, and whichone applies depends on the type of claim and facts of the case. If you need to know if the statute of limitations has expired in your case, talk with a lawyer to get legal advice.
Q: Where do you file a Conciliation Court claim?
The question about where to file a case involves a legal concept called jurisdiction, or which court has the power under the law to make a decision about these parties and these facts. The law on jurisdiction in Minnesota Conciliation Court is at MN Statutes § 491A.01. Court staff cannot apply the law to your case, so if you are not sure where you should file your case, we encourage you to get advice from a lawyer.
The person who starts a case in Conciliation Court is called the "plaintiff." The person against whom the claim is made is called the "defendant." Generally, the plaintiff must file the claim in the county where the defendant lives or has a place of business, with two common exceptions: (see MN Statutes § 491A.01 for other exceptions)
- If the case involves "bad checks," the claim should be filed in the District Court of the county where the checks were written.
- If the case involves a landlord-tenant dispute, the case may be filed in the District Court of the county where the rental property is located.
Corporations can be sued in the county where the business office or branch office is located (contact the MN Secretary of State if you need more information on business locations.)
Q: Do you have to have a lawyer?
Individual people can represent themselves in Conciliation Court and District Court, however, a business or association may be represented by a non-lawyer such as an officer or manager only in Conciliation Court. See MN Statutes § 491A.02 subd.4. If a business wants to appeal a Conciliation Court judgment to the District Court, then the law requires that the business be represented by a lawyer. See the "Advisory Committee Comment" to Rule 521 of the Gen. R. Prac. for District Courts (Tit.VI).
NOTE: A corporation or LLC must be represented by an attorney in District Court, which includes having an attorney sign court papers on behalf of the client corporation or LLC. EXCEPT: For cases limited to the Hennepin County "Housing Court," MN Gen. Rule of Practice 603 may allow a principal (or agent) of the corporation or LLC to sign court papers or appear in court on behalf of the business entity. You should get legal advice if you have questions about this issue in your case.
Q: How do you file a claim in Conciliation Court?
You can download the Summons and Statement of Claim form or get one at your local courthouse. Upon request, court administration explain how to fill out the form, but court staff cannot tell you who to sue or how to write your claim in a way to make it more persuasive. Talk with a lawyer to get legal advice if you need help with your case.
To complete the forms, you must have the following information:
- your name and address
- The name and address of the defendant (home address if the defendant is a person; address of principal place of business if a business entity)
- the amount of your claim
- the legal reason for the claim and the date your claim occurred.
You must sign the claim before a notary public or court clerk and pay the filing fee, which will vary by county and will be added to your claim. If you are low income and cannot afford the filing fee, you may be able to ask the court to waive the fee, and to do that you must fill out an Affidavit of Inability to Pay Conciliation Court Filing Fee form and file it with the court.
After you have filed your claim, a copy of the Summons and Statement of Claim form must be "served" on the defendant(s). For cases under $2,500.00, the Court Administrator's office will serve the claim on the defendant by first class mail stating the date and time of the hearing. You will also receive a notice from the court as to the date and time of the hearing. For claims over $2,500.00 or if service cannot be made by first class mail, the Court Administrator’s office will give you instructions on how you have to arrange for service. Many cases settle when the defendant receives notice of the hearing. It is your responsibility to tell the Court Administrator in writing if you and the defendant settle your case.
Q: What happens if the defendant files a counterclaim against you?
The defendant may file a "counterclaim" against you in connection with the same event for claim. The defendant must file the counterclaim at least 5 days before the date set for a hearing.
The defendant will pay a filing fee and the Court Administrator will notify you if a counterclaim is filed. The counterclaim will be heard at the same hearing as your claim.
If the counterclaim is for more than $15,000.00, your claim and the counterclaim must be heard in District Court, and the court will notify of this. The defendant must then serve the plaintiff with a District Court Summons and Counterclaim, and file them at the District Court. If the defendant fails to serve a Summons and Counterclaim on the plaintiff or fails to file the counterclaim in District Court after giving notice of intent to do that, the plaintiff may have his or her claim reinstated in Conciliation Court. You may do this anytime after thirty (30) days and before three (3) years expire by filing an "Affidavit" with Conciliation Court.
Q: How do you prepare for the hearing?
Conciliation Court hearings are informal, but you must be prepared to present your case. The judge decides if the attorney can speak on behalf of a party at Conciliation Court hearings. All parties and witnesses who appear will testify under oath. The witnesses should be present and ready to testify. If a witness does not want to appear, you can ask Court Administration for a subpoena to compel them to appear. There is a fee for each subpoena you request. Written statements and affidavits of people who do not appear in court have very little value, and the judge may not accept them as evidence.
You should also bring all other relevant evidence to court such as receipts, repair bills, estimates, and other items to help prove your claim. If the defendant or some other person has documents relating to your claim that they will not give to you, you can get a subpoena to require the person to give you the documents.
Before you go to court, prepare a list of facts you want to present. Organize your presentation as clearly and completely as possible so you will not forget important facts and details. See Tips for Representing Yourself in Court for more information.
Q: What happens if you do not appear for the hearing?
All parties must appear at the hearing. If you are the plaintiff and you do not appear at the hearing, the judge may dismiss your claim or award a "default" judgment against you on any counterclaims. If the defendant does not appear, the judge may award a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff.
Q: What happens after the hearing?
The court usually does not rule on a claim at the time of the hearing. The Court Administrator will mail notice of the court's decision to all parties. The judgment does not become effective until twenty (20) days after mailing the notice. This 20 day period allows a party to appeal or bring a "Motion to Vacate" a default judgment under MN Rule of Gen. Prac. 520. The court may vacate the judgment and order a new hearing if a party who did not appear had a good reason for not appearing. Before it grants a new hearing, the court may require the party who did not appear to pay costs to the other party.
Q: How do you appeal a judgment of the Conciliation Court?
If both parties were at the Conciliation Court hearing, and if either party disagrees with the judgment, the case may be appealed/removed to the District Court under MN Rule of Gen. Prac. 521. To do this, you must file a Demand for Removal, an Affidavit of Good Faith, and an Affidavit of Service with the Court Administrator within twenty (20) days of the date the judgment was mailed. The appealing party must pay an additional fee. See FORMS - Conciliation Court Appeals.
The District Court is more formal than Conciliation Court and it is governed by the MN Rules of Civil Procedure.
Because appeals are more complicated, you should get help from a lawyer. Court staff cannot give legal advice or help you prepare your appeal. See What Court Staff Can and Cannot Do for You.
Q: What happens on an appeal?
Filing an "appeal" (i.e., removal to District Court) involves a "do over" of the whole case, and there is a civil trial at the District Court. A party may ask for a jury to hear the case. An additional court fee is required for a jury trial. Both parties may be represented by attorneys.
You should prepare to present your case, have your witnesses ready to testify, and have all your other evidence available.
If you appeal and do not win, you will pay the other party $50 as "costs." See MN Rule of Gen. Prac. 524.
You will not have to pay the other party $50 if:
- you win your case in District Court and get either 50% of what you asked for or more than $500 in money or goods;
- the other party wins some amount in Conciliation Court but nothing in District Court;
- you win at least $500 in money or goods or 50% more in District Court than you received in Conciliation Court;
- the other party has the amount won from you in Conciliation Court reduced by at least $500 or 50% by the District Court.
Q: How do you collect a Conciliation Court judgment?
Even if you win in Conciliation Court, it is not always easy to get paid. The parties can make an agreement about paying the judgment, including making payments or settling on a lower amount to satisfy the judgment. Once the judgment is paid in full or to the creditor's satisfaction, then the creditor completes a Satisfaction of Judgment form. One of the parties files that form with the court so the court records show the judgment was paid. If the creditor does not cooperate in signing a Satisfaction of Judgment form, the debtor can file a Motion to Satisfy Judgment form.
If the debtor does not pay the creditor and the 20 day time to appeal has expired, the creditor may take steps to "enforce" the judgment. Conciliation Court is not a collection agency and cannot help you locate assets of the other party. Garnishment of a debtor's wages or bank accounts may be an option to enforce a judgment, and another option might be to file a lien against real estate owned by the debtor. Talk to a Lawyer to get advice on options to collect on a judgment.
Enforcing a judgment may involve additional fees. These fees may be added to the original judgment amount. Steps to begin enforcing the judgment are listed below.
You must have your Conciliation Court judgment "transcribed" to the District Court and file an Affidavit of Identification. Your court administration can tell you how to complete this step.
After you transcribe the judgment to District Court, you can ask the court administrator to issue a "Writ of Execution" to garnish wages or bank accounts. The creditor must provide written notice to the debtor of their intent to garnish at least 10 days (or 13 days if notice is served by mail) BEFORE the writ can be served. See sample Notice to Garnish Earnings (MN Statutes § 571.925). See also MN Statutes Ch. 571, for more on garnishment laws.
You then take the "Writ of Execution" to the Sheriff's office with a list of property, bank accounts, and other funds which belong to the judgment debtor and/or the name of the debtor's employer.
If you don't have any information about the debtor's assets, you may file a Request for Order for Disclosure with Court Administration asking that a judge issue an "Order for Disclosure" that requires the debtor to respond to the creditor by completing a Financial Disclosure form listing all "non-exempt" property and financial information within ten (10) days. Some assets are "exempt" from collection, which means they cannot be taken by the sheriff to pay a judgment.
If the debtor fails to respond to the Order for Disclosure within the time allowed, the creditor may file an Affidavit in Support of Order to Show Cause. If the court determines that you meet all of the requirements, it can issue an "Order to Show Cause," which requires the debtor to go to a hearing and explain to the judge why he or she disobeyed the Order for Disclosure. If debtor fails to appear at the hearing, the judge may impose consequences and can issue a "bench warrant" for the debtor's arrest.
A judgment can be enforced for ten (10) years from the date it was issued. It can also be "renewed" if not satisfied (paid) within the 10 years. To enforce a judgment that was not paid during the 10 year time frame, you have to start a new lawsuit before the end of the 10 year period, based on a claim for failure to pay a judgment . See MN Statutes § 541.04. A lawsuit is started by serving a Summons and Complaint on the judgment debtor. You should talk to a lawyer to get advice on how to prepare the papers and handle the case. Court staff cannot give legal advice.
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