Small Claims Court is a way to settle legal disputes in which the amount of damages or value of the property involved does not exceed $5,000.00. Anyone 18 years of age or older, or a parent or guardian for anyone under 18 years of age may sue.
Filing The Claim
When filing a Small Claims suit, correct venue is necessary to avoid a dismissal. It is recommended that you consult an attorney or do research in the Law Library before filing a claim, as fees are not refundable if the case is dismissed. Click on this link to view the Instructions for filing a Small Claims.
Serving Notice To Appear
The notice must be served in one of the following ways:
- By the Sheriff's Office
If the defendant resides in Sarasota County, the Sheriff charges $40.00 per defendant to serve the Notice To Appear, and will accept cash, personal, business, money order, or certified check as payment.
If the defendant does not reside in Sarasota County, call the Sheriff's office where the defendant resides for information on current fees and the office's mailing address. Questions to ask the Sheriff's office include:
"What is the service fee per defendant?"
"What type of payment is acceptable - personal check, business check, cashier's check, or money order?"
"What is your mailing address?"
If you chose to use the Sheriff for servicing the Notice To Appear, you will need to bring two pre-stamped envelopes : One addressed to the Sheriff of that county with the appropriate fee for service included inside, the other addressed to Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller, P.O. Box 3079, Sarasota Florida 34230-3079.
- By Certified Mail
Restricted delivery at current legal postage rate per defendant Certified mail may only be used when the defendant resides in Florida. If the defendant refuses the certified mail, the pre-trial conference will be delayed until the notice can be served. Make checks payable to the Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller - personal checks on banks in Sarasota County are accepted with driver's license identification
- By Private Process Server
The cost varies.
Scheduling A Pre-Trial Conference
A pre-trial conference will be scheduled within 50 days from the date you file your claim. Appearance at the pre-trial is mandatory. A corporation may be represented at any stage of the trial court proceedings by an officer of the corporation, or any employee authorized by an officer of the corporation. This conference determines if a cause of action exists, and allows a mediation opportunity to be taken advantage of (such as setting trial dates) as well as judgments to be entered by default. If the defendant contests the claim, the judge will schedule a trial date and provide a notice to each party. If the defendant is not served the notice, the pre-trial conference will not be held. Even if the defendant is not served the notice, the plaintiff is still required to attend the pre-trial conference. The conference will be re-scheduled if the plaintiff provides additional information so that the notice can be served.
If there is more than one defendant and at least one of the defendants has been served, the pre-trial will be heard against that one defendant only. If other defendants are served at a later date, another pre-trial date will be scheduled against that or those defendants.
The Clerk and Comptroller's office is not authorized to waive your attendance. A judge can dismiss the plaintiff’s action if they fail to appear at the pre-trial hearing. Only the judge is authorized to excuse parties from court appearance.
Parties may engage in mediation prior to filing a small claims suit. In Sarasota County, contact the Citizens Dispute Settlement Program at (941) 861-7833. Participation is available to any person who has a complaint against another person that could, but not necessarily would, result in court proceeding. There is no fee for this service.
Mediation is a method in which an uninterested third party (appointed by the court) attempts to assist the plaintiff and defendant settle their dispute. Generally, most cases participate in mediation at the time of the pre-trial hearing. If an agreement is met, an Order for Conditional Stay will be entered by the Judge. If the defendant does not comply with the agreement, the Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller provides affidavit forms for the plaintiff to submit to the Judge so that a judgment can be entered. There will not be a hearing before the judgment is entered. If an agreement is not met, a trial date will be scheduled.
Enforcing Your Small Claims Judgment Fact Information Sheet
If the defendant has failed to complete and return the Fact Information Sheet as directed by the Court in the Final Judgment, there are steps you can take to compel the defendant to comply.
This procedure involves requesting the Court to order the defendant to appear and give his/her reasons why he/she should not be held in contempt of court for failure to abide by the Court's order to complete and return the Fact Information Sheet. If the defendant cannot give good reasons or fails to appear for the hearing, the plaintiff may file a Motion for Contempt requesting that the Court issue an Order of Contempt/Warrant of Attachment.
Please note that this procedure is available only to compel the defendant to complete the Fact Information Sheet. The Court cannot compel the defendant to pay nor imprison for failure to pay. This process should only be pursued if there is reason to believe the defendant has assets that can be attached.
The individual steps of the process are:
- Prepare the Motion for Rule to Show Cause by completing all the blanks in the form, including the party names and case number.
- Submit the original Motion for Rule to Show Cause to the Clerk and Comptroller along with the Rule to Show Cause. The Court will review the documents and, if appropriate, sign the Rule to Show Cause. The Court will complete the Rule to Show Cause by inserting the date and time of the hearing.
- If the Court issues the Rule to Show Cause, obtain a certified copy from the Clerk and Comptroller and have it personally served on the defendant either by the sheriff or by a certified process server. The Affidavit of Service must be filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller prior to the hearing.
- You must appear at the hearing at the date and time specified by the Court. If the defendant provides a completed copy of the Fact Information Sheet or pays the Judgment prior to the hearing, call the Judge's office to cancel the hearing.
- If the defendant was personally served and fails to appear at the hearing, the Court may consider a Motion for Contempt. If appropriate, the Court may issue an Order of Contempt and Warrant of Attachment directing the sheriff to attach and hold the defendant.
Fees may be paid by money order, cashier's check, cash, or by personal check with driver's license identification. Checks must be drawn on a bank in Sarasota County, Florida and be made payable to Clerk of Circuit Court and County Comptroller. Credit cards are also accepted. Please note that credit card transactions are subject to a 3.5% non-refundable fee, assessed by a third party payment processor (MyFloridaCounty.com).
Note: Sheriff's office fees must be paid separately from filing fees and certified mail fees payable to the Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller. Click here to view a current fee schedule. All fees are non-refundable but may be recovered later through the defendant.