In the Small Claims section of the Civil Division, the maximum demand is $3000. If your action is against a landlord for failure to return a security deposit, the maximum demand is $5000. In addition, there is a separate Small Claims complaint for motor vehicle accidents.
Typical claims include breach of contract, damage to property, back rent, payment for work performed, etc.
The person initiating the complaint is called the plaintiff. The person that the plaintiff sues is called the defendant. The plaintiff must be 18 years or older and if not, the complaint must be filed by a parent or guardian.
Where to File: Small claims complaints are filed in the county where at least one defendant lives or where the defendant’s business is located. If there is more than one defendant, the complaint can be filed in the county where any of the defendants live or are located. If none of the defendants live or are located in New Jersey, the complaint must be filed where the cause of the complaint occurred. A complaint for the return of a security deposit may be filed in the county where the landlord lives or where the landlord’s property is located.
Defendants are not required to file an answer in small claims but they may file a counterclaim if they believe that the plaintiff who is suing them owes them money. The Small Claims section of the court is widely used by people choosing to represent themselves when the demand amount is within the stated limits. The procedures in Small Claims are simpler than in other sections of the court. Once a complaint is filed with the appropriate fees, the court will notify all parties of the date and time that they are required to appear for trial. If the plaintiff does not appear at the trial, the case may be dismissed. If the defendant does not appear at the trial, the plaintiff may request default judgment from the court.
Mediation: On the day scheduled for trial, the court may help both parties settle the case through mediation by a trained mediator. The mediator will try to help the plaintiff and the defendant reach a satisfactory agreement. The mediator is not a judge. If a settlement cannot be reached, every effort will be made to have the case tried by the judge on the same day.
Appealing the Court’s Decision: If either party is unhappy with the court’s decision, they may appeal. Appeals must be filed within 45 days of the final judgment. The Appellate Court is located in Trenton, NJ and the phone number is 609-292-4822.
Location of Court Forms: Forms may be picked up in person at the Civil Customer Service Office, Room 201, Hall of Records, 465 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Newark, NJ 07102.
The Small Claims forms and additional court forms and information are also available on the Judiciary website at http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/prose/index.htm.
For more information about the Small Claims process, you may also contact the Civil Customer Service Office at 973-693-5529.