What is Small Claims / General Sessions Court For?
In Rutherford County, Tennessee, our General Sessions Court is for small claims and civil disputes of less than $25,000.00. These courts are generally referred to as "the people's court" because the ordinary layman can appear without having to pay for a lawyer or legal representation.
For example, if you have a dispute with somebody over a breach of contract, you should file for your case to be heard and reviewed by a judge in General Sessions Court, as long as the amount is less than $25,000.00.
Another example of a case that would be heard in General Sessions Court is if you think that someone owes you money. This case should also be filed in the General Sessions Court, as long as the amount in the dispute is less than $25,000.00.
Forms and Fees
Most counties charge $250 for filing a small claims case in General Sessions Court. Confirm specific costs when contacting the clerk. In addition to filing the petition, you need to serve the other party with a Civil Warrant. This costs $100 but may increase if the process server need to travel outside of the county.
Along with the Civil Warrant, complete a Civil Summons form to serve the other party with notice of the pending court case.
Be Prepared for a Bond
In addition to the filing fees, courts might require plaintiffs to obtain a $500 bond covering other potential court costs incurred by the case. Every form filed increases costs; courts use bonds as financial security in small claims cases. The defendant will also be asked for a similar bond if he chooses to file a counterclaim. A counterclaim means he is not just defending your allegations; he is suing you on other grounds.
For example, you may sue your landlord for locking you out and keeping your stuff. He might countersue you for unpaid rent.
Dollar Limits and Types of Claims
Tennessee has dollar limits for small claims courts based on the size of the county. In counties with a population of 700,000 or less, the maximum award is $15,000. In counties exceeding 700,000 people, the award limit caps at $25,000, as it is in Rutherford County.
The limits relate to the type of claim as well. There is no limit on claims of forcible entry and unlawful detainer cases in which a plaintiff seeks to recover specific personal property when locked out of his home by a landlord. If the property is not recoverable, then the limit is $25,000 as cash judgment. For example, if the case is over a motorcycle that cannot be repaired or returned, the maximum monetary reward is $25,000.
Statute of Limitations to File
The General Sessions Court has different statutes of limitations depending on the claim filed. In most counties, it is limited to one year from the time of incident. For example, if the suit is over a car accident that occurred on May 5, the suit must be filed with the court no later than the previous business day – May 4 in this case – of the next year.
Claiming a Judgment Won
Once a plaintiff wins a judgment and the court orders the defendant to pay (or vice versa as in a counterclaim), the next step is to claim the award. If the party refuses to pay outright, the judgment winner needs to take further action.
Three options exist: a bank levy, real estate lien or wage garnishment. Take the small claims court judgment to the bank, tax assessor's office or employer and show the right to collect.
Filing Appeals of a Judgment
Appeals must be filed with the General Sessions Court within 10 days. The appeal is then sent to Circuit Court to be reviewed. The winner cannot pursue the award claim until the appeal is heard and decided.
How Do I Know if My Case is Eligible to be Heard in General Sessions Court?
The General Sessions Court hears a wide variety of cases and sometimes it can be tricky to determine if your specific situation meets those requirements. If you have any questions about whether or not you can file your case in General Sessions Court, you should contact the clerks in the General Sessions Court office. They will be able to answer any questions you may have. You can contact the General Sessions Court Clerk's Office at (615) 898-7820. Also find more information on their website http://circuitcourtclerk.rutherfordcountytn.gov/general_civil.htm
What is the Difference between General Sessions Court and Circuit Court?
In Rutherford County, Tennessee, the Circuit Court handles cases that involve a jury or civil cases that involve monetary amounts greater than $25,000. If you have submitted your case to the General Sessions Court and lost your case. You then have ten (10) days to appeal your case, which would then be heard by the Circuit Court.