What is Small Claims Court?

Small Claims Court is a straightforward way for you or your business to solve legal problems without needing a lawyer. It’s for cases where the amount involved is $15,000 or less, and the issue happened within the last six years. You can use it for problems like:


  • Disagreements between landlords and tenants
  • Issues with unpaid debts or bounced checks
  • Minor car accidents (like fender benders)
  • Disputes about payments or contracts for goods or services

Steps To Take Before Going To Court

  1. Send a Warning Letter. Before going to court, write a letter to the person you have a problem with (called the ‘defendant’). Tell them you’re planning to take them to court. You can send this letter in a way that proves they received it, like certified mail, or have someone else deliver it.

  2. Wait for a Response. After getting your letter, the defendant might pay what they owe or try to settle the matter to avoid going to court.

After Serving The Forms

  • Wait for the Defendant’s Response. They might pay immediately to avoid court. Or they might disagree with your claim within 20 days when they file an Answer with the court. If they don’t respond, you might automatically win.

  • The Defendant may request a hearing or move the case to District Court. If the case is moved to District Court, you may want to hire an attorney to help you. If the defendant loses the case in District Court, the court will make the defendant pay some or all of your attorney’s fees.

  • You can choose to settle the matter with the defendant anytime, even for less money. If you settle, tell the court clerk right away.

The Hearing

The case is decided by a small claims court judge, known as a “judicial referee”. Sometimes, the judge decides the case without a hearing. If there is a hearing scheduled, be sure to show up. If one side does not show up, the judge may dismiss that person’s claim.

The hearing is informal. There is no jury or court reporter. If the defendant has a Counterclaim, the judge will hear both claims before making a decision. The judge will ask questions. You can too. The judge may ask the person who owes the money (the defendant) how he will pay the debt, and may ask about the debtor’s property.

Be prepared for the hearing. Make a list of the points you want to cover, bring witnesses, have copies of documents, bills, receipts, etc. Keep a record of the costs you incurred for the Small Claims Court action, including the filing fee and fees for serving the papers on the defendant. If you win, the court will add this amount to the total the defendant is ordered to pay.

In some situations, the judge may decide the case should not be decided in Small Claims Court; this may be because the dispute involves complicated legal issues or there are too many disputed facts. The judge will dismiss the small claims case so that it then can be filed as a District Court case. The small claims court filing fee will be refunded.

How To Start Your Case?

1. Get the Forms. Pick up a ‘Claim Affidavit’ form Get the Forms. Pick up a ‘Claim Affidavit’ form packet from the court clerk or download it from ND Courts. This form is part of a packet that has a nominal fee if picked up at the court clerk or free on the website.

2. Fill Out the Forms. Complete the affidavit with all the details of your claim or the money owed to you.

3. File the Forms. Give these forms to the court clerk with a small filing fee. File the complaint in the county where the defendant lives or has a business; it will be easier to collect a judgment.

4. Serve the Forms to the Defendant. You can’t do this yourself. Someone else not involved in the case can do it, or you can mail it with proof of delivery.

5. Complete the Affidavit of Service. Once the forms are served, complete this form and return it to the clerk as soon as possible.

The Judgment

The judge will make a decision (a “judgment”). This usually happens at the hearing, but sometimes it takes longer and the judgment is sent to you.

A Small Claims judgment is final — it cannot be appealed. The debtor must pay the judgment within ten (10) days of receiving notice. After the debtor pays the judgment, you will have to fill out the “Satisfaction of Claim” (included in the packet of forms) and return it to the clerk. Sometimes it is very hard to get your money because the debtor is “judgment proof.”

A small claims court judgment is good for ten (10) years and can be renewed for another 10 years. You may need to use legal collection method, such as an execution of judgment or garnishment to collect from the debtor. These procedures are set out in state law but because they can be complicated you may wish to contact a private attorney for assistance.

The Small Claims Court forms are available from the Clerk of District Court or online.

Who Do I Contact With Additional Questions?

Seniors 60 and over Call:

Others Call:

Legal Services of North Dakota
Bismarck Law Office
418 E Broadway #25
Bismarck, ND 58501

You may apply for legal services by completing our online website application.