Small Claims Division

(419) 734-4143

Small Claims Court is designed to handle small matters in the simplest manner possible. You do not need a lawyer to file a small claims action, but you may have a lawyer represent you if you wish. You may only file an action for money (not for the return of property or for any other remedy). The maximum claim is $6,000. You may not bring an action for libel, slander, malicious prosecution or abuse of process. You may not sue for exemplary or punitive damages. There are no jury trials. (See Ohio Revised Code Chapter 1925)

An individual, company or corporation may file a claim against another individual, company or corporation. You may file a claim in the Ottawa County Municipal Court if:

  1. the individual, company or corporation you are suing lives or has its principal place of business in Ottawa County.
  2. the actions giving rise to the complaint occurred in Ottawa County.
  3. the property that is the subject of the claim is located in Ottawa County.

Filing a Complaint

The case begins with a complaint. Small claims complaint forms are available at the court or downloadable from the "Forms" section of this web site.

Your complaint must contain the following information:

  1. Correctly identify the parties. The name and address of the plaintiff and the name and address of the defendant. You must have the correct name of the defendant otherwise any judgment you get may not be enforceable.
  2. A brief but clear statement of the reason the suit is being brought. In other words, you need to tell the court why you believe the defendant owes you money. You should include the date, time and place of the transaction or incident on which you base your complaint.
  3. The amount of money you believe the defendant owes you. (maximum of $6,000.00)
  4. A copy of any relevant contract, cancelled or NSF check, promissory note or account should be attached to the complaint. If you wish to provide any documents at the time the complaint is filed, you must provide one copy of all documents for the court and one copy for each defendant named in the complaint.
  5. You must sign your complaint in the presence of a clerk at the court or in the presence of a notary public if you intend to mail the complaint to the court.
  6. Your complaint must be accompanied by a filing fee of $120.00 for one or two defendants and $20.00 for each additional defendant named on the complaint.

After the complaint has been filed, the court does two things: 1) schedules a hearing on the claim usually within 30 to 40 days from the date of filing with notice to the plaintiff and 2) notifies the defendant by certified mail at the address supplied by the plaintiff that they have been sued and of the date of the hearing.

The defendant does not have to file an answer or any other paperwork. However, if the defendant wishes to contest the action, he must simply appear at the scheduled hearing with the evidence (documents, witnesses, etc.) needed to defend the lawsuit. In addition, if the defendant wishes to file an action against the plaintiff, the defendant may file a counterclaim, which must be filed no later than seven (7) days prior to the hearing.

Whenever you file a document of any kind with the court (with the exception of the complaint) you must also serve a copy of that document upon the opposing party. You accomplish this by sending a copy by certified or ordinary mail to the opposing party at the last known address.

You must prove to the court that you served the opposing party by adding a statement to the document informing the court of the date and manner of service. For example:

"A copy of the foregoing document was mailed by certified or ordinary mail on the 1st day of May, 2010 to John Smith at 1860 E Perry Street, Port Clinton, Ohio 43452."

The Hearing

It is important to keep in mind that you will receive only one opportunity to prove your case, and you must prepare in advance for your hearing. If you are the plaintiff, it is your job to prove that the defendant owes you money. You must also have evidence to prove how much you believe the defendant owes you. If you are a defendant and you filed a counterclaim you must prove that the plaintiff owes you money on your counterclaim and you must have evidence to prove how much you believe the plaintiff owes you. The evidence must be presented by witnesses' testimony at the court hearing.

Make sure you have all of the documents and witnesses that you need with you in court on the date and time of the hearing. Bring all papers that you believe will assist you in your claim, like contracts, cancelled checks, bills, receipts, photographs and letters. Remember: it is your responsibility to prove that you are entitled to recover and you must also prove the amount that you are entitled to recover. Please bring everything to court on the date and time of your hearing.

Make sure you bring any physical evidence that you need. If you have photographs, or wish to show the court an object to help prove your claim make sure you bring them with you to court.

Again, make sure you bring any witnesses that you wish to testify on your behalf to the court hearing and prepare your questions before coming to court. Letters and affidavits stating what your witnesses would say if they were present, though considered by the court, normally do not carry as much weight as if you had the witness present.

You should check in with the clerk's office before going into the courtroom. Please remember small claim's court starts promptly at the time noted on your summons. Please arrive 10-15 minutes prior. If you are not present when your case is called for hearing, your case may be dismissed or default judgment granted against you.

Your case will be heard before the Judge or Magistrate and uncontested cases will be called first. Those cases which are contested are called last due to the necessity of testimony and argument. The plaintiff will have the first opportunity to tell their side of the story. The defendant will then be given an opportunity to tell their side of the story. The plaintiff then has one final opportunity to present any final evidence, as it is the plaintiff's burden of proof.

Be sure your documents are organized before you come to court. Also, it is important that you have your thoughts organized so you can explain the situation as clearly and concisely as possible.

All of your statements should be brief and to the point. Do not interrupt when the other side is testifying. Both sides will be given an opportunity to speak. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Judge or Magistrate will either announce his decision or take the matter under consideration. You will be instructed to see the small claims clerk.

View Small Claims FAQ