Miami-Dade County Courthouse
73 West Flagler Street, Suite # 135
Miami, Florida 33130
Telephone: (305) 275-1155
Business Hours: 9:00am- 4:00 pm
For claims of $5,000 or less (not including court costs) there are simplified court rules that make it easier for people to file lawsuits without necessarily needing the help of a lawyer.
Small claims law suits can be filed with Clerk fo the Court's office. According to Chapter 34 of the Florida Statutes. such lawsuits must be brought only in the county where the defendant resides, where the cause of action occurred or where the property involved is located. Landlord/Tenant disputes must be heard in the district where the property is located. The Clerk's Office can assist you in determining the correct district.
For additional help in learning how to file without a lawyer you can attend one of the Small Claims Clinics sponsored by Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. CLICK HERE for more information.
Prepare and File Two Forms (download them using the
links in the upper right of this page)
Statement of Claim
Notice to Appear
Filing Your Claim at Clerk's Office: Edit the downloaded forms. When you are ready to file your case bring the completed forms to one of the filing location. If the claim is based on a written document, a copy must be attached to your formal Statement of Claim. At the filing location, a deputy clerk will assist you. You will be required to fill out an information sheet with details of your claim.
"Service of Process":
After filing the forms with the Clerk your case will not proceed until the defendant has been served with the papers. This means that a court appointed officer (called a "process server") must officially deliver copies your documents to the person being sued.
Be sure that you have the full name of the individual you want to sue and an address where that person can be served. If you are suing a business you must find out whether or not it is incorporated.
If you are suing a corporation, you must have the full name under which the business is incorporated and the name and address of either a corporate officer or the registered agent of the business. This information can be obtained from the State of Florida Corporate Information Department through their Sunbiz website.
If the business you are suing is not incorporated the correct company name and the full name and address of the owner can be obtained by calling Occupational License Bureau of Miami-Dade County at (305) 270-4949.
The company you are suing may use a name other than the owners name, referred to as a fictitious name. That information along with the name and address of the person who owns the company must be registered with the Florida Secretary of Stateand may be obtained from the State of Florida Corporate Information Department through their Sunbiz website.
The costs for filing a Small Claims action include the filing fee, based on the amount of your claim, as well as a service fee for summoning each party to court. If a Final Judgment is entered in your favor as a result of your lawsuit, these costs may be added to the total amount of your judgment.
There are two methods which you may use to summon the other party or parties to court:
The sheriff or a certified process server may serve the summons and a copy of your lawsuit on a defendant within Miami-Dade County for a fee. To obtain a list of process servers in Miami-Dade County, you should contact the Administrative Office of the Courts at (305) 349-7369. For service outside of Miami-Dade County, you must make arrangements to have a process server of the sheriff of the county where the defendant lives serve the papers.
You may attempt service of a summons on parties within the State of Florida by certified mail-return receipt requested. A deputy clerk can assist you with this procedure at any of the filing locations. There is no fee for this except the actual cost of mailing.
Pre-Trial Conference: Once your suit has been processed a pre-trial date will be assigned and you will be notified of the date at that time or by mail. Be sure to attend the conference; if you do not, the judge will dismiss your case. If the defendant does not appear for the hearing, a default judgment may be entered against the defendant. The purpose of the conference is to determine whether or not your lawsuit should go to a full trial before a judge, or to see if it can be settled out of court. The Judge will ask you if you want to try mediation. This is a process where you and the other party sit down with a mediator and try to make a settlement of the case instead of having a trial. To anticipate the mediation you should bring any documents to assist you in proving your case but do not bring witnesses.&npsp; The advantage is reaching a settlement through mediation is that the case is over right away and don't have to take a chance with a trial. If no agreement is reached at the mediation you will be given a trial date. It is your responsibility to subpoena any witnesses to help prove your case. A deputy clerk at the filing location will assist you.
Witnesses Subpoenas: As you prepare for the trial you may decide that you need witnesses to testify. Some people may be willing attend the trial (like your sister, or friend) but need a document from the Court to be excused from work. Others will not show up unless required (for example, a policeman). In ether case you can verbally ask the Clerk's office to issue a "subpoena" for that witness. A subpoena is an order from the Court requiring a witness to attend the trial.
What Will Happen at the Trial: The trial is the final hearing in your case. At the trial all the witnesses testify and both sides present whatever documents or other evidence they have. The trial may be held in the Courtroom or the Judge's Chambers.
If you where the one who filed the small claims lawsuit you are called the "plaintiff" and you present your case first. You can start with an "opening statement" in which you explain to the court what the case is about, what you are going to prove and how you will prove it. The person being sued is called the "defendant" and he or she can also make an opening statement but may decide to do that when he presents the defense.
After the opening statement you present your witnesses and all your documents and other evidence (such as pictures that there was no damage in the apartment, etc.). Your witnesses present their testimony by answering questions put to them by the plaintiff. This is called direct examination. When the plaintiff finishes questioning the witness, the defendant can cross examine the witness. After the cross examination by the defendant, the plaintiff can question the witness again. This is called redirect.
After the plaintiff has presented everything necessary to prove the case, then the defendant has the opportunity to present his side of the case. He can call witnesses and introduce documents and other evidence. The plaintiff can cross examine the defendant's witnesses.
When the defendant is done with his defense, the plaintiff can present witnesses or evidence which rebut the defendant's case.
After both sides have presented their cases, then both the plaintiff and defendant can make a closing argument. In the closing argument, each party tries to persuade the court to rule in his favor. You can restate to the Judge what you have proved and why you should prevail. The Judge then decides the case and issues a decision. This is called the judgment and will be written. Usually the Judge rules immediately after the trial; sometimes the Judge will take additional time to rule.
Sometimes when the plaintiff sues the defendant, the defendant files a counterclaim against the plaintiff in the same case. A counterclaim is a claim that the defendant has against the plaintiff, which may or may not have arisen out of the same transaction that gave rise to the plaintiff's claim. For instance, a tenant may sue for a security deposit but the landlord may file a counterclaim for all the damage that the tenant did to the unit. If a counterclaim is filed, then at the trial, the defendant has to prove the counterclaim, just like the plaintiff has to prove the original claim.
The judge may award the prevailing party (this means the person who wins) court costs, and possibly attorney's fees, if the prevailing party was represented by an attorney, and there is a contract or statute that provides for attorney's fees.
Final Judgment: If the judge makes a decision in your favor you will receive a Final Judgment by mail or be instructed to obtain a final judgment form to submit the judge for signature.
A Final Judgment is a legal document that states that one party is entitled to recover damages in a specified amount from another party. Interest will be added on the amount awarded until the Final Judgment is satisfied.
Collecting on a Judgment: At any time during this process the defendant may pay you and settle the claim. However, obtaining a judgment against a party is NOT the same thing as collecting that judgment. Post-judgment legal procedures are often required prior to any collection. You may find it necessary to retain an attorney to assist you in post-judgment procedures.
Click here for information on ways to collect on a judgment without the need for a lawyer.