Circuit Clerk's Office
Small Claims: Frequently Asked Questions
- What is Small Claims Court?
- The Small Claims Court is specifically designed to hear court cases involving claims of $10,000.00 or less.
- Where is it located?
- The Small Claims Court is located on the 3rd floor of the Rock Island County Courthouse at 210 - 15th Street, Rock Island, Illinois. Ask a clerk, bailiff or deputy for directions, if necessary.
- Who can use Small Claims Court?
- Anyone can file a lawsuit in the Small Claims Court if the amount claimed is not more than $10,000.00. If someone owes you money or has damaged you in some way for not more than $10,000.00, you can file a lawsuit in the Small Claims Court.
If you choose to act as your own attorney or pro se, you must do all the investigation and preparation normally done by an attorney. This includes representing yourself in Court, securing witnesses, collecting documents, photographs and any other items you will need to present your case before the Court. The Judge and the Clerk must remain neutral in all disputes. They are not permitted to assist you in accomplishing any of the steps.
- How do you file a Small Claims Complaint?
- If you file a Small Claims suit, you are called the PLAINTIFF. If you have been sued in the Small Claims Court, you are called the DEFENDANT. In order to begin a Small Claims action, you must file a COMPLAINT with the Clerk of the Circuit Court. The complaint is a form which explains who you are suing, where the person lives, how much money they owe you and why they owe you the money. The complaint is signed by the plaintiff and the statement is sworn to before a notary public or Clerk of the Court. You must list the defendant's exact name and address. The Clerk is not able to help you find that out.
- Where do I get the forms I need to file a Small Claims Complaint?
- The forms you need to file a Small Claims Complaint can be obtained from the Small Claims/Probate Department of the Circuit Clerk's Office, located on the 3rd floor of the Courthouse. You can pick them up or they can be mailed to you if you provide a self addressed stamped envelope to the Clerk of the Court with a request for the forms. You may also click here to download the Small Claims Complaint or download it from our "Court Forms Online" page.
- Where do I file the complaint?
- You must file the complaint with the Clerk of the Circuit Court, Small Claims Department, on the 3rd floor of the Courthouse, 210 - 15th Street, Rock Island, Illinois. If the defendant resides or is located within Rock Island County, certified mail may be used for service. If the defendant lives outside of Rock Island County, you may be allowed to sue him in Rock Island County, but the summons must be served through the Sheriff of the County where the defendant lives.
Generally speaking, every complaint must be filed in the County where one of the defendants live or in the County in which the incident, transaction or part of either took place.
If you win, the Judge may award you the costs of bringing the suit as well as the money you are seeking.
Before filing the complaint, you should make sure that the defendant has money, income or property so that if the Judge decides in your favor, your judgment will be collectible. You should also make sure that you are suing the proper party. If you have any questions, it is generally inexpensive to consult with an attorney before filing your complaint.
Our Illinois Constitution prohibits a Judge from putting a person in jail for a non-willful failure to pay a debt. Therefore, if a person does not have money, income or property, there is no legal way for the court to help you get the money owed to you. It is wise to make sure a judgment can be collected before paying the costs of a lawsuit.
- Can corporations sue, or be sued, and how do they defend themselves?
- No. A Corporation may appear as a claimant, assignee, subrogee or counter - claimant in a small claims proceeding, unless represented by an attorney. When the amount claimed does not exceed $1,500.00, a corporation may defend as defendant any small claims proceeding in ay court of this State through any officer, director, manager, department manager or supervisor of the corporation as though such corporation was appearing in its proper person. For the purpose of this rule, the term "officer" means the president, vice-president, registered agent or other person vested with the responsibility of managing the affairs of the corporation. (Supreme Court Rule 282(b), effective August 1, 1987).
- What if the defendant (the person you are suing) is a corporation?
- If the defendant is a corporation, you must serve an officer of the corporation or its registered agent. You may also obtain this information by calling the Corporate Search Department of the Illinois Secretary of State at (312) 793-3380. Remember that often people are employees of someone else, another person or a corporation, and it may be that their employer is the one responsible for you claim. So, always be sure to sue the right party.
- What court date should I set?
- When you file your suit, the clerk will provide you with the pre-trial date. If at pre-trial, the claim is contested, the case will be set for trial at a later date. Once a trial date is scheduled it may only be continued by a judge or if it is settled, a dismissal will remove it from the schedule. If the defendant does not appear, it may be that he/she was not served with the complaint and summons.
If this is the case, then you must prepare an Alias Summons and in most cases, it will then be necessary to have the Sheriff serve the Alias Summons. An Alias Summons will cost $5.00. The plaintiff and/or the plaintiff's attorney must always appear on the summons return date, regardless of whether or not service has been made. (FAILURE TO APPEAR MAY RESULT IN THE CASE BEING DISMISSED FOR WANT OF PROSECUTION.)
- What happens if the case is settled before the court date?
- If you and the defendant reach an agreement as to how much he/she is going to pay and how much you are going to accept, that is called a settlement. If you receive you settlement money before the court date, you must come in to court prior to court date or on court date to have case the dismissed. If the case has been settled but you have not received your money, you should go to court and ask the Judge to continue the case until you have received your money. After receiving your money, you must come to court to have your case dismissed.
- What do I do before the trial?
- Before the trial you should prepare your case so you can make a clear and understandable presentation to the Judge. You should bring any papers, pictures or other physical objects which have something to do with your case and show them to the Judge. To help you organize your thoughts it may be beneficial to write down the facts of the case ahead of your court date. If you have time, observe a small claims court session before the date of your hearing. You may also bring witnesses to testify in support of your case. A WITNESS is someone who can help explain why you should win the case. Make sure that your witness shows up on the exact date and time for the trial. If a witness is necessary for your case and is reluctant to come to court, you may need to have a SUBPOENA issued. (This is a order of the Court commanding a person to appear and testify at a trial.) In order for a subpoena to be legal you must advance the statutory witness fee and mileage to and from the courthouse at the time of service on the witness.
Be sure to remember the exact date and time of your court date and be on time. If you fail to appear for the trial, you may lose the case.
- What happens at the trial?
- A trial in the Small Claims Court is a simple and somewhat informal court hearing during which the Judge listens to both parties as well as their witnesses and examines any physical objects or documents that they have brought and then decides the case. The PLAINTIFF and his/her witnesses go first, followed by the DEFENDANT any ay witnesses he or she may have. If the defendant fails to appear for trial, the Judge may award judgment for the plaintiff. If the plaintiff fails to appear, the case may be dismissed. When testifying, try not to be nervous and speak slowly and speak so the Court can hear you. The Judge may ask questions; if so, answer them as clearly and directly as you can.
- What happens after the trial?
- If you are the plaintiff, and the Judge decides in your favor, the Judge can order the person you have sued to pay you the money that is owed. The Judge's decision in the case is called a JUDGMENT. If the Court has awarded a judgment in your favor, you should ask the defendant to pay you immediately. If the defendant is not present, you should let him/her know that a judgment has been awarded and request the defendant to pay.
- What happens if the defendant does not pay the judgment?
- If the defendant refuses to pay you the money you have won in judgment, you must begin collection proceedings against him or her, because neither the Court nor the Clerk will collect the money for you.
If you know where the defendant is employed, collection proceedings may be by a WAGE DEDUCTION SUMMONS. If you know where the defendant has bank accounts, collection may be by a NON-WAGE GARNISHMENT SUMMONS. The parties to whom you direct the Wage Deduction Summons or Non-Wage Garnishment Summons must file a sworn answer. After this is filed with the Court Clerk, you must appear in court and the Court will then enter a Judgment against the garnishee for the amount shown in the sworn return and give you a TURN OVER ORDER. A certified copy of this order should be sent to the garnishee for you money. You may use this step as often as necessary for the collection of the total judgment awarded plus the additional costs.
If you do not know where the defendant works has bank accounts or owns property, you may have the Clerk issue a CITATION TO DISCOVER ASSETS. This requires the defendant to appear in court where he/she is placed under oath and must answer questions by you concerning employment, locations of banking accounts and other sources of income, as well as property he or she may own.
The clerk of the Small Claims Court is able to provide you with the necessary forms for the collection of a judgment. Any additional costs of collection can be added to the amount recoverable from the defendant, but if the defendant is truly without assets, you may end up wasting additional money. Make sure that the person you are suing has assets, income or property before you file your COMPLAINT.
- What happens after the judgment is collected?
- Once a judgment has been collected, you should obtain a RELEASE AND SATISFACTION OF JUDGMENT from the Clerk of the Court. This form needs to be filled out, signed and filed with the Court. You should also mail a copy of this to the defendant.
- How do you respond to a small claims complaint?
- If you have been sued in Small Claims, you and/or your attorney must appear on the return date set forth in the summons. The Court will hear the case on the return date or it may set the case for trial at a later date.
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