Small Claims Court is part of the North Carolina court system where people settle disputes regarding property or money worth $10,000 or less. Every County in North Carolina has a Small Claims Court, which is often called Magistrate’s Court.
The Judge, called a Magistrate, may or may not be a lawyer. There is no jury. The trial is quick and informal, usually lasting no longer than 15 to 30 minutes. You don’t have to have a lawyer to represent you in Small Claims Court, but you may have a lawyer if you feel you need one. The person who starts the lawsuit is the plaintiff. The person being sued is called the defendant.
This court is not used for criminal offenses, traffic tickets, or disagreements over child support. You have to be 18 years old to file a lawsuit in Small Claims Court or have a Guardian Ad Litem to file on your behalf. If the person you wish to sue is under 18 years of age or under any legal disability, such as a mental incompetence, you should ask a lawyer for help.
Suing someone in Small Claims Court costs money. For each lawsuit filed, the plaintiff must pay a $96.00 filing fee to the clerk of court. You must pay an additional $30.00 per defendant for the Sheriff to serve the papers on the defendant. If you win your case the magistrate may find that the other party is responsible for paying the fees you incurred, also known as court costs.
If you cannot afford to pay the fees, you may not have to pay them. You may petition the clerk to sue as an indigent. If you receive food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Social Security (SSI), the Clerk will automatically allow you to bring the lawsuit without paying any fees. If you do not receive any of the above mentioned benefits, then the Clerk may ask for additional financial information to determine whether you can afford to pay the costs.