The Small Claims Court Trial
Be On Time…. Go to court ten (10) minutes early! It is very important not to be late. If you are the plaintiff and not there when the magistrate calls your case, he or she can dismiss the case. If you are the defendant and not there when the magistrate gets to your case, the plaintiff still must prove the case. But the plaintiff will have a much easier job if you aren’t there to tell your side of the story. If you cannot make it to court on the day of your trial, call the magistrate ahead of time and ask for a later court date. The magistrate may or may not give you another court date. But if you are the plaintiff and don’t call and don’t show up at court, the magistrate will dismiss your case. If you are the defendant and don’t call or show up, you are likely to lose. If a case is dismissed “Without Prejudice” and you still want a hearing, you may either appeal the case to District Court or you will have to start all over, filing new forms and paying the fee(s) again. If your case is just dismissed, it is considered “With Prejudice” and cannot be filed again. However, you could appeal the case to District Court. See Appealing to District Court.
The Events at the Trial When it is your turn to speak, tell your story simply and truthfully. Focus on the facts, not your opinion. You should not try to act or sound like a lawyer. Just be yourself. Show the magistrate any evidence you have. After you have testified, your witnesses can testify and you can ask them questions. The magistrate or the other side may ask questions of your and of your witnesses. Remember that you and your witnesses only have to answer questions about the facts. You do not have to answer questions about the kind of person you are or anything else that is not an issue in the case. Tell the magistrate if you do not want to answer, and why. It does not help your case to argue with the other side. The magistrate will tell you if you must answer a question. Here’s the usual order of events at the trial.
- The Oath. All those giving evidence or testimony during the trial must swear or affirm that they will tell the truth. This includes Plaintiff, Defendant, and witnesses. You do not have to swear on a Bible; you can affirm to tell the truth.
- The Plaintiff’s Case. The Magistrate asks the Plaintiff to present his or her case first, including any evidence and witnesses. The Defendant gets to ask questions of the Plaintiff and each of the Plaintiff’s witnesses after each one testifies.
- The Defendant’s Side. The Defendant then presents their side of the case, with any evidence and witnesses. The Plaintiff gets to ask questions of the Defendant and each of the Defendant’s witnesses after each testifies.
- The Magistrate Reaches a Judgment. The Magistrate reviews the evidence and reaches a decision, which is called a judgment and explained in detail in the next section. No more evidence can be given to the Magistrate after the trial.
The Magistrate’s Judgment The Magistrate can make a decision at the trial or may wait up to 10 days to issue the judgment. In the judgment, the Magistrate may:
- Dismiss the case, if the Plaintiff has not proved the case;
- Order the defendant to pay either the full amount claimed by the Plaintiff or part of that amount, including the Plaintiff’s filing fees;
- Order the Defendant to return property to the Plaintiff or
- In summary ejectment cases, order the defendant to vacate the premises and/or pay rent or damages that are due.
If the Magistrate makes a decision which you do not understand, ask the Magistrate to explain it to you before you leave the court. If the Magistrate makes the judgment during the 10 days after the trial, you can call or go to the Clerk of Superior Court later to find out the judgment. Be sure to have the case file number with you.
Landlords and Tenants – Small Claims Trial Required Before Eviction For a landlord to evict a tenant legally, North Carolina Law requires that the landlord file an action in Small Claims Court Called a “Summary Ejectment”. The landlord cannot just lock you out of our home or try to force you to move through such actions as cutting off your electricity. If you are a tenant and your landlord is trying to evict you – have you put out of your house or apartment – you have other legal protections and rights which you may be entitled to.