How to File a Small Claims Lawsuit in Georgia

Three Parts:Preparing to File a LawsuitFiling the LawsuitWinning Your Small Claims Lawsuit

In Georgia, small claims cases are heard in Magistrate Court. You do not need a lawyer to sue in small claims court, and the judge (not a jury) will decide your dispute. To file a lawsuit, you need to gather relevant documents and then swear a statement in the appropriate court.

Part 1
Preparing to File a Lawsuit

  1. Image titled Write a Grant Proposal Step 17
    Identify your dispute. You need to identify your dispute before filing a case in court. Specifically, you need to make sure that the damages you are suing for do not exceed $15,000, which is the limit for small claims court in Georgia. Common disputes handled in small claims court include:[1]
    • landlord-tenant disputes
    • refusal to return borrowed property
    • a business owner who refuses to provide a refund or who charges for work not performed
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    Check if you can sue in small claims. Certain cases cannot be brought in Magistrate Court, regardless of the amount of money in controversy. For example, you cannot bring family law matters such as divorce or child support.[2]
    • Also, no case can be brought which decides ownership or interest in real estate.
    • You also cannot bring a case that asks the court to order the defendant to do some action or refrain from performing an action. In that situation, you need what is called an “injunction.” An injunction can only be granted by a Superior Court.[3]
    • Make sure you file your small claims action within the relevant statute of limitations. In every state, Georgia included, there is a time limit on how long you have to file a specific lawsuit. For most lawsuits, you must file your paperwork within two years of the problem arising.[4] Be sure you research the statute of limitations for your claim and file your suit on time.
  3. Image titled Change Your Name in Texas Step 2
    Know age requirements. Minors (i.e., people under the age of 18) cannot directly file a lawsuit in a small claims court in Georgia. If you are a minor and are looking to file a small claims action, you will need to bring your suit through someone else of a competent age. For example, You could have a parent sue on your behalf.
    • If you are trying to sue a minor, you can choose to do so directly or through their parent or guardian.[5]
  4. Image titled Conduct Research Step 19
    Gather relevant documents. Before filing, you should find copies of documents related to your dispute. These might include contracts, sales receipts, and any items that you are disputing.
    • Also find proof of payment. Look for cancelled checks or credit card/debit card statements.[6]
    • As the plaintiff in the lawsuit, you have the burden of proving that the defendant wronged you in the way that you claim. Accordingly, if you claim that the defendant sold you a defective product, you need to produce the product and show that it is defective. It is insufficient to simply assert that something doesn’t work.
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    Consider meeting with a lawyer. You do not need a lawyer to sue in small claims court, although you can have one if you want. Nevertheless, talking to a lawyer can be invaluable if you have questions or concerns. A lawyer can judge the strength of your case and offer advice on how to make your case stronger.
    • If you want to find a qualified attorney, then you should visit the Georgia Bar Association which publishes a pamphlet, “How to Choose a Lawyer,” which contains tips for finding a lawyer in the state.
    • Costs may be a concern. If so, realize that Georgia allows attorneys to offer what is called “unbundled legal services.”[7] This means that you can hire a lawyer to perform only certain tasks. Instead of taking over the entire case, the lawyer will only bill for what work you give him or her. If you want to meet with a lawyer only for advice, then call ahead and ask if the lawyer provides unbundled services.
    • If you are low-income, then you should contact, which provides free legal assistance to people who qualify.[8]

Part 2
Filing the Lawsuit

  1. Image titled Notarize a Document Step 9
    Find the right court. If you are suing an individual, then you will bring the lawsuit in the county where that person lives. However, the rules are different if you are suing a corporation.
    • You need to sue a corporation in the county where the corporation’s registered agent is based. If the business is unincorporated, then you file in the county where the business is located.[9]
    • To find the location of a registered agent, you should call the Secretary of State at 404-656-2817.
  2. Image titled Get Power of Attorney Step 9
    Swear a statement of claim. Find the appropriate courthouse and tell the court clerk that you want to file a statement of claim. The clerk’s office should have a form. A sample, from DeKalb County, is available at You will need the following information:[10]
    • your name and contact information
    • your attorney’s name, if applicable
    • the defendant’s name and street address
    • the amount of money you are seeking
    • dates of the incidents underlying the lawsuit
    • a statement of the dispute
    • copies of relevant documents
  3. Image titled Change Your Name in Texas Step 24
    Bring personal identification. You will need to have your claim form notarized, so plan on showing the notary public valid personal identification.[11] A passport or driver’s license should be sufficient.
  4. Image titled Do a Background Check Step 19
    Pay a filing fee. The fee differs slightly by county but should cost between $45 and $55. This fee includes service of process for one defendant. If you need to serve more than one defendant, then you need to pay $25-35 more.[12]
    • Call ahead to find out acceptable methods of payment. DeKalb County, for example, accepts only cash, cashier’s check, or money order. They do not accept personal checks, debit cards, or credit cards.[13] Call the clerk to find out what methods of payment your county accepts.
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    Wait for the answer. Once you file, the defendant typically has 30 days to provide an answer. The answer can be in writing or delivered orally.[14]

Part 3
Winning Your Small Claims Lawsuit

  1. Image titled Do a Background Check Step 12
    Get a hearing date. Once the defendant files the answer, the court will issue notices for a hearing date. The hearing should fall between 15 and 30 days after the answer is filed.[15]
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    Prepare for your hearing. You should prepare for the hearing by reviewing all of your evidence and deciding the order in which you want to present it. For example, if you made a loan to a family member who has not fully paid you back, then you will want as evidence a copy of the loan agreement and any cancelled checks that show payment. You would also want copies of any relevant communications that you have had with the defendant.
    • You can also have witnesses testify on your behalf. Be sure to tell them the date and time of the hearing, as well as where it is located.
    • If you are afraid that a witness will not show up to testify, then you can get subpoenas from the court clerk.[16] A subpoena is a legal document that commands the witness’s participation and attendance at trial. Ask the court clerk for how you can have your subpoenas served on the witness.
    • You should request subpoenas as soon as possible.[17]
  3. Image titled Get Child Support Step 20
    Dress appropriately. You want to make the best impression possible on the judge, who will be deciding your case. Be sure to dress conservatively. Men should wear suits or, at a minimum, dress pants with a button-up dress shirt and tie.
    • Women should wear a pants suit or skirt suit. Otherwise, you can wear a conservative dress or slacks with a nice blouse or sweater.
    • For tips on how to dress for court, see Dress for a Court Hearing.
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    Arrive on time. Get to the courthouse with enough time so that you can find parking and pass through any required security. Make sure to finish eating and drinking before entering court.
    • Before going into the courtroom, be sure to turn off all cell phones, tablets, and pagers. You do not want anything to ring while you are waiting for your hearing.
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    Confer with the defendant. In some courts, you will need to meet with the defendant outside the courtroom to see if you can come to an agreement on the case. If you can, then you should go inside and tell the judge. If you can’t agree, then you will proceed to the hearing.[18]
  6. Image titled Communicate Effectively Step 6
    Present your evidence to the judge. When your case is called, you should approach the bench or the tables set up in front of the judge. As the plaintiff, you will go first.[19] You can begin by introducing yourself and briefly restating why you have filed suit. You will then present your evidence to the judge.
    • Small claims court hearings are more informal than trials.[20] For example, you probably will not follow the state’s rules of evidence.
    • Although the hearing is informal, the judge will still expect you to act respectfully to the other party. Do not cut someone off or interject when it is not your turn to speak. If the defendant is presenting a witness, then you have to wait until your turn to ask the witness questions. Each party has an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, so do not worry.[21]
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    Answer the judge’s questions. Because the hearing is more informal than a trial, the judge will probably ask witnesses, including you, questions.[22] Answer the questions as honestly and clearly as you can.
    • Be sure to call the judge “Your Honor” and do not interrupt when he or she is speaking. If you do not understand a question, ask for further clarification.
    • For more information on how to talk to a judge, see Address a Judge in Court.
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    Get a judgment. After you and the defendant present your evidence, the judge will either issue a ruling from the bench or take the case under advisement. If the judge takes the case under advisement, then you should receive a written order in the mail at a later date. Otherwise, you should get a certified order the day of the hearing.[23]
    • Should the defendant not even show up to defend the case, then you can ask the judge for a default judgment.[24] If the judge can easily figure out your damages, then you may get a default judgment without a hearing. Otherwise, the judge may schedule a hearing to consider how much money you are owed.[25]
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    Appeal if necessary. Parties in small claims court can appeal if they lose their case.[26] You should ask the clerk for the Notice of Appeal form.


  • Keep a copy of all forms that you fill out.[27] Also, if you need to attach documents to your forms, then be sure to attach only copies (not originals).

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Categories: Civil Litigation