View Full Version : Small claims court question

gallows fodder
05-30-2002, 09:25 AM
Person A loans person B $5000 with the expectation that B will pay her back. B thinks that the $5000 was a gift and has no intention of paying A back. So A takes B to court, and the judge determines that B will indeed pay A $5000.

But B is a jerk and thinks, screw it, I ain't paying A no $5000.

What happens now? Is there a time limit for B to repay A, so that if he doesn't pay her anything after 30 or 60 days after the ruling, he'll get fined? If there's no time limit, and B doesn't pay, does A have to sue him again to get her money? What other recourse does A have?

05-30-2002, 09:38 AM
Possibly (in my case) liens.

What state & country is this?

Your library should have books on this topic that would be informative, but give us
the state & or country, since people are gonna ask this.

05-30-2002, 11:08 AM
In most situations, the person with the judgment (that's Person A) would have to file a second court action, called an enforcement action, in the debtor's home county (or, if the debtor owns property, in the county in which the property is located). Via whatever procedure is available in that court (and they're quite variable), Person A would "attach" B's property. As long as the judgment came from a valid court, Person A would almost certainly win this enforcement action. A couple things could occur then. For one, the court could order the sheriff to seize the attached property, sell it at auction, and then pay you the proceeds (up to the $5,000 you're owed). In extreme situations, the debtor can be held in contempt of court and sent to jail until he pays. (If he has the money -- a debtor cannot be put in prison just because he's broke.)

However, it should be noted that these procedures vary a lot in each state, and sometimes even within a state. $5,000 is not too little money to get yourself a lawyer, and doing so can mean the difference between $5,000 and $0.

--Cliffy, Esq.

P.S. I know very little about enforcement actions -- the above was gleaned from a 20 minute Bar review course almost a year ago. I also know almost nothing of the fact of the case, nor am I lecensed in the appropriate jurisdictions. I am NOT competent to render legal advice in this matter, except to say you should consult an attorney who is licensed in your jurisdiction, conversant with all the facts, and expert in this area of the law. You are not my client. I am not your lawyer.

gallows fodder
05-30-2002, 12:22 PM
Thanks a lot for the responses! This was a hypothetical question, motivated by curiosity, so no worries about legal disclaimers. :) I had been thinking about all the People's Court episodes I watched years ago and how occasionally you'd get defendants ordered to pay some amount of money who'd insist, "I don't owe her anything!" even as they walked out of the courtroom.

Along that line, what about OJ Simpson? I've heard him on TV saying he has no intention of paying Ron Goldberg's family a cent of what he owes them from the civil trial ruling. I trust he will find himself in a similar situation with property seizure, liens, possible jail time, etc.?

gallows fodder
05-30-2002, 12:24 PM
Goldman? Goldsmith? Shoot, I forget.

Nanook of the North Shore
05-30-2002, 01:16 PM
The People's Court is very very different than small claims(which I'm sure you knew). The loser on those shows don't ever pay a dime, all costs and judgements are paid by the producers. I was on it a few years ago, an ex-girlfriend sued me for $3,000(which is the maximum allowed in small claims in NY). The way it worked was that if she won the case, she would get the $3,000 from the producers, and I would get $50 for showing up. If I won(which I did btw), we both get $250. At no point was any of my own money at issue. They also provide transportation to and from the studio and airfare/hotelfare if one or both parties live outside of NYC(where its filmed).

gallows fodder
05-30-2002, 01:39 PM
Really? Man. Do you think the other shows (Judge Judy, etc) are like that, also?

05-30-2002, 02:28 PM
When I sued a landlord and won, I discovered that the court would provide no assistance in collecting the judgment. It even said that on the paperwork. The guy disappeared and I had no way to collect the money. It turned out lots of other people already had liens on his property. I talked to a lawyer who specialized in these cases and she told me I was screwed.

05-30-2002, 03:08 PM
Originally posted by gallows fodder
Really? Man. Do you think the other shows (Judge Judy, etc) are like that, also?

They're all like that -- that's how they get people to go on the show and air their dirty laundry on national television -- the people know that the worst that can happen is a free trip to New York, instead of a multi-thousand dollar judgment against them.


gallows fodder
05-30-2002, 03:49 PM
There should be a "NOOOOO!" smiley, to use when you're confronted with painful truth. It could look like scales are falling from the eyes.

This is disappointing, but it makes sense. Anyhow, I'm glad that there are ways to force someone to pay. (Sorry to hear about your experience, chula. :( )

05-30-2002, 05:24 PM
I believe -- and, mind you, I've never taken a class on civil law in my entire life, so I'm probably making this all up -- that the instant you win a lawsuit against someone, you become a "creditor" to that someone. Collecting $5000 owed to you from the defendant in a suit should be little different from collecting a $5000 I.O.U..

05-30-2002, 07:15 PM
In some jurisdictions, you also have the satisfaction of knowing that the guy's credit is screwed. An unpaid judgment hangs around for a while, and virtually anyone who grants credit will deny it on the basis of an unpaid judgment.


Spavined Gelding
05-30-2002, 08:11 PM
The procedure for collecting/enforcing judgements differs from state to state. In general, however, the guy with a court ruling that says someone else owes him money goes to the local clerk of court, pays the clerk $2.00, fills out some papers and receives a Writ of Execution. His is delivered to the local sheriff with instructions for the service of the writ. You have a couple of choices. The quickest thing is to instruct the sheriff to go "garnish" the judgement debtor's bank account. This has nothing to do with sprinkling parsley on the bank. The sheriff goes to the bank and grabs the amount necessary to pay the judgement, accrued interest, court costs and the sheriff's fees and transfers the money to the sheriff's own account. Then the sheriff tells the judgement debtor what has happened and that if the debtor does not file in court to quash the garnishment the sheriff is going to distribute the garnished funds.

The judgement debtor may well move to quash the garnishment. If so there will be a mini-trial and the debtor will get to tell the judge why the creditor should not get that particular money. A claim that the judge who entered the original judgement was wrong is not going to cut it. A claim that it was money that the debtor was holding for someone else and isn't really the debtor's money or that the money is the proceeds of the sale of the debtor's homestead and will be used to buy a new homestead in the near future will, if substantiated, result in the release of the funds back to the debtor.

Another move is to have the sheriff garnish the debtor's wages. There are restrictions on how much the sheriff can take based on how much the debtor makes and how many dependents he has. As with the garnished bank account, the debtor will be notified and told that he can contest the garnishment.

The creditor can have the sheriff seize some of the debtor's property and sell it. This involves some expense and time because of the need to advertize the sheriff's sale. In addition, the creditor may have to pay off lienholders whose claims to the property predate the creditor's claim. The property may be exempt from execution and not subject to sheriff's sale at all. In most states the homestead is exempt from execution unless there is a specific written agreement, like a mortgage, making it subject to judicial liens. In my State one yoke of oxen, a musket or shotgun was once exempt from execution. One automobile is also exempt in my State.

05-31-2002, 01:12 AM
I just filed a small claim against someone today for around $4000 USD.

I'll fill you in on the details :)

05-31-2002, 08:48 AM
Here in Massachusetts, small-claims court is pretty much a joke. Suppose you win your case, and the judge makes an award-it is now UP TO YOU to collect! If the other party doesn't pay you, you have to hire a court officer (constable) to collect for you. He will take 30% of the award money. Also, most of thetime, you will be suing a business, and you will most likely find that the business in bankrupt and unable to pay.