Does Someone Owe You Money for $15,000 or less, here’s everything you need to know
Legal disputes can be frustrating – at times even infuriating – for a number of reasons. Not only do you have to deal with financial implications of property or money lost and perhaps even physical pain or injury, but then you also have to learn to navigate a complex legal landscape to bring your case to court.
This guide will help you get started in a matter of minutes.
Have you ever had a roommate skip out on rent? Or perhaps you loaned someone some money or performed a service and weren’t paid? Maybe you bought a faulty product, received a shoddy service, or were the victim of a fender bender that led to damage or injury? Maybe your business needs to sue another business or perhaps a customer?
We’ve all been in these situations.
Once the initial shock wears off, you want justice without having to deal with the headache (and cost) associated with lawyers and traditional court.
Fortunately, that’s why the Special Civil Part of New Jersey’s Superior Court and Squabble exist.
Squabble helps you File Your Small Claims Case in Minute
Small Claims in New Jersey – also known as the Special Civil Part Division of the New Jersey Superior Court provides an inexpensive and quick way for people to resolve legal disputes. Think of them as a ‘do-it-yourself’ court.
Although small claims courts are more informal, there are still rules and procedures you need to be aware of to successfully file and win a case.
Who Can File A Small Claims Case In New Jersey?
Practically anyone can file a Special Civil Part case in New Jersey. The only requirements you must meet are to be 18 years or older and to file in the correct jurisdiction (the location where the accused lives or has a registered address).
Of course, there are some exceptions. For example, let’s say you’re owed money by a contractor for a project in which both parties live in different counties. Where should you file this case? If the contractor has a registered address in a particular county in New Jersey or the incident occurred in New Jersey, the law allows you to file a case in the county’s Special Civil Part Division.
Note: If you file in the wrong venue, your case might not be accepted or the defendant can have the case moved to the right location which means you’ll have to pay to restart the process. So make sure you file correctly!
What is the Special Civil Part?
Small claims courts are heard in the Special Civil Part, which is a unit of the New Jersey Superior Court, Law Division. The Special Civil Part was created in 1983 by the New Jersey Supreme Court as the successor to the County District Courts that had been established by the Legislature in each of the 21 counties in 1948. The County District Court was itself the product of a consolidation of various courts (some of which date back to 1675) realized by the adoption of the State’s new constitution in 1947. The creation of the Special Civil Part was a continuation of this consolidation process. When the statute abolishing the County District Courts took effect in 1983, the Supreme Court, acting on a joint recommendation of its Civil Practice Committee and County District Court Committee, issued an order transferring all of the old court’s cases, judges and staff to the newly created Special Civil Part in the Law Division of the Superior Court in each county.
What Types Of Cases Does the Special Civil Part Accept?
The two primary kinds of cases to seek monetary damages in the Special Civil Part include the following:
Civil actions (“DC” docket), such as unpaid credit card debt, medical bills, unpaid rent or damage to automobiles or property, where the amount involved is $15,000 or less. There are about 250,000 of these cases filed per year in New Jersey. If you believe you are entitled to damages greater than $15,000, but still wish to sue in Special Civil, you give up the right to recover any money over $15,000. The additional money cannot be claimed later in a separate lawsuit.
Here are some cases you’ll often find in Civil Actions:
- A person or company failed to comply with a written or oral contract for greater than $3,000.
- You and/or your car was damaged or injured in an accident resulting in greater than $3,000 in losses.
- You paid greater than $3,000.as a down payment and want it returned .
- Your property with a value greater than $3,000 was damaged or lost.
- You bought a product for more than $3,000 that doesn’t work.
- Work you paid more than $3,000 for was faulty or not completed.
- You want to be paid for work you did and the amount you’re owed is greater than $3,000.
- Someone wrote you a bad check for an amount greater than $3,000.
Small claims (“SC” docket), are civil cases involving $3,000 or less in claimed damages and about 40,000 of these cases are filed in New Jersey per year. Although lawyers can appear, most of these cases involve pro se litigants only. Note, a renter’s claim for $5,000 or less can be filed in the Small Claims Section of the Special Civil Part if it includes an action for the return all or part of a security deposit.
Here are some cases you’ll often find in small claims court:
- A person or company failed to comply with a written or oral contract of $3,000 or less.
- Your car was damaged in an accident and the damages are $3,000 or less.
- You paid money ($3,000 or less) as a down payment and want it returned .
- Your property valued at $3,000 or less was damaged or lost.
- You bought a product for $3,000 or less that doesn’t work.
- Work you paid $3,000 or less for was faulty or not completed.
- You want to be paid for work you did and you’re owed $3,000 or less.
- Someone wrote you a bad check for $3,000 or less.
- You gave a landlord a security deposit that was not returned. NOTE: The limit for security deposit returns is $5,000 in small claims court.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common claims.
Breach of contract
It’s hard to go a day in small claims court without seeing disputes in which one party has failed or refuses to pay damages for breaking terms of a written, oral, or implied contract.
Common cases include violation of employment or rental terms and failure to provide agreed-upon services.
For example, let’s say you’re moving and have a contract with a moving company to transport your belongings. However, on moving day, they fail to show up and leave you having to pay extra to the landlord for not clearing out in time. In this case, you can take the company to small claims court over damages including penalties, extra rent, surcharges paid to another moving company for last-minute service, etc.
If you’ve been injured due to the negligence or carelessness of someone else, you can seek compensation. For example, let’s say you’re walking in the park when suddenly a dog runs up to you out of nowhere and bites you. Instead of apologizing and offering to take care of any medical bills for stitches, the owner accuses you of inciting their dog to aggression. Taking the dogs owner to small claims in New Jersey is a faster and likely more viable way to get your doctor’s bills covered than hiring an attorney and trying to take the dog’s owner to traditional court.
When attempting to win a personal injury case in small claims court, you have to be able to prove that someone else was responsible for your injury, also known as causation in legal terms.
🌟 Did you know? Most small claims courts will allow you to bring signed witness statements to court. Make sure they include the witness’ name, their professional experience (if its relevant) and clearly detail how, where, and when the witness saw or heard what happened.
Property damage cases are also common in small claims Special Civil Part courts.
For example, if your neighbor’s water pipe bursts and floods your basement, you can take them to court to pay for repairs. Just be sure you’re able to provide an exact estimate of damages: if you overinflate the cost of repairs, your case will be thrown out. Make sure to get a detailed estimate from a reputable repair company or contractor before you file your case.
Sometimes, taking someone to small claims in New Jersey will be the motivation needed for the person at fault to file an insurance claim with their homeowner insurance and get your debt paid.
Squabble makes filing your small claims case fast & easy.
Other common small claims court cases include:
Security Deposits: when you move out of your rental home and your landlord fails to return your deposit, despite leaving the place clean and damage-free, small claims court may be the quickest route to getting your money back.
Roommate Conflicts: If your roommate fails to pay their portion of expenses and you’re unable to collect what your’re owed, small claims in New Jersey can be an effective path to getting them to reimburse you.
Car Accidents: Even when both parties have insurance, sometimes things that were damaged in a car accident aren’t covered. Transporting a wedding cake when you were rear-ended? Replaced your tires the month before that work truck ahead of you dropped a load of nails in your path? Small claims may be a way to get these accident related costs covered.
Unpaid Debts: When loaning money to a family member, friend or acquaintance goes awry, small claims can help you collect what you’re owed.
How Much Time Do I Have To File A Small Claims In New Jersey?
To prevent a backlog of old cases, the courts set a time limit from the time of debt or injury within which you have to file your small claims case.
Every state in the country has its own set of statute of limitations, or time when you are allowed to bring a case to small claims court.
🌟 Did you know? Squabble has the statute of limitations for all Harris County dispute types coded right into the app. Wondering how much time you have to file? Check it out here.
Type of Case/Injury
Statute of Limitations
Cases involving Property Damage
You must file within 6 years from the day property damage occurs
Cases involving a Breach of a written or oral Contract (i.e. broken promise)
You must file within 6 years from the day property damage occurs
Cases involving a Breach of a written or oral Contract (i.e. broken promise) related to a sale of goods
You must file within 4 years from the day property damage occurs
Be mindful of these deadlines! If you don’t file in time, you will lose the right to take someone to court.
However, statutes of limitations are not totally binding and can be extended in certain scenarios.
For example, if the sued party is serving time in prison or living out of state, the statute of limitations may be extended. Let’s say a colleague borrows money from you to purchase a new car but fails to pay you back by the date promised in the signed written contract you both agreed to. As you begin to collect evidence and prepare to go to court, your colleague is jailed for one year for an unrelated charge.
In this situation, the four-year statute of limitations will be put on hold and only resume once the defendant is released.
🌟 Did you know? If a child is injured in xxxx County, the statute of limitations only starts when he/she turns 18.
What Is The Most I Can Sue For In A New Jersey Small Claims Court?
Each state sets its own limits for how much you can file for in damages. In New Jersey, there are 3 sections of the Superior Court’s Special Civil Part:
- (1) Small Claims
- (2) Landlord/Tenant; and
- (3) Regular Special Civil Part. Small claims cases in which the demand $3,000 or less ($5,000 or less if the demand is for the return of a tenant’s security deposit.) If the amount P is seeking is more than the 3k or 5k above but less than $15,000, file in the regular Special Civil Part. Cases in which damages are more than $15,000 must be filed in the Law Division of the Superior Court.)
Separate forms are required for Landlord Tenant Claims and Special Civil Part Claims for greater than $3,000.
🌟 Did you know? Courts reject 36% of self-filed claims due to form or filing errors. Squabble’s Triple-Check filing guarantee ensures that your small claims filing forms are completed properly.
What will it Cost to File Small Claims In New Jersey?
To begin a small claims case in New Jersey, the claimant (the party who brings about the lawsuit) must first file a Complaint.
This form requires you to fill in information about who you are suing, the reasons for the lawsuit, and how much you are seeking in compensation. You can get a copy of the petition form at the court itself or by going online to the Superior Court website for your county.
The total cost for this process is $xxx and includes fees relating to services provided by the court before judgment and a service fee.
The easiest way to determine what it will cost to file your small claims case in New Jersey – including court fees and service of process fees – is to use Squabble’s free tool to estimate your filing fees:
Once you’ve paid the fees, a court clerk will issue a citation which must be served to the defendant to formally inform them that there has been a case filed against them.
You’re not allowed to serve the defendant yourself. You’ll need to get a friend to serve (not as reliable) or hire the services of a court clerk, county police officer, or a local process server to serve the defendant on your behalf.
If the defendant fails to acknowledge receipt of your lawsuit, the case cannot proceed further so its best not to take any chances with this step. When you file with Squabble, all aspects of proper Service of Process are automatically taken care of.
When Are Small Claims Cases Heard?
If the defendant responds to your citation within two weeks, the court will decide to move your case either to a pre-trial hearing or trial.
What is a Small Claims Pretrial Conference?
The benefit of a pre-trial hearing is that it allows you to better prepare for trial and bring up issues such as the need for an interpreter or ask the court to subpoena a witness.
This discovery phase allows for the exchange of information between the plaintiff, defendant, and court, so make good use of it.
Collect evidence from the defendant if it helps improve your chances of winning. For example, in a contract dispute case, you can ask the court to have the defendant submit emails they sent internally relating to your account.
Like you, the defendant can also make discovery requests, so don’t ignore them. Doing so could lead to penalties and/or dismissal of your case.
The court may also use a pretrial conference to recommend mediation or alternative dispute resolution options which may save you the time and headache of appearing in court to get the money you’re owed.
At the end of the pre-trial conference, the court will assign a court date for the trial (generally within 30-45 days).
Did you know? In New Jersey, you have the right to demand your case be heard before a jury. Make sure you file a written request with the court as soon as possible, no less than 14 days before your case is set for trial. You will also have to pay a jury fee.
How To Prepare For Your Small Claims Court Hearing
We get it — court days can be scary! You’ve put in the hard work with the paperwork and made sure the defendant responded to your case.
But it’s now time to stand up in front of a judge and prove to him or her why you should win.
Luckily, small claim court hearings do not last days, weeks, or even years. At most, you’ll have to sacrifice a few hours out of one day.
Here’s what you should do beforehand to prepare:
Make sure you understand the law
Start by researching what the law states about your case. Rules and regulations are constantly changing, so don’t assume your knowledge is up-to-date.
Even cases that seem as tough they should be clear cut could be lost if you’ve overlooked a clause in the contract or aren’t up to date on the laws governing tenant relations, for example.
If you’re not confident in your ability to decipher technical jargon, consider hiring a professional to guide you through what to expect. While you shouldn’t need an attorney to appear on your behalf in small claims court, you may find the advice of a legal professional to be helpful if your case relies on detailed or complicated legal paperwork or laws.
Squabble brings legal expertise without legal fees to your small claims filing.
Gather ALL the evidence
It’s hard, if not nearly impossible, to win a case without evidence to back your claims.
So make sure to collect and organize anything that can help you such as copies of contracts, estimates, receipts, and/or communications between you and the defendant.
Prepare your speech
You wouldn’t give a presentation without preparing, so the same principle applies here.
You don’t need to prepare what you’re going to say word for word, but you should definitely have a basic structure in mind. Write out some notes on a piece of paper if it’s likely to help you on trial day.
Remember to make it as easy as possible for the judge to understand the offense and why you brought the lawsuit. Start off with a broad explanation and then get into the specific details.
What Should I Expect On Hearing Day?
When your hearing day finally arrives, you don’t want any surprises.
You’ve got to be mentally and physically ready. Having first-hand knowledge of what the process looks like can not only calm nerves but make you appear (and feel!) more confident.
We’ve broken down the hearing day into the following three stages:
Arriving at court
This timeframe includes a range of activities such as getting ready to go to court from home and what to do when you arrive at court. The most important rule is BE ON TIME.
Small claims in New Jersey are incredibly busy and if you’re not there when the hearing begins, it’s likely your case will be dismissed. Make sure to leave your home early and factor for everything from traffic, time to find parking, figuring out the courtroom that will hear your case and finding your way to it.
Once you’re made it through security, you can find out which courtroom to go to by looking at the list of cases posted outside each courtroom door.
If you can’t find your case on the docket, ask for help from staff.
Arriving early is best. While you wait for your case to get called you can go through your notes, practice what you’ll say, and get mentally prepared.
The most critical phase of the entire process is the hearing.
Once the judge completes all the formalities, you’ll be given the floor to make an opening statement where you explain what the case is about.
This is your time to present your evidence and/or introduce witnesses you’ve brought to support your case.
After you’ve finished, the same opportunity will be afforded to the defendant who can present his or her evidence and call on witnesses. You can ask request clarification or proof of their statements and ask their witness questions that relate to the case.
🌟 Did you know? A judge will dismiss your case if you lose your cool. Remember to remain polite and professional even if you disagree or are unhappy with a witness statement.
After this step, both sides are given the opportunity to make a final closing statement. This is your time to succinctly summarize and drive home why you should win.
With the trial over, it’s time to wait for the result.
The judge will likely deliberate (consider the evidence and statements made by both parties) and announce his or her decision in open court with a written judgment made available later.
If you’re not happy with the outcome, you have a few options:
- File a motion for a new trial. This motion must be filed within 14 days of the ruling but requires that you prove why justice was not delivered.
- Appeal the judgment. An appeal must be filed within 21 days of the ruling but requires a $500 bond payment.
Even if you win the case, it doesn’t mean you’ll get your money right away.
The defendant can also appeal or call for a retrial. If they don’t pursue that option, it is still your responsibility to follow up and enforce the civil judgment to collect payment.
To do this, you have options.
- If the defendant doesn’t pay right away you can seek a post-judgment discovery. During this process the defendant is sent a questionnaire to answer about assets that can satisfy the judgment.
- If the defendant does not comply, you can issue a writ of execution and have a police officer seize their assets so that they can be sold to satisfy the court judgment.
Are Lawyers Allowed In New Jersey Special Civil Part Courts?
Every aspect of your claim leading up to your hearing is taken care of by Squabble. Most plaintiffs simply take their Squabble paperwork and our How to Prepare for Court Guide and explain their case to the judge. For some, they feel better if you have a lawyer come to court with them. If your case does go to a hearing In New Jersey Special Civil Part Division of the Superior Court, you are allowed to bring a lawyer but whether you should or not depends entirely on the specific circumstances of your case and your confidence.
Despite being civil cases with limited monetary damages, if big businesses are involved they will inevitably utilize either in-house or hire lawyers to represent their case and protect their brand and image. This can put you at a distinct disadvantage.
If you are considering bringing a case against a large company or corporate entity in New Jersey, or against a legal professional, it makes sense to bring your own lawyer to level the playing field.
You can also bring a lawyer if you feel you are unable to speak in court.
However, keep in mind that involving attorneys dramatically increases the cost of your small claims filing.
Squabble offers an affordable middle ground. While you won’t have an attorney by your side in court (this is not permitted), you get the legal expertise of the Squabble team’s Triple-Check guarantee to ensure your forms are filed properly, the defendant served appropriately, and tips and reminders along the way. You don’t need to figure out for yourself how to file in small claims court or even how much you can sue for in small claims court.There’s no need to research how to write a demand letter or how to serve someone.
That’s why 95% of parties who file through Squabble win their case in court.
Squabble ensures your small claims filing is quick and easy.
New Jersey Special Civil Part Locations
There is a Special Civil Part Division for every New Jersey county.
Note: The court nearest to you may NOT be the court where your case will be heard.
The easiest way to identify the proper court with which to file your small claims in New Jersey is to use Squabble’s free tool to identify your proper jurisdiction AND estimate your filing fees..
You can also always contact the courthouse to get information about the proper Superior Court in your area. Below are the Special Civil Part divisions where judges preside over small claims cases for the state of New Jersey. Remember, with Squabble, all of this is taken care of and you don’t need to worry about whether your case will be filed in the proper jurisdiction and venue. Our Legal Team is on it!
Atlantic County Civil Courthouse Special Civil Part
1201 Bacharach Boulevard Atlantic City, NJ 08401
Phone: (609) 402-0100 ext. 47594
Bergen County Justice Center Special Civil Part
10 Main Street, Room 427 Hackensack, NJ 07601
Phone: (201) 221-0700 ext. 25250
Burlington County Courthouse Special Civil Part
49 Rancocas Road
Mount Holly, NJ 08060
Phone: (609) 288-9500 ext. 38091
Camden County Hall of Justice
101 South 5th Street
Camden, NJ 08103-4001
Phone: (856) 650-9100 ext. 43160
Cape May County
Cape May County Courthouse
Special Civil Part
9 North Main Street
Cape May Court House, NJ 08210
Phone: (609) 402-0100 ext. 47910
Cumberland County Courthouse
Special Civil Part
60 West Broad Street
Bridgeton, NJ 08302
Phone: (856) 878-5050 ext. 15390
Essex County Hall of Records
Civil Customer Service
465 Dr. M. L. King, Jr. Boulevard Room 201
Newark, NJ 07102
Phone: (973) 776-9300 ext. 56800
Gloucester County Courthouse
Civil Case Management Office
1 North Broad Street
Woodbury NJ 08096
Phone: (856) 878-5050 ext. 15370
Hudson Co. Administration Bldg. Special Civil Case Mgmt. Office
595 Newark Avenue
Jersey City, NJ 07306
Phone: (201) 748-4400 ext. 66685
Hunterdon County Justice Center Civil Division 65 Park Avenue, Second Floor
P.O. Box 1069
Flemington, NJ 08822
Phone: (908) 824-9750 ext. 13810
Mercer County Courthouse Central Finance Office
175 S. Broad Street
P.O. Box 8068
Trenton, NJ 08650
Phone: (609) 571-4200 ext. 74460
Middlesex County Courthouse Special Civil Part
56 Paterson Street, 3rd Floor
P.O. Box 1146
New Brunswick, NJ 08903-1146
Phone: (732) 645-4300 ext. 88382
Monmouth County Courthouse Special Civil Part
71 Monument Park P.O. Box 1270
Freehold, NJ 07728-1270
Phone: (732) 358-8700 ext. 87905
Morris County Courthouse Special Civil Part
Washington and Court Streets
P.O. Box 910
Morristown, NJ 07963-0910
Phone: (862) 397-5700 ext. 75345
Ocean County Superior Court
118 Washington St.
P.O. Box 2191
Toms River, NJ 08754-2191
Phone: (732) 504-0700 ext. 64360
Passaic County (New) Courthouse
77 Hamilton Street
Paterson, NJ 07505
Phone: (973) 653-2910 ext. 24260
Salem County Courthouse
Civil Case Management Office
92 Market Street Salem, NJ 08079
Phone: (856) 878-5050 ext. 15830
Somerset County Courthouse Civil Division
40 North Bridge Street
P.O. Box 3000
Somerville, NJ 08876
Phone: (908) 332-7700 ext. 13710
Sussex County Judicial Center Special Civil Part
43-47 High Street
Newton, NJ 07860
Phone: (862) 397-5700 ext. 75455
Union Co. Courthouse, Old Annex Special Civil Part
2 Broad Street, Third Floor
Elizabeth, NJ 07207
Phone: (908) 787-1650 ext. 22160
Warren County Courthouse Civil Division
413 Second Street P.O. Box 900
Belvidere, NJ 07823-1500
(908) 750-8100 ext. 13910