How to Take Them to Court
Learn more about the procedures to file a small-claims civil suit in Warminster.
"I'd like to sue that guy.”
Most of us have thought that once or twice when someone has done us wrong but we haven’t acted on the desire. Maybe the amount of the dispute didn’t seem worth the effort or you figured the legal procedures would be too hard to figure out and you couldn’t afford an attorney.
Well, Warminster has its own Magisterial District Court where you can file small claims cases against former landlords who refused to return security deposits, or neighbors who caused damage to your property but refuse to pay you or someone who breached a contract, to name a few. These are civil actions that can be brought before local magisterial district judge Daniel J. Finello, Jr. and the court proceedings are less complicated than in court of common pleas in Doylestown.
Warminster’s Magisterial District court is located at 567 Newtown Road, between County Line and Street roads. The court handles civil and criminal matters, summary offenses and motor vehicle violations. It does not handle divorces, bankruptcy, or guardianship matters.
If you think you have a case, you might want to consider avoiding the lawsuit all together by writing to the person with whom you have a dispute. Be very specific about why you think he owes you money, how much money you think he owes you and include a deadline for him to respond to you. Explain that you intend to file suit if he does not respond within the given time. Keep a copy of your letter and send it certified mail, return receipt requested. If the person doesn’t respond or doesn’t respond positively, go forward with your claim.
First, you must determine where the suit should be filed. Generally, you can file where the person you are suing lives or is located or where the claim arose. For example, If the case involves an accident, you can file in the district where the accident occurred. If it involves a breach of contract, you can sue where the contract was signed. A list of the magisterial district courts can be found here.
Next you need to file a complaint on a form, which is very easy to fill out. It asks for your name and address, the name and address of the person or business you are suing, the amount of money you are suing for and a short statement regarding why you think you’re entitled to money. Don’t forget to include the dates when the events occurred. Here is the link for the form.
I suggest you go personally to the magisterial court to file your complaint. This way the clerks can help you if the form is missing information and they will tell you precisely how much it will cost to file it. The clerk will also schedule the hearing date, which should be within 12 and 60 days from the date you filed it.
Once you’ve filed the complaint, you will have to serve it on the defendant. You can send it certified mail, or it can be delivered by the sheriff for an additional fee. I think it’s best to have the sheriff serve the complaint because it’s harder for the defendant to avoid service.
At the hearing you should be well prepared. You should have all your evidence ready to present including photographs, contracts, receipts, bills, letters, statements from witnesses or even the witnesses themselves if they can appear on your behalf. You should have three copies of all evidence - one for you, one for the judge and one for the defendant.
You will be able to tell the judge your side of the story as will the defendant. Generally, the judge will make a decision at the hearing. If not, you should receive the decision of the judge within five days.
Whoever loses has 30 days to appeal the decision to the common pleas court in Doylestown. If the defendant appeals, he does not have to pay you anything while the appeal is pending. If the case is appealed, it’s strongly advised that you hire an attorney to handle the case.
The Magisterial District Court has more specific information about the procedures for filing a complaint with their office and their clerks are well versed in the procedure. Feel free to stop over at the courthouse to obtain the necessary forms and ask any further questions you may have.
Beverly Black is an attorney and writer living in Bucks County.