Filing Your Small Claims Case
Learn the six basic steps to file a small claims case, including how to identify the correct defendant, how to determine the exact amount of your claim, how to send a demand letter, how to decide where to file, and how to prepare and file your complaint with the court.
TIP! If you are considering filing a small claims case, you may be interested in a FREE time-saving alternative called the Neighborhood Justice Center (NJC). The NJC's personalized, no-cost mediation service may help you resolve the dispute more quickly than through the court. Click to visit Mediating a Small Claims Dispute.
There are six basic steps to filing a small claims case, each of which is discussed below:
Step 1: Identify the Correct Defendants
Step 2: Determine the Exact Amount of Your Claim
Step 3: Send a Demand Letter
Step 4: Decide Where to File Your Case
Step 5: Prepare Your Small Claims Affidavit of Complaint
Step 6: Prepare A Civil Cover Sheet
Step 7: File Your Complaint With the Court
CAUTION! There are paralegals and notarios who will offer to assist you for a fee. These people are generally not attorneys. It is illegal for them to offer you legal advice or represent you in court. Before you pay for help, check to see if the Self-Help Center has the information and resources you need. You can also sign up for a FREE small claims class, offered in both English and Spanish. Click to visit Free Classes for more information.
Below are two short videos: Who Do You Sue And For How Much? and How To File A Small Claims Case. Remember that different small claims courts have different procedures, so make sure you're complying with your court's requirements. To watch the entire small claims video series, click to visit our Videos page.
The small claims video series was made possible thanks to a grant from the State Bar of Nevada's Lawyer Referral and Information Service.
Identifying and suing the correct "defendant" (the person or company you believe owes you money) is one of the most important steps in your case. You can sue more than one defendant for the same incident or contract. But each defendant must have some actual interest in the subject of your case and must be (at least arguably) responsible somehow for your injury.
Broadly speaking, if you sue because of a breach of a contract, the defendant will usually be the person or business you contracted with (for example, the landlord who breached your lease). In a case alleging some type of personal injury or damage to property, the defendant will usually be the person or business who actually caused the injury or damage (for example, the person who hit your car or broke your window).
But there are a number of legal theories that could apply to your case that might increase or decrease the number of potential defendants. If you have any doubt about who to name as a defendant, you may need to perform some basic factual investigation and legal research. You could also hire an attorney to advise you. Click to visit Lawyers and Legal Help.
- Suing a Person
It can be tricky to identify people and find their addresses. Using a basic internet search sometimes yields helpful results. There are also government records you can search. For example, the Clark County Assessor's records will show who owns a particular piece of land. If you are suing a landlord, the assessor's records can identify the actual owner of the rental property. Click to visit the Clark County Assessor website.
The Clark County Recorder's office keeps records on property, marriages, divorces, deaths, and births. Those records might help you find the correct name and address for your defendant. There may be a fee to view some records. Others are not available online and can only be viewed at the recorder's office. Click to visit the Clark County Recorder website.
Court records can also be useful. If you know a person’s name, you can search to see if they have recent traffic violations, justice court civil suits, and district court civil or criminal cases. The person's address will usually not be available online, but you can go to the courthouse in person and get copies of court records that might have an address. Recent traffic tickets can be especially helpful because they usually contain an address and driver's license number. Click to visit Look Up My Case for instructions.
- Suing a Business
Suing a business can be a little more complicated. Sometimes a business is owned by an individual, and sometimes a business is owned by a corporate entity. If the business is a corporation, you will generally have to name the corporation in your lawsuit. If a business is owned by an individual, you will have to name both the individual and the business (for example, "Jane Smith d.b.a. ABC Antiques," which means Jane Smith "doing business as" ABC Antiques).
You will need to make sure you state the correct business name in your lawsuit. You might know a business as "ABC Antiques," but its legal name could be "Fine Antiques, Inc. doing business as ABC Antiques." When a business uses a name other than its own, it must file a Fictitious Firm Name Certificate with Clark County. To find out if a business uses a fictitious name, contact the Clark County Clerk or use the searchable database of fictitious business names on the clerk’s website. Click to go to the Clark County Clerk Fictitious Name Search page.
The Secretary of State's office has a searchable database of businesses operating in Nevada. Click to visit the Nevada Secretary of State search page.
The Clark County Clerk's Office has a database for Clark County businesses. Click to visit the Clark County Clerk Business License Search page.
You can also search business license information in the city where the business operates. Click to visit the business license search pages for the City of Las Vegas, the City of Henderson, or the City of North Las Vegas.
TIP! To learn more about who to sue, sign up for the FREE small claims class, which is offered in both English and Spanish. Click to visit Free Classes for information.
In small claims court, you can only sue for an amount up to $10,000.
You need to determine the exact amount of money you are seeking to recover. This might seem obvious, but sometimes it is not that simple. For example, if you are trying to recover the estimated cost to repair something, you should obtain three estimates so the judge can decide the proper amount. If you are basing the amount of your claim on the estimated cost to replace something, keep in mind that the judge might only consider the current value of the lost or destroyed item, not the replacement cost. Some costs (like time off from work, parking, photocopies, or babysitting services) may not be recoverable at all.
Remember that the judge can always award you less than you requested, but never more. Remember also that the judge can only award money. The judge cannot order the defendant to do something (return a car or a dog to you, for example) or to stop doing something (like playing loud music or parking in your parking space).
FYI! Like in any other case, in small claims, you can ask for "punitive damages" (damages intended to punish the defendant rather than compensate you for actual loss or injury). But in order to get punitive damages, you’ll need to prove that the defendant was guilty of "oppression, fraud, or malice." (NRS 42.005(1).)
In some types of cases, you can ask for "statutory damages" (damages specified by a statute or regulation). If you find a statute that applies to you, include a copy with your other evidence. You can consult with an attorney or do some legal research to see whether a statutory damages provision applies to your case. Click to visit Lawyers and Legal Help.
FYI! Like in any other case, in small claims, you can ask for damages for emotional pain and suffering, but you must prove the damage.
If you believe you are owed more than $10,000, you can still sue in small claims, but you will "waive" (give up) any amount above $10,000. You cannot split one large claim into two or more smaller claims in order to file your case in small claims court. Your total award cannot be more than $10,000, even if you are asking for punitive damages or pain and suffering.
Justice court rules require you to ask the other party for payment before you sue them. (JCRCP 89.) You must send a letter demanding payment to the other party by certified mail, return receipt. This letter must go to each person or business you plan to sue.
TIP! Keep a copy of the letter you send, any letters you receive, the certified mail receipt, and the return receipt postcard. When you file your case, the court clerk will want a copy of your demand letter and your proof of mailing. If you don't keep a copy, you may have to start over!
It is usually best to send a typed letter. Your letter should say how much money you believe you are owed and why you are entitled to it. Never include personal attacks or anything else you would not want the judge to read. Your letter should be polite and professional, with the goal of encouraging an amicable settlement with the other side. End your letter by stating you will pursue the matter in small claims court if you are unable to settle.
A form demand letter is available, free of charge, at the Self-Help Center. You can also download the form on your computer by clicking one of the listed formats underneath the form's title below:
Deciding where to file your case and picking the correct small claims court is important for a couple of reasons:
- The small claims forms and procedures may be different for different courts. The Las Vegas Justice Court, for example, has separate small claims forms and procedures that you must use in that court.
- If you file your case in the wrong court, the judge will not have jurisdiction to hear your case. Your case will likely be dismissed.
You must file your small claims case in the justice court for the township where:
- The person you are suing currently lives, works, or does business; or
- The person you are suing lived, worked, or did business at the time of the incident for which you are suing; or
- The injury to the person or property happened; or
- The obligation under a contract was supposed to be performed or is supposed to be performed (NRS 73.010).
There are eleven justice courts in Clark County organized by township (Las Vegas, Henderson, North Las Vegas, and the like). You can file your small claims case in any one of those eleven justice courts so long as your defendant currently lives, works, or does business in that township. Click to visit Justice Courts for court location and contact information.
TIP! If the person you’re suing does not currently live, work, or do business in Clark County, you won't be able to sue them in one of the Clark County small claims courts. This is true even if the person lived in Clark County when they injured you. If your defendant has moved outside Clark County, you can try suing them in the small claims court where they current live. Or you could try suing them outside of small claims. Other courts have broader jurisdiction than the small claims court and might be able to hear your case. To explore this option, you should talk to an attorney. Click to visit Lawyers and Legal Help.
The Small Claims Affidavit of Complaint or Complaint is the document that starts your small claims case. It says who is suing (you, the "plaintiff") and names the person or business being sued (the "defendant"). It also states how much you are suing for and why you are suing.
Which complaint form you will use depends on where you decided to file your case in Step 4 above.
LAS VEGAS SMALL CLAIMS COMPLAINT
If you decided in Step 4 that you are filing your case in Henderson, a Small Claims Affidavit of Complaint form is available, free of charge, at the Civil Law Self-Help Center, or you can download it on you computer below. Remember that the Henderson Justice Court requires that all forms be typed.
HENDERSON SMALL CLAIMS COMPLAINT
If you decided that you are filing in North Las Vegas, or another justice court in Clark County (other than the Henderson or Las Vegas Justice Court), a Small Claims Affidavit of Complaint form for those courts is available, free of charge, at the Civil Law Self-Help Center, or you can download it on your computer by clicking one of the formats underneath the form's title below:
TIP! For more information about the specific requirements for a small claims case in the Las Vegas Justice Court, click to visit the Las Vegas Justice Court Small Claims page.
Your complaint should be typed and printed out or neatly handwritten. For more information on filling out legal forms, click to visit Basics of Court Forms and Filing.
You will need a Civil Cover Sheet when filing your complaint if you are filing anywhere besides Las Vegas. If you are filing in Las Vegas, skip this step.
A Civil Court Cover Sheet is available for free at the Self-Help Center, or you can download it on your computer by clicking one of the formats underneath the form's title below:
CIVIL COURT COVER SHEET
You must wait at least ten days after the date you sent your demand letter to file your small claims complaint. In Henderson, the court requires you to wait at least fifteen days. After that time period, you can file your Small Claims Complaint with the court.
If you are filing in the Las Vegas Justice Court, you must have a working e-mail address because the court electronically files all documents. When you go to the court clerk to file your complaint (or if you are filing on-line), you will need:
The original complaint;
The demand letter you sent;
The return demand letter receipt postcard you received (copied onto 8 ½ x 11 paper); and
The correct filing fee.
If you are filing in any of the Clark County justice courts other than the Las Vegas Justice Court, when you go to the court clerk to file your complaint, you will need:
Your original complaint and at least two copies;
One copy of the demand letter you sent;
One copy of the demand letter return receipt postcard you received;
A Civil Court Cover Sheet; and
The correct filing fee.
TIP! It is very important that you check both your regular mail and your e-mail address often because court notices could be sent to you by either method. Also check your "junk" e-mail folder in case your computer placed a court e-mail there mistakenly. For more information about electronic filing, click to visit the Las Vegas Justice Court website.
You can pay the filing fee by cash, Visa, Mastercard, ATM or debit card, money order, or cashier's check. Current filing fees are:
- $66.00 for claims between $0.00 - $1,000.00
- $86.00 for claims between $1,000.01 - $2,500.00
- $106.00 for claims between $2,500.01 - $5,000.00
- $146.00 for claims between $5,000.01 - $7,500.00
- $196.00 for claims between $7,500.01 - $10,000.00
If you are unable to pay the filing fee, you can file an Application to Proceed in Forma Pauperis (sometimes called a "fee waiver application"), which is available for free at the Self-Help Center. You can also download the form on your computer by clicking one of the formats underneath the form's title below:
APPLICATION TO WAIVE FILING FEE
For more information on filing documents with the justice court, click to visit Basics of Court Forms and Filing.
After you file your complaint, a copy of the complaint must be delivered to each defendant. This is called "service of process." For more information, click to visit Serving Your Small Claims Complaint. After you serve your complaint:
- In Las Vegas, you simply attend the small claims trial that was set by the court clerk when you filed.
- In North Las Vegas, you attend the mandatory mediation at the North Las Vegas courthouse that was set by the clerk when you filed your case. If you are unable to settle your dispute, the court will schedule a small claims hearing for a future date.
- In Henderson (and small claims courts other than Las Vegas and North Las Vegas), you simply attend the small claims hearing that was set by the court clerk when you filed. (On your hearing date, the Henderson Justice Court may require you to attempt mediation before your small claims hearing.)
Click to learn more about Mediating a Small Claims Dispute and Going to Small Claims Court. To see how a small claims case moves through the court, click on one of the file names below:
Flowchart - Overview of the Las Vegas Small Claims Process
Flowchart – Overview of the Small Claims Process
FYI! If you discover you need to change something in your complaint after you’ve filed it, you’ll need to file an “amended” complaint. In Las Vegas, you will fill out and file the Amended Complaint. In all other cities, to do this, simply use the same small claims complaint form you previously completed, but write “AMENDED” above the document’s title. Change whatever information you need to change, and file the new, amended complaint with the court. A couple of cautions: If you change the amount of money you’re seeking, the court may charge you an additional filing fee. If you’ve already served the defendant, you’ll need to serve the defendant again with the amended complaint. If you’re adding a new defendant, the court might not allow this unless you’ve already sent the new defendant a demand letter. Because of these and other potential problems, it’s always best to take the time to get your complaint right the first time.