Small Claims Court
One of the first questions a person must ask themselves prior to filing a lawsuit should be "Is it worth it?" Litigation in North Carolina's District and Superior courts can be a long, drawn out process that can potentially cost tens of thousands of dollars due to the rules and procedures that apply in those courts. For a claim worth $50,000 or $100,000 (or more), the answer to that first question will generally still be a resounding "Yes." But what about about claims worth $5,000, $2,000 or even less? While that may be a lot of money to the person whose rights have been violated, the costs to recover that money could heavily outweigh the recovery itself.
This is where Small Claims or Magistrate Court comes into play. In North Carolina, a person can file suit in Small Claims Court to recover on claims worth $10,000.00 or less. Most parties in Small Claims Court are self-represented or "pro se", meaning they are not represented by an attorney. The filing fees are less than that in District or Superior court and the procedural requirements that apply in those courts do not apply in Small Claims. Generally, the court date on which your claim will be tried occurs within 30 days, a much quicker process than District or Superior Court. There are no jury trials in Small Claims Court, and the case can be heard either in court or the magistrate's office. The Magistrate may also order that a defendant pay a successful plaintiff's court costs, though this is entirely at the Magistrate's discretion.
It is important to keep in mind that either party has an automatic right of appeal to District Court within 10 days of the magistrate's decision. Once the case is appealed to District Court, the same rules that apply to District Court rules will apply to the appealed Small Claims case.