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Is Your Case Eligible in Small Claims Court?

Small claims courts primarily resolve relatively small monetary disputes (usually between $2,500 and $7,500, depending on the state. Common types of claims involve failure to repay a loan, fix a car or appliance properly, or meet the terms of a service contract -- for example, properly remodel a kitchen or install a new roof.

In a few states, small claims courts may also rule on a limited range of other types of legal disputes, such as evictions or requests for the return of an item of property (called "restitution" in legal jargon). But no matter where you live, you cannot use small claims court to file a divorce, guardianship, name change or bankruptcy, or to ask for emergency relief, such as an injunction to stop someone from doing an illegal act.

When it comes to disputes involving money, you can usually file in small claims court based on any legal theory that is allowed in any other court -- for example, breach of contract, personal injury, intentional harm or breach of warranty. Thus if you buy an expensive new "all weather tent" and it leaks the first time you're out in a storm, you have the basics for a valid small claims suit based on breach of warranty. However, a few states do limit or prohibit a few types of cases from being filed in small claims court. Most likely "no-no's" include suits based on libel, slander and false arrest.

Finally, suits against the federal government, a federal agency or even against a federal employee for actions relating to his or her employment cannot be brought in small claims court. Suits against the federal government normally must be filed in a federal District Court or other federal court, such as Tax Court or the Court of Claims. Unfortunately, there are no federal small claims procedures available except in federal Tax Court.  

This chart tells you how much you can sue for in your state's small claims court.

Small Claims Court Limits for the 50 States

State Dollar Limit
Alabama $3,000
Alaska $7,500
Arizona $2,500 (Small Claims Court); $5,000 (Regular Justice Court)
Arkansas $5,000
California $5,000 (A plaintiff may not file a claim over $2,500 more than twice a year. The limit for suits involving a surety company or licensed contractor is $4,000.)
Colorado $5,000
Connecticut $3,500 (no limit for landlord-tenant cases involving security deposit claims)
Delaware $15,000
District of Columbia $5,000
Florida $5,000
Georgia $15,000
Hawaii $3,500
Idaho $3,000 (will increase to $4,000 on January 1, 2001)
Illinois $5,000 (Small Claims); $1,500 (Cook County Pro Se Branch)
Indiana $3,000 ($6,000 in Marion and Allen Counties)
Iowa $4,000
Kansas $1,800
Kentucky $1,500
Louisiana $3,000 ($2,000 for movable property)
Maine $4,500
Maryland $2,500
Massachusetts $2,000
Michigan $3,000
Minnesota $7,500
Mississippi $2,500
Missouri $3,000
Montana $3,000
Nebraska $2,400
Nevada $5,000
New Hampshire $5,000
New Jersey $2,000 (Small Claims Court); $10,000 (Special Civil Part, Superior Court)
New Mexico $7,500
New York $3,000
North Carolina $4,000
North Dakota $5,000
Ohio $3,000
Oklahoma $4,500
Oregon $5,000
Pennsylvania $8,000 (Small Claims); $10,000 (Philadelphia Municipal Court)
Rhode Island $1,500
South Carolina $7,500
South Dakota $8,000
Tennessee $15,000; $25,000 in Shelby and Anderson counties; no limit in evictions or suits to recover personal property)
Texas $5,000
Utah $5,000
Vermont $3,500
Virginia $1,000 (Small Claims Court); $3,000 (General District Court); $15,000 (Circuit Court); no limits on eviction suits in General District Court
Washington $2,500
West Virginia $5,000
Wisconsin $5000 (no limit on eviction suits)
Wyoming $3,000 (Small Claims Court); $7,000 (County Circuit Court)

 

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