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Suffolk County District Court - Small Claims FAQ


Detailed information concerning the full scope of small claims cases in Suffolk is available in The Guide to Small Claims Court .

Small Claims case information is available at WebCivil Local: 
WebCivil Local shows civil court cases by searching by index number, party name, attorney name, or judge name, or calendar information by court, judge and part.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Small Claim legislative history in New York State?

New York Governor Herbert H. Lehman proposed and signed the bill in 1934 creating a SMALL CLAIMS PART in New York City Municipal Court with a monetary limit of $50.00. Soon thereafter, Small Claims parts were established throughout the state with ever-increasing jurisdiction. (1945-$100.00, 1963-$300.00, 1971-$500.00, 1975-$1,000.00, 1981-$1,500.00, 1987-$2,000.00, 1994-$3,000.00, and 2004-$5000).

What is the definition of a Small Claim Action?
Any cause of action for money only, not in excess of five thousand dollars ($5,000.00) exclusive of interest and costs.

Small claims matters are limited to the recovery of money. This is not the proper forum for punitive damages.

In Suffolk District Court, the defendant either resides, or has an office for the transaction of business or a regular employment within any district in the county (UDCA §1801): one of the five western towns of Suffolk County (Babylon, Brookhaven, Huntington, Islip or Smithtown).

What is the proper venue for a Small Claim action?

The proper venue for a small claims action is in the District in which one of the parties resides at the commencement of the proceeding or, if no party then resides in a District, in the district in which one of the parties has regular employment or a place for the regular transaction of business (UDCA §301).

What is a Commercial Claim Action?

Chapter 653 of the Laws of 1987 enacted Article 18-A of the court acts: COMMERCIAL CLAIMS. The effective date for the District Courts and the City Courts outside New York City was January 1, 1989, and for New York City on January 1, 1991. The two year delay for commencing Commercial Claims in New York City gave court administrators an opportunity to prepare for the expected flood of filings. The drafters were so concerned, that the statute limited a commercial claimant to only five (5) actions per calendar month.

What is the definition of a Commercial Claim Action?
Same as SMALL CLAIM definition PLUS the claimant is a corporation, partnership or association, which has its principal office in the State of New York. An assignee may institute an action or proceeding under this article. (UDCA§§ 1801-A(a) and 1809-A(a))

The provisions of the Court Acts and Rules for SMALL CLAIMS and COMMERCIAL CLAIMS are similar if not identical in most respects. In general, most procedures (e.g. counterclaim, jury demand, etc. . .) will apply to both SMALL CLAIMS and COMMERCIAL CLAIMS actions.

What is the definition of a Consumer Transaction Claim?

A COMMERCIAL CLAIM against a natural person, wherein the money, property or service which is the subject of the transaction is primarily for personal, family or household purposes (UDCA §1801-A(b)).

Who can use the small claims court?
  • An individual, over age 18.
  • A partnership or municipal corporation
  • Corporations and associations must use the commercial claims court.
Who should I sue?

While it is important to sue the proper party, it is up to you determine who to sue. Court personnel may not provide legal opinions.

In a motor vehicle accident the registered owner of a vehicle should sue the registered owner of all other vehicles involved in an accident.
You should always make an effort to sue a business in their true business name. Such information is generally available through the Suffolk County Clerk, the NYS Department of State, or through consumer affairs or another state or county licensing agency.

You may sue a business under a name known to you. However, you must determine their true business name prior to judgment.

How do I sue someone in small claims court?

A DC-283 Complaint Form must be completed and filed with the court:

You need only know the name of the party you wish to sue, their street address, the amount, and the reason for your claim. Evidence is not required for filing.

The court will prepare a summons and notify the person you wish to sue.

The person or business you are suing must reside, maintain an office for business or be regularly employed in one of the five western towns of Suffolk County, which are: the town of Babylon, Brookhaven, Huntington, Islip or Smithtown.

A street address must be provided for the person you intend to sue. Post office boxes alone are not acceptable.

What if I only have PO Box address for the person I intend to sue?
You should contact the United States Postal Service or the Postmaster where the post office box is located for the correct procedure to obtain the street address for a business, corporation or individual. Post office boxes alone are not acceptable.
Can I file by mail?

Yes.

You may download a copy of a Suffolk County District Court Complaint Form and mail it to the District Court Clerk's office with the proper fee. Follow the directions referenced at the Small Claims Mailing Instructions or the Commercial Claims instructions and link to the DC-283 claim form.

You may also send a self addressed stamped envelope to the District Court Clerk's office in the District Court where you intend to file your claim. The proper fee, in the form of a check or money order must be provided, made payable to “The Clerk of the District Court.” Do not send cash.

What if the person I want sue does not live in one of the five western towns?

You must sue an individual or business in the county of their residence or place of business. For example a Nassau resident must be sued in Nassau County.

If the party you intend to sue resides or does business in Suffolk County but is located in one of the five eastern towns, you must file your claim in the Justice court within that town.

If someone owes me more than $5,000 can I file separate claims to meet the total?

No! You may not split your “cause of action.” A cause of action is the basis for the claim, such as a contract or property damage from a car accident. Separate contracts or accidents may allow you to file separate claims.

Who will hear my case when I get to court?

All small and commercial claims cases are heard by either an attorney arbitrator or a judicial hearing officer. Hearings are informal and designed to expedite the claim between the parties.

What happens when I get to court?

Your case will be called in the courtroom. If both sides are ready to proceed, you will be called up to the arbitrator for a trial. All initial claims are heard by an arbitrator is Suffolk County.

The person who made the claim is called the plaintiff. The plaintiff will state their case by testifying under oath and presenting evidence. The person being sued ( the defendant) will have an opportunity to testify and present their own evidence.

How do I prove my case?

There are two parts to proving a case:

  1. Liability - Your testimony, the testimony of witnesses or evidence such as a signed contract, will generally prove who is at fault.
  2. Damages - The actual monetary amount of the claim. Damages may be proved in one of three ways:
    1. An itemized paid bill.
    2. Two estimates, from independent professionals.
    3. An expert witness (An expert witness may be required to prove that a professional performed their work improperly).

 

What happens after the trial?

If you have proven your case, the arbitrator will award a judgment for the amount which you have proven.

If you have not proven your case the matter will be dismissed.

If the defendant has filed a counterclaim and proves their case, a judgment may be entered against you.

What happens if the defendant does not come to court?

If the court was able to serve the person or business you are suing, you will have the right to a one sided trial called an Inquest. Even though the party is not present, you must still prove your case.

Why must my case be heard by an arbitrator?

In the Suffolk County District Court all matters are heard by an arbitrator. Judges in Suffolk County are assigned to complex civil matters and criminal proceedings, due to the high volume of cases in the county.

Most people find a hearing before an arbitrator to be even less complex than a formal trial before a judge. If either party is not satisfied with the arbitrator's decision, they may request a new trial, which is called a trial de novo, before a judge. There is an additional fee, which is payable by the party requesting the trial de novo. Less than 6% of all cases result in a new trial. See Post Arbitration Judgements and Trial de novo.

Do I need an attorney?

Attorneys are not required in small claims or commercial claims court.

Either side may retain an attorney.

If both sides appear with an attorney the case may be transferred to the regular civil part of the court.

Can I sue for the return of my property?

No!

Small claims is for the recovery of money only. You also cannot sue to have an action performed such as to have your kitchen cabinets fixed.

You may sue for the value of the property you are missing, or for the value of the required repair.