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Small Claims Court: A Beginner's Guide

A guide to research materials on resolving civil disputes regarding smaller amounts of money prepared by the Law Library of Congress.


Someday you may find yourself in a dispute that does not seem worth pursuing because the amount in controversy is small. After all, you do not want to spend five thousand dollars on an attorney for a claim that, assuming you are even successful, is only worth five hundred dollars. However, there is one option that may be of help in a situation like this–small claims court.

Small claims court can be a cost-effective means of resolving a civil dispute where the amount in controversy is under a certain dollar amount (as specified in the rules of court). Small claims cases do not require, and in some jurisdictions may not even allow, representation of parties by attorneys. This eliminates a large expense associated with litigation, making it possible to pursue civil claims for lesser amounts. In small claims court, you and the defendant External  present your arguments and evidence to the judge, and the judge translates your argument into a legal claim and rules accordingly.

Historic American Buildings Survey. [Image 10] Orange County Courthouse, Second & Grand Streets, Newburgh, Orange County, NY. 1933. Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress. Prints & Photographs Division.