Bringing my ex to Small Claims Court
March 9, 2009 12:31 PM   Subscribe

I am suing my ex in small claims court for my Xbox 360, please review the evidence and help me out.

So, here’s the scoop: I bought an Xbox 360 Arcade on or around Valentine’s Day of this year. The timing was purely coincidental; I already had plans for Valentine’s Day gifts. My girlfriend at the time traded in her broken Xbox 360 as credit (a $40 value). I ended up paying $195 with my debit card. We broke up, and she is claiming that the Xbox is hers. So, I am suing her in small claims court. She has the receipt (which would prove that I indeed swiped my card), which I am sure she will cleverly lose. I do have a bank statement showing that $195 was spent at Gamestop on the 14th. I contacted Gamestop and they cannot print out any duplicate receipts...

Do I have enough substantiating evidence? I know in my head that the Xbox is MINE, but how can I strengthen my argument? I will answer any questions.
posted by ascetic to Law & Government (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
See, one of the drawbacks of the small claims process is that there is no discovery phase. In normal, more formal litigation, the discovery process would allow you to submit a request to produce documents, and a refusal to do so will generally be very bad for the recalcitrant party, i.e. the court is free to construe the evidence in the unproduced documents in favor of the requesting party.

But you're suing in small claims, so there isn't really an opportunity to do this. You're going to need to find other documentation which would corroborate your claim.

Fortunately, you have this: your bank statement, which should show a charge for the relevant amount on the relevant date. That should also show your subscription to XBox-Live (if any) which would help too.

The question as to whether you have "enough" is impossible to answer, because that will be decided by the judge. But if you can produce a document and she can't, that looks bad for her.

Be warned though, she's going to argue that you should pay her for the value of her trade in. Unless she produces the receipt she's unlikely to have any documentation, but if you tell the judge you're willing to pay the $40, that makes you look reasonable, which is always a good thing. Besides, you really do owe her that, as she made a contribution to the purchase of the device which you are now keeping. I'd recommend admitting this and offering to pay.
posted by valkyryn at 12:37 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm not commenting on the merits of the case.

But really, if she is the sort of person who hides the receipt, don't you think she'll also damage the Xbox360 if it is eventually awarded to you?

Cut your losses.
posted by yellowcandy at 12:39 PM on March 9, 2009

Depending on where you live, the filing charges in small claims court may be over the $195 you are trying to recoup.
posted by modernnomad at 12:40 PM on March 9, 2009

Does she have the Xbox in her possession? If so, how did she end up with it? Also, according to your story, you at least owe her $40.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:40 PM on March 9, 2009

On the bright side, it looks like you have more tangible evidence than she does. The real question: is a measly 195 bucks really worth your time and effort? Divide $195 by all the hours you plan on spending on this and see what your hourly rate is. If it were me, I'd let the whole thing go and chalk it up to poor judgment.
posted by aquafortis at 12:40 PM on March 9, 2009 [5 favorites]

I will answer any questions.

Why don't you just forget about the court case? Let it go, accept the loss as a lesson learned, and carry on with your life. The karma gained by letting this go will come back to you as peace of mind and not having to deal with the stress of going through a legal battle.
posted by Simon Barclay at 12:40 PM on March 9, 2009 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: To valkyryn: I understand, and I am willing to pay her the $40. See, it works nicely here: If she produces the receipt to show the trade-in value, it also shows that I paid the $195. So I think that is what will end up happening.
posted by ascetic at 12:41 PM on March 9, 2009

Why does she think it is hers? What did she say when she offered the $40 credit? What did you say when you accepted? It sounds like you're leaving something out.

Who did you she tell about what she said? Did she gush to her friends about how you replaced her Xbox? Will those friends be showing up?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:46 PM on March 9, 2009

Realistically, if you take her to court, you are probably going to end up paying her $40 for an Xbox that has mysteriously stopped working. You'll be out another $40 and be no better off than you are now.
posted by pocams at 12:47 PM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Its not that much money. Just deal with it. This kind of lawsuit is why the rest of the world rolls their eyes at americans. Consider the $195 to be a cost of being in a relationship that didn't work.
posted by Kololo at 12:54 PM on March 9, 2009 [8 favorites]

Best answer: She accepted the XBox as a Valentine's Day gift? Really? Uh, well, anyway...

Listen, this breakup is relatively fresh, obviously quite contentious and you really aren't thinking clearly because it's clearly still very emotional between the two of you. You seem like you're trying to use this issue and the small claims court system to exact some revenge.

Do yourself and the American court system a favor, drop this. Ultimately, it's going to cost you more money than a new XBox in an attempt to 'humiliate' her in court and really, in the end, who is going to be a fool for wasting all of his time and extra money going through this.

Cut your losses, drop the court claim, find inner peace and zen with all of this and get yourself a new xbox. What goes around, comes around.
posted by jerseygirl at 1:01 PM on March 9, 2009 [19 favorites]

You will lose. Why? She will say it was a gift. It was after all St. Valentine's Day. Not everyone is Judge Judy. They won't want to hear a lengthy minute by minute walk through of the purchase.
posted by Gungho at 1:06 PM on March 9, 2009

$195 is a cheap way to find out you dodged the bullet on a petty and vindictive ex. Drop the case and move on, be the better person in this.
posted by arcticseal at 1:10 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seriously? Rise above it. Step back, count to 10 and read what people are saying here.
posted by webhund at 1:16 PM on March 9, 2009

This is Not Worth Your Time.
posted by Aquaman at 1:18 PM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

? What else is small claims court for, if not for small claims? If it's not about being angry or petty or wanting to humiliate someone, but that you'd like your property back, I don't see what is the problem, assuming the court costs are not likely to be more than the Xbox is worth. I'm just saying, the people advising about karma and letting it go - I agree that it's bad karma to use the court to basically mess with someone & carry on a grudge over a trivial amount of money. However, if the questioner had to save up for this & doesn't consider it a small amount of money, I think it's fair and reasonable to try to get his property back, so long as it's done in a fair and reasonable manner. The law doesn't care how annoyed you are or about what you think is fair, just about the facts.

Today, I wouldn't be happy over losing $200 but wouldn't bother going to court. When I was a college student, though, that was over half my spending money for the entire summer!
posted by citron at 1:21 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Realistically, if you take her to court, you are probably going to end up paying her $40 for an Xbox that has mysteriously stopped working.

I'm fairly certain that if a court orders person A to give item B to person C, and person A breaks the item before delivering it to person C, the judge does things to person A such that person C ends up with a working item, and person A regrets having broken the item.
posted by Mike1024 at 1:48 PM on March 9, 2009

On the flip side--could she in any way feel this was her Xbox, as a replacement for the one she traded in? And that your contribution of $195 made it "yours together", but in the end, she could still feel like it was mostly hers?

If so, I think you should be asking for cash instead of the XBox. Like she's purchasing your share from you. Or you could give her $40 to buy out her share.
posted by agentwills at 1:49 PM on March 9, 2009

It sounds like you may be leaving out the part where you told your ex that this was her Valentine's Day gift. I am not sure how or why she would be claiming its hers, otherwise.
posted by RajahKing at 1:57 PM on March 9, 2009

I might be missing something here, but what with her being in possession of the XBox and the receipt it sounds very much like you gave it to her as a gift. Why else would she have to receipt if you bought it? She traded in her old one and you bought here the new one with her credit and your money and you gave her the receipt just in case this one went wrong. I am not saying that you're lying in any way, but to me that sounds like the most likely scenario. I think that it's going to be pretty hard to prove that it wasn't a gift.
posted by ob at 2:26 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Depending on where you live, the filing charges in small claims court may be over the $195 you are trying to recoup.

ascetic's profile places him in Utica, NY. The filing fee in small claims court in New York is $15 for claims of $1000 or less.

(I make no recommendation on whether ascetic should proceed with the lawsuit; I am only adding potentially relevant information.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:05 PM on March 9, 2009

I'm fairly certain that if a court orders person A to give item B to person C, and person A breaks the item before delivering it to person C, the judge does things to person A such that person C ends up with a working item, and person A regrets having broken the item.

Yeah, the judge never really 'does things' to anybody, and certainly not in a small claims case would he turn law enforcement unto person A. Good luck with all that.
posted by kingbenny at 3:17 PM on March 9, 2009

First off, realize what you are going to in order to pursue your case: you are not going to a Court sitting at law. You are going to a court sitting in equity. That is, the court does not require the formalities of evidence and burden of proof per se. It is a court in equity and equity in this context means "fairness." You explain your side of the story; she explains her side. The judge sitting in equity can award whatever he thinks is fair.

If this were me, I'd make sure I was dressed well, that I was prepared, that I was trying to be the fair and ethical person by offering $25.00 to her (the $40 that I owe less the $15 filing fee she owes me for having to pursue the claim), and I avoid calling her any names or in any way making this about the relationship/splitup and making it only about the ownership of the Xbox. I'd offer my bill and explain why I did not have a receipt. I'd do everything in my power to come off as the calm, rational, emotionally detached beacon of good faith. If she started to yell at me or call me names, I'd interject with something like "Respectfully, I would ask that Ms. Jones stay on the issue at hand and avoid character insults just as I gave her that courtesy when I presented my remarks." That would be very disarming. I would treat her with the utmost courtesy and call her by Ms. ____."

Of course, if this were me, I wouldn't waste my time with this and chalk it up to a cost of doing business relationships. If this were me, it would be worth $160 to me to not have explain to a court why I filed a lawsuit over an Xbox with my recently-ex-girlfriend. It would also be worth it to me to not have to see her again and not listen to whatever she is going to say about me.
posted by dios at 3:54 PM on March 9, 2009 [4 favorites]

My experience with small claims court was years ago with a gym that left town (& the state) with my membership fees & many other people's membership fees. In this case, the small claims courts could do nothing help collect the money due to me/everyone else, because the company left the state.

Most likely you will spend all day in small claims court. I would bet that she won't show up & you will win by default. I suspect that you will probably not have the satisfaction of confronting her in court. My guess is that you will probably still be out of the money for the Xbox. I suspect that, even after the court rules in your favor, you would have to spend even more time & money to collect a judgment against her.

No matter what happens, the time you spent pursuing this in small claims court will be gone.

So, let it go. If you think this was a expensive form of education, talk to anyone who has been through a divorce.
posted by easilyamused at 4:38 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've never been to small claims court, but I have family and friends who have. It's a crapshoot. You can be documented out the wazoo, have (what you think) is a mountain of evidence, a gargantuan portfolio of evidence against the other person...and you can lose anyway over an aspect you didn't think about. Or like my uncle, whose court case, due to a clerical error, was rescheduled to a date that he couldn't make, so he was forced to drop his case against his crook mechanic.

And you'll pay court costs. And lose the time, the missed income, etc. Small claims court is a sucker's bet. Drop it and move on.

You can tell your gf--even bluff--about that mountain of evidence and just maybe she'll sweat a bit about the thought of court. Then you offer a trade--$40 for the XBOX.
posted by zardoz at 5:14 PM on March 9, 2009

If (a) you truly honestly think the Xbox 360 is yours, and (b) you did not give it to your ex-girlfriend as a Valentine's Day present, and (c) she is unwilling to give it back despite your offer to reimburse her $40 trade-in credit, then I think you have every right to chase her for it. If you asked a question about your roommate keeping your Xbox 360 after moving out, or your girlfriend stealing $155 from you (the functional equivalent), I would think more people would have just answered the question instead of telling you to grow up or get over it.

It is relevant to consider that she might widely distribute a copy of the court filing to her (and maybe your) friends, or she might not give you back the Xbox even if you get a judgment saying she owes it to you, or she might sabotage it before she gives it back. But if you are prepared to invest the time and weather those risks, small claims is a viable way to go.

On the evidence point, dios has it that small claims is a court of equity and they are not bound by the typical procedural rules. The judge will listen to you, then will listen to her, then will quickly make a determination that she thinks is the most fair. Your credit card statement that you spent the money should be persuasive to show that you bought the Xbox 360. If I were the judge, my two primary questions would be:

(1) did you give it to her for Valentine's Day? If not, can you show that either (a) you gave her something else or (b) you for whatever reason didn't give her anything? Past gift practices would be relevant, and no proof would probably be necessary. For example, if you in the past gave her a box of chocolates or a rubik's cube, you could point that out and say that it would be unreasonable for her to think that you were buying her a $200 present this time around. If on the other hand you have a history of grand gift-giving, that's a point against you.

(2) what did you do before small claims to try to get the machine back? This may not be legally relevant but I think a small claims judge will be more sympathetic to your case better if you tried reasonably to get the machine rather than immediately going and filing a claim. If you have e-mails or other communications that can show that you have been reasonable and that your story has been consistent that would be helpful. If on the other hand you have an e-mail saying "I know I said you could have this but that was before you dumped me," that's a point against you.
posted by Duluth?! I Hardly Know Her! at 6:47 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I like all of Duluth?! I Hardly Know Her!'s advice, as well as whomever pointed out that engaging her as Ms. X and remaining respectful is the way to go.

But I'll add my voice to all of those saying that the emotion around this might be clouding the issue. If I had and ex, (regardless of who did the dumping), and he asked me for some item back, that was a gift or not, I'd probably give it back, and consider it the cost of not having to deal with them again. Because I probably wouldn't want to deal with someone tacky enough to ask for gifts back, or keep something from someone I no longer got on with. So I understand all of the focus here has been on you, and ask you to consider why she doesn't just give the xbox to you? Does it have anything to do with her desire to hurt you, or to keep you engaged in some sort of relationship? (I have no idea mind you, I'm just wondering).

I don't think you need to 'grow up' or whatever - I just am encouraging you to consider that whatever the nature and end of your relationship, consider that she might be doing this to try to hurt you, and if so, the best way to side step that is to remove your attachment to the thing she's trying to knife you with, namely that Xbox.

Seriously, if I was either your friend (or heck, if I was hers) and I knew about this and that it had gotten this far, I would have gotten together all of your friends to pitch in for a new xbox just to save you (or her) from the emotional drama of it all. Then either of you could give the old xbox to the other with a the let's-end-the-drama-get-out-of-jail-free card. And we'd have a party and play with the new xbox to celebrate all the things worth celebrating. With cheetos.

But......back to the real world. I'm just saying, are there other options here?

If you don't think so, just be sure to offer to pony up for the $40.
posted by anitanita at 8:28 PM on March 9, 2009

I've heard it said..."possession is 9/10s of the law." Does she have the Xbox? Can she claim it was a present? The simple fact that she has it pretty much screws you, as far as I have heard.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:36 PM on March 9, 2009

One way you could get the receipt is to dispute the charge with your bank and ask them to provide proof of purchase which they will request from the store...
posted by olddogeyes at 1:06 AM on March 10, 2009

As best I understand it, the ex contributed the credit when you bought the Xbox and somehow left your dwelling with it or you loaned it to her and she refuses to return it. Doesn't feel like either response--"try to get it" or "deal with it and take it as a life lesson"--are glaringly correct, though my thoughts are toward the former.

Based on the information in front of us, the ex's approach feels like something that's too prevalent in this world--casual dishonesty, greed, trying to put it on the person who doesn't tolerate it.

"Dude, chill; getting all legal about it is harsh. It's, like, bad karma. Why are you being a dick?"

"Because you've stolen from me, you're apparently prepared to lie about it and you're making an unpleasant situation worse by making me out to be the bad guy so do the right thing or I have no choice but to accept what to me is a significant loss or pursue this in court."

As you might gather, I went down this road... with a loan of cash. Heard more stories--of being jammed up financially... shortly after the person sprang for new patio furniture and more situations along those lines--about repayment than I could count, was patient for many a month, didn't blow a gasket after the first few sketchy stories or ever, reached my limit, filed the papers, had them delivered as per the court's requirements.

Yup, got the "why are you so mean?" response.

Sent what amounted to a bullet-point response of "___ happened in ___, ____ happened in ___ , you told me _____ in _____, I have been patient and civil, your choices have been ones of selfishness and dishonesty which eradicated your credibility so conversations feel like an insulting-my-intelligence waste of time, I am out of patience and casting me in a bad light is pathetic."

A check arrived (and it cleared) very soon afterward and it was not necessary to go to court.
posted by ambient2 at 1:34 AM on March 10, 2009

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