Small Claims Suit Question
December 21, 2004 4:16 PM   Subscribe

I got had in a recent car purchase. Basically I'm out $500 after wrestling the other money back. The guy is no longer in this country (Canada) my lawyer says to go ahead and file a small claims suit. Since it is quite a hassle to file a suit, anyone have experience with something like this? All the details inside...

Basically bought the car, guy signed over title (didn't notice it was in the dealer section, and the DMV didn't notice right away either) -- he didn't pay taxes on it in the state where he was living in when he moved. He promised to pay taxes on it, etc. but because of other minor problems with the car I felt he didn't tell us about (unreported damage repair, A/C not working) I could have given the car back anyway... not to mention he never signed the title over to us being that he did not pay correct back taxes.

There were several things that made me feel funny about the deal afterwards. When we originally called him after the DMV fiasco, he didn't answer until we left a message. After we left a message he seemed relieved and said he'd take care of it. I think the motivation behind this was that he knew there were a lot of little things he didn't tell us about. Anyway we returned the car with the intention of rebuying it once he got everything clear, but he was extremely jittery about giving us our money back and we spent the good part of the hour getting everything but $500 (which he considered a down payment). This was not uncalled for as he at that point would have basically owned the car and had all our money, I like to congratulate myself on sticking to my guns.

At this point, the next day I left a message, stated I wanted all my $500 back and left a number to call me back with questions and an address to send the check to. He did neither. I sent him a certified letter, he never responded to. Got a lawyer to send a nice lawyer "we're going to sue you" letter that he didn't respond to. I have all the paperwork set, my lawyer says that there is no way he has legal right to that money, and is encouraging me to file a small claims report. The problem is that the county I'm filing it in is over several hours a way, and I'm beginning to think that this amount of money is not worth an international lawsuit.

I don't think this guy is a career conman. He was Iranian and apparently didn't understand our laws (taxes, titles, etc.) or was just a real asshole. Well more likely he knew the car had a lot of minor repairs and because it was a foreign car those minor repairs would have been expensive. I have his USA address, the company he works for still (big, multinational) and everything else. I'm just wondering if it will do any good and was looking for the collective hive to tell me the answer!
posted by geoff. to Law & Government (11 answers total)
I'm confused, are you considering filing in another COUNTY or COUNTRY?
posted by Juicylicious at 4:46 PM on December 21, 2004

In Ontario at least, the minimum you can take to small claims is $500.00, making your case very marginal. If your scenario happened to me, I would try every means available to me while spending as little money and time as necessary. Small claims court will require an abundance of both, and can very well cost you more than the judgement if you get a lawyer involved for more than a couple of hours. Not only that, but it has been my experience that it's very difficult to obtain a favourable judgement if you are the plaintiff. Be like a collection agency, hound him into giving you the money by swearing never to stop pestering him until he returns what is yours (without being threatening or abusive, and without confronting him physically). Offer discounts, call him in the middle of the night, leave dozens of messages, call his workplace and relatives, but don't bother with the courts.
posted by loquax at 5:28 PM on December 21, 2004

Hand this over to a collection agency - let them do the dirty work for a percentage of the claim. Do you really want to be doing the calling, hounding and pestering? Leave it to the professionals.

Don't let this guy take advantage of you (whatever his nationality - that really doesn't matter). Meanwhile, focus your attention on other, more pleasant, things. How much is your time worth to you?
posted by seawallrunner at 5:33 PM on December 21, 2004

Where I'm from, a collection agency would never touch this. There's no way for them to know whether or not you are justified in demanding money, and almost a 0% chance that they will ever see a dime. If by some chance, a collection agency would be interested in taking this case, they would likely buy it from you for 10 cents on the dollar or less, leaving you with $50 at most. I'd guess that if you ever see anything, it will be through your own efforts, sadly.
posted by loquax at 5:49 PM on December 21, 2004

I'm preparing to sue UPS in small claims (They refuse to remit a COD for $1300). I really doubt there's a minimum for small claims court -- it wasn't in the handbook!

As far as fees go, this is what they are in Kitchener, Ontario:

Filing a claim (infrequent claimant): $50
Issuing a default judgement (infrequent claimant): $35
Summons to witness: $10 (add 30 cent per KM, +$6 regular witness, +$15 expert).
Receiving for enforcement an order or judgement: $25
Motion: $40
Notice of Garnishment: $50
Writ of sezure and sale: $35

Forms for Ontario are online here, along with handy guides, etc. Specifically, look at "Plaintiffs claim" and "Establishing proper forum" forms.

HTH. You won't need all those, but I would expect small claims to cost you circa $200 when you are all done. I don't think you can get the fees for small claims out of the guy, but I highly reccomend you throw them in your claim anyways, since if you don't and you could have, the judge isn't going to hand them to you out of the kindness of his heart. :-D

Obviously, since it'll cost you $100 - $200 to sue him, if it were under $200 it's a total waste of your time.

Just to let you know, it is a pain in the ass. I have 43 pages of documentation I need to copy in quadruplicate (suing UPS head office and their local subsidiary, plus a copy for me, and a copy for the court). So try a collection agency. Trust me, they can break an ordinary man. :-D

They won't break UPS, though. :-(

BTW: If the guy is not in Canada, small claims is a TOTAL waste of your time, period. I doubt they'd even make it tough for him to get across the border even with a default judgement against him, so you're screwed. Bummer.
posted by shepd at 5:58 PM on December 21, 2004

I wouldn't spend $200 to sue for $500 I wasn't going to get.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:37 PM on December 21, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks guys. Yeah I meant another country in case that wasn't clear. But my lawyer said to first file suit here (something about residency of the company or something), so now I'm realizing I'll probably have to pay to sue here and in Canada. I mentioned Iranian because I was thinking to myself how lucky he must be to get residency in two Western countries so easily.
posted by geoff. at 7:26 PM on December 21, 2004

my lawyer said to first file suit here (something about residency of the company or something)

I'm studying for my Civil Procedure mid-term right now, I must say that unless the company owned the car, this makes no sense.

But then I do not know your state's laws and am not yet a lawyer.
posted by falconred at 11:13 PM on December 21, 2004

I am not a lawyer, but as a former small-business owner I have some experience with (U.S) small claims court and collection matters.

Bottom line: Unless you want to sue this guy as a matter of principle, and you're willing to spend time and money on that basis, just walk away and count yourself lucky that you've recovered the money you have done so far.

If you value your time at all, you'll earn yourself at least $500 worth of hassle (and actual cash court fees on top of that) for money it sounds like you're not likely to recover.
posted by enrevanche at 7:57 AM on December 22, 2004

Response by poster: falconred, I just got done talking to him. He was talking about the possibility of getting the money from his paycheck or serving him his default judgement when he comes into town (his company HQ is here). This is too small an amount of money.
posted by geoff. at 9:31 AM on December 22, 2004

Putting it to a collection agency will likely get it on the guy's record and cause him trouble. Seems a good payback for the principle of the issue, and the route I would go. Pursuing a lawsuit to actually get the $500 back would likely cost you more than that in your time (and your money).

Failing all of that, you can totally just shoot him in the face.
posted by xmutex at 9:45 AM on December 22, 2004

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