Small claims court question.
March 24, 2008 9:25 AM   Subscribe

A small construction company did work for a customer. Customer refuses to pay citing not 100% happy. Company disagrees greatly and believes job was well done and customer is being very unreasonable. Company has detailed photographs, a signed contract and wants to go to small claims court to resolve matter. How do we word the answer to the following question? The plaintiff claims you owe $XXXX For the following reasons: How would the hive mind word this? Thanks.
posted by CFMartin to Law & Government (11 answers total)
Small claims court is designed for non-lawyers. You don't need to use "magic words" or anything like that... just answer the question as you would if anyone else asked you. It's not a trap.
posted by toomuchpete at 9:34 AM on March 24, 2008

What toomuchpete said. How about: For construction work [x] done at your request, and upon an agreed upon price of $x.

Or something else. Really, you just need to give a simple statement that lets him know why you're suing. If its enough to explain why, you're fine.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 9:49 AM on March 24, 2008

Doesn't the contractor usually keep a lien on the property until they're paid?
posted by oaf at 10:05 AM on March 24, 2008

Your local district court should have instructions on how to file a small claims suit. You might want to look into a Mechanic's Lien in the future. People don't fuck around with payment when you can seize their house.
posted by electroboy at 11:36 AM on March 24, 2008

It has been many years since I was in small claims court, but I remember Nolo Press books being quite useful in terms of what to do and what to expect. I also recall that winning the case was only the first step -- getting the money can be the toughest part. Good luck!
posted by elmay at 11:55 AM on March 24, 2008

Unless I'm reading it wrong, it sounds like you want wording for the defendant. Ignore me if I'm wrong. I'd go with something like:

"On (date) we contracted with ABC Company to provide (service). The contract specified construction of a sturdy pink gazebo in the front yard. However, the gazebo they constructed was neither sturdy nor pink. We had the following problems with their service:

* Work not completed in a timely fashion
* Inferior materials used
* (etc)

"For these reasons, we withheld payment. We feel that ABC company did not fulfill their side of the contract."

It would probably be helpful to have some remedy in mind that you want. They might decide they're willing to settle and it helps to have thought out what you want.
posted by selfmedicating at 1:35 PM on March 24, 2008

"For construction work [x] done at your request, and upon an agreed upon price of $x." I'd add, completed in a workmanlike manner, in x amount of time.

When you go to court, you'll be asked to talk to the defendant, to try to work it out. So, before you go to court, make sure the client/defendant has explained why, specifically, they are declining to pay, and that you have made reasonable efforts to be sure the work was done correctly. You'll lose time in court, and if all you need to do is something minor, then it's worth it to avoid court.
posted by theora55 at 1:38 PM on March 24, 2008

"Unless I'm reading it wrong, it sounds like you want wording for the defendant."

My guess is that it's a complaint form that is being filled in. In "real" court, the complaints are drafted from scratch. In most small claims courts it's a lot more like Mad Libs. The plaintiff would answer a question with wording like "The plaintiff claims that you owe [X] for this reason:" because the form is going to be served upon the defendant.
posted by toomuchpete at 2:03 PM on March 24, 2008

...also, whatever you do, please don't try to "sound like a lawyer". Judges in small-claims courts get enough of that nonsense, and they will appreciate not having to hear it from you, too.
posted by toomuchpete at 2:04 PM on March 24, 2008

Best answer: Like this?

Dear Defendant- You have been sued in small claims court. The plaintiff claims you owe $xxxx for the following reasons:

Date xx/yy/zzzz- Defendant signed contract for work to be done. (attached)
Dates xx/yy/zzzz- xx/yy/zzzz - Work was performed to specifications in above mentioned contract. See attached photos.
Date xx/yy/zzzz- Work was completed, def. was billed.
Dates a,b,c - Defendant has still not paid, in violation of contract.

Defendant would respond with a similar list detailing how the contract wasn't fulfilled.
posted by gjc at 8:41 PM on March 24, 2008

If your local library carries the Journal of Light Construction, hit the back issues and read Quenda Behler-Story's column for the previous year or so. She's tackled exactly this issue (and how to avoid it in the future) from a number of angles.

You can also buy access to individual articles online, or skulk about in the forums where search terms like 'small claims court' turn up interesting threads.

(No affiliation with the magazine, and not even in the trade, but dad's business is tangentially related and I find JLC fascinating reading.)
posted by Myself at 3:00 AM on March 25, 2008

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