Plaintiff Tactics

Small Claims: Plaintiffs Forum of Choice

Five simple ingredients that transformed a consumer protection statute into a multimillion-dollar litigation industry.

Many professional plaintiffs are sophisticated litigants who’ve filed ten times as many cases as a seasoned trial attorney.

The Home Court Advantage

Why Savvy TCPA Plaintiffs Prefer Small Claims

Professional TCPA plaintiffs often have to make a strategic decision: whether to file in small claims or a higher court.  Small claims courts are courts of limited jurisdiction- meaning that they can only adjudicate cases that fall below a certain threshold (usually around $5,000- to find out what the amount is in your state, click here.)

Although it may seem tempting to file in a higher court, most savvy professional plaintiffs choose to file their cases in small claims for the following reasons:

Simple and Quick

A Less Stressful Work Environment

In Small Claims court, rules are relaxed, expensive discovery methods like interrogatories and depositions are prohibited, and practically all matters filed in small-claims court are set for trial in a month or two.

Lawyers Not Welcome

In the Country of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man is King

A usual guiding principle in these courts is that people ought to be able to conduct their own cases and represent themselves, which evens the playing field; hence attorneys are often not permitted in Small Claims court. Even if lawyers are permitted to appear, it might be hard to find one. Most of them hate dealing with pro-se litigants, because those cases represent a lose-lose proposition for the lawyer. First, their clients expect them to easily win the case. If they do, they get little or no credit for it, and if they lose, they lose a lot more than the case. Their client will be furious and balk at paying the bill, and they also risk losing face in front of the court and their peers.

Defendants Always Have to Write a Check

Win or Lose, it's Going to Cost

Plaintiffs usually sue companies located thousands of miles away, which means the hapless defendant has to purchase a plane ticket if they want to avoid a default judgment. And, if lawyers are allowed to appear, their fees will often exceed price of plane fare. Rather than go through the hassle and expense, many defendants wind up settling for a few thousand dollars; which hits all the harder when you consider the fact that they could have settled it for half that amount if they gave in to the initial demand. However, a small percentage will refuse to give in to extortion and hop on a plane. Unfortunately, this laudable dedication to principle is often to no avail.

Easy Win

Winning is Good- Easy is Better

Small claims judges often rule in favor of the plaintiff regardless of the evidence. In many jurisdictions, non-lawyers are permitted to serve as judges in small claims court. Nine out of ten cases they deal with are evictions, breach of contract, collections, or small accidents, and they usually have to adjudicate 20 or more cases in a single day. They don’t have the time or experience to understand a complex federal statute well enough to issue a sensible ruling. Any party can appeal a small claims decision, and those appeals are handled in the higher courts, so it’s all to easy to pass the buck and rule in favor of the plaintiff.

No Appearance, No Appeal

Show Up or Lose Out

A defendant can always appeal a small claims trial judgment to a higher court, in which case the plaintiff loses the advantage. However, defendants are not permitted to appeal a default judgment, which means if they don’t show up, they have to pay it.