Minnesota Attorney General's Office
1400 Bremer Tower
445 Minnesota Street
St. Paul, MN 55101
M - F 8 am - 5 pm
What If You Can’t Appear on the Court Date?
If you are the defendant in a case, or if you are the plaintiff and the defendant has filed a counterclaim, it is absolutely essential that you appear in court to tell your side of the story. Failure to do so will probably result in a judgment against you.
If, for some reason, you will not be able to appear in court on the scheduled hearing date, notify the court administrator immediately and request that the date and/or time be changed. If you have a good reason, a continuance may be granted and the hearing will be rescheduled for a later date. The request for a continuance must be made in writing at least five business days prior to the hearing date. You may be ordered by the court to pay additional costs. Court administrators can only give one continuance to you.
If you miss the court hearing, you may be sent a notice that a default judgment will be entered against you if you do not reopen the case before the judgment becomes final.
How Do You Prepare for the Hearing?
Although conciliation court hearings are informal, you should be prepared to present your case. Before you go to court:
- Organize your presentation to make it as clear and complete as possible. Remember, your testimony may be the most important information you have.
- Prepare a list of facts you wish to present.
- Make a detailed chronological history of the problem.
- Contact people who have witnessed important aspects of the problem, and ask them to be present at the hearing and ready to testify under oath. (If a witness is unwilling to appear, you may subpoena the witness. You can get a subpoena from the court administrator by paying a fee for each person you would like subpoenaed. It is your responsibility to see that the subpoena is delivered to the witness by someone other than yourself. Subpoenas may not be delivered on a Sunday or a legal holiday. Further, you may have to pay a basic fee plus round trip mileage to the courthouse to any witness you subpoena).
- Understand that written statements and affidavits of persons not present in court have very little value.
- You can also subpoena documents relating to your claim if the defendant or some other person has them but will not give them to you.
What Should You Bring to Court?
Bring all evidence (and witnesses) necessary to prove your case.
Be prepared to show the judge:
- Contracts or agreements you made with the defendant. (Example: If your claim is against a landlord for recovery of a security deposit, bring the lease.)
- Letters you and the defendant have exchanged relating to the problem. (Example: If you wrote to the defendant asking for the money, or if the defendant wrote to you admitting the debt, bring these letters.)
- Bills, canceled checks, warranties, receipts, or written estimates having to do with your claim. (Example: If you are claiming your television set is defective beyond repair, bring original receipts, a copy of the warranty, and estimates from repair shops.)
- Photographs of the damaged property. (Example: If your car was damaged by the defendant, bring photos that show the extent of the damage.)
What Happens at the Hearing?
You and the defendant will appear before a judge (or in some counties, a referee). The judge may encourage you to settle the case. The judge will first ask you, the plaintiff, to state your case. Tell
your story calmly, clearly and concisely. Use the notes you’ve prepared ahead of time to make sure you have all of your main points. Be sure to explain how you arrived at the specific damage figure you are claiming and show the judge evidence that supports your claim, such as bills, receipts, estimates, contracts, photos, etc.
When it is the defendant’s turn, do not become angry or interrupt. Be courteous at all times. If you disagree with something the defendant says, ask the judge if you may respond to the defendant’s statement. The judge may ask questions of you, the defendant, or witnesses who are present.
If you have never been to conciliation court, you may want to attend another hearing ahead of time to see what happens. Conciliation court hearings are open to the public. Your visit should help you know what to expect and how to prepare your own case.
What if You Don’t Appear for the Hearing?
All parties should appear! If you appear and the defendant does not, the judge may enter a default judgment for you. It means that you have won (the “judgment” is in your favor) by default. If you do not appear for the hearing, the court may dismiss your claim or award a default judgment against you. This may happen even if you originally brought the claim.
When Will You Hear the Court’s Decision?
The court may help you and the defendant reach an agreement at the hearing. If not, the court will decide the case and you will be notified by mail of the decision. (The court usually does not rule on claims at the time of the hearing.) The judgment will not become effective until 20 days after the notice is mailed. The court administrator will tell you the date in this notice. This 20-day period is called the “stay period,” and it allows you to appeal or make a motion to vacate the judgment.
What if You Lose?
If either the plaintiff or the defendant is dissatisfied with the judge’s decision, the 20-day stay period allows the unhappy party to appeal or bring a motion to vacate the judgment. This is discussed further on page 11 in the section titled "Removing the Case." The court may also vacate the judgment and order a new hearing if a party that did not appear had a good reason for not appearing. Before it grants a new hearing, the court may require the party who did not appear to pay costs to the other party.
Application for “vacation of judgment” must be made within the 20-day stay period. You must show:
- You were not given proper notice of the trial;
- You were mistaken about the time of the trial;
- You missed the trial for some other valid reason.
The court will only reopen the case if it decides that your absence was unavoidable and unintentional. You will be notified by mail of the new trial date.
How Do You Pay the Judgment?
If you are within the metropolitan counties, make payment directly to the conciliation court by the date the judgment becomes final. The court records will then reflect that payment was made. For Greater Minnesota areas, check with the court administrator for payment guidelines.
How Do You Collect Your Money if You Win?
The conciliation court cannot and will not collect the judgment for you. It may be necessary for you to take additional steps to enforce the judgment. Remember, you may not try to collect the judgment until 20 days after the notice of judgment is postmarked.
In the collection process, you are the judgment creditor, or collector. The person you are trying to collect from is called the debtor, or judgment debtor. The following procedural steps must be taken when a debtor refuses to pay and the location of collectible assets is known. The costs associated with these procedures will be added to the amount of your claim.
- Have the conciliation court judgment transcribed to the district court. Your district court administrator can help you with this.
- File an affidavit of identification with the court administrator. This creates a lien against real estate the debtor owns in the county. If he or she wants to sell any of that property, you might have to be paid first. It also affects the debtor’s credit rating.
- If you intend to serve the party with a writ of execution, you must first notify the party. (A writ of execution is an order that enforces the decision of the conciliation court.) Notification must take place at least 10 days before the execution may be served. The sheriff will not accept the first writ of execution without proof that you complied with the 10 day notice.
- Request the court administrator to issue a writ of execution.
- If you know where the party banks or works, deliver the writ of execution to the sheriff’s office with a specific list of property or bank accounts that belong to the debtor or the name of the debtor’s employer. (Some assets are exempt from collection.) With sufficient information and the writ of execution, the sheriff can “levy” the debtor’s property. This means the sheriff will actually take the items you have identified. However, the sheriff cannot break into the debtor’s home to collect an item subject to levy. If the sheriff is unable to levy the assets within 180 days after the sheriff receives the writ, the writ will be returned to you “unsatisfied.”
- If you are unable to determine what assets the debtor owns, request the court administrator to issue an order for disclosure. This order requires the debtor to reveal all non-exempt property and financial information to you within 10 days.
- If the debtor fails to respond, ask the court to issue an order to show cause. This requires the judgment debtor to appear in court and explain why the order for disclosure was disobeyed.
Despite all of these legal actions, there will still be some cases where the debtor is “judgment proof.” The debtor may possess only minimum viable assets and may be unemployed with public assistance as the only source of income. In that case, there is little you can do. However, a conciliation court judgment is valid for 10 years. Over that time, a person’s financial circumstances will often change.
Can You Remove Your Case?
Your case may be removed to the district court for a new trial if you or the defendant are dissatisfied with the conciliation court judgment and all parties appeared at the conciliation court hearing. Default cases may not be removed. (This does not leave a defaulting party without recourse. See Page 9 for vacation of judgment proceedings.)
Rules of civil procedure apply to cases removed to district court, where proceedings are more formal and more complex. Although it is not required, it is suggested that parties be represented by an attorney in district court. To remove, file and pay fees for the following within 20 days of the date the judgment was mailed:
- Demand for removal;
- Affidavit of good faith; and
- Affidavit of service.
What Happens Upon a Removal?
Filing a removal means a completely new trial will take place. You may file a demand for a jury trial if you want the case to be heard before a jury. Both parties may have attorneys. Again, you should prepare to present your case, have your witnesses ready to testify, and have all of your other evidence available.
If you remove your case and do not win, you will have to pay the other party $50 for costs. You will not have to pay the other party $50 for costs if:
- You win your case in district court and get either 50 percent of what you asked for or more than $500 in money or goods, whichever is less;
- The other party wins some amount in conciliation court but nothing in district court;
- You receive 50 percent more in district court than you got in conciliation court or at least $500 in money or goods, whichever is less; or
- The other party has the amount recovered from you in conciliation court reduced by at least $500 or 50 percent by the district court, whichever is less.