What Is Conciliation Court?
Conciliation court is often called “people’s court” or “small claims court” because its basic purpose is to help people recover relatively small sums of money without having to hire a lawyer. Conciliation court allows you to bring your legal disputes to a court without the hassles of confusing legal procedures and high costs. Court rules are generally simple and informal, and the cost of filing in conciliation court is low.
Who May Use Conciliation Court?
Any person (18 years or older), company, government agency, or organization may sue or be sued in conciliation court. A person under 18 may sue, or be sued, but they must be represented in court by a parent or guardian.
How Much Money Can You Recover?
The maximum amount you may recover through conciliation court is $15,000. (The maximum for consumer credit transactions is $4,000.)
You cannot file a claim in conciliation court that exceeds the monetary limit set by law. If you reduce your claim to the limit of conciliation court, you cannot claim more later. This rule may apply to any other claims related to the same incident. Obtaining a judgment in conciliation court may prevent you from bringing any other claims based on the same transaction or occurrence.
Do You Need an Attorney?
No. Court procedures are simplified to allow you to represent yourself. You may have an attorney only if the judge lets you. Also, the judge can decide how the attorney participates.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Conciliation Court?
Conciliation court doesn’t offer the best course of action in every situation. Generally, you may sue only for money. Disputes involving an amount of money greater than the maximum set by law cannot be determined in conciliation court. Lost or destroyed property or merchandise usually cannot be recovered. For example, if a dry cleaner loses your jacket, a conciliation court might order the dry cleaner to pay you money for your loss rather than order the cleaner to replace the jacket. In addition, conciliation court usually cannot be used to force delivery or completion (such as redoing a repair job or delivering merchandise). This kind of problem must usually be translated into financial terms, such as how much it will cost to have someone else make the repair.
Be Aware of These Facts:
- You must be prepared to appear in conciliation court when your case is set.
- Expenses such as time lost from work are usually not recoverable.
- In Minnesota, the largest amount for which you can sue in conciliation court is set by law. The judge cannot award more than this amount.
- If you win your case, the defendant usually will not have to pay more than the amount the court awards you. Don’t expect the defendant to be sent to jail or required to pay a fine.
- Delays occur frequently for various reasons.
- Conciliation court may not be very effective in resolving disputes with companies that don’t have property located in the area or with people who live outside the court’s jurisdiction. It is especially difficult if the company or person is located in another state.
In some situations, it may be quicker, more effective, and less troublesome to hire an attorney.
What Types of Complaints Do Conciliation Courts Handle?
In general, the types of cases handled include property damage, money disputes arising out of a tenant/landlord relationship, personal injury (actual medical bills only), losses due to bad checks, or nonpayment for goods or services.
Generally, you can file a complaint in conciliation court when you can show that a person or business owes you money but won’t pay you.
Conciliation court may be used when:
- You believe someone owes you money;
- That person or business refuses to pay;
- The amount owed is less than the maximum amount allowed in conciliation court; and
- You believe the person or company you are suing will be able to pay you (because it will cost you some money to make your claim).
Examples of situations in which you might consider using conciliation court include:
- You sold someone a snowmobile, that person has not paid you, and you want the snowmobile back.
- You performed work for someone, but the person refuses to pay you.
- Your former landlord won’t refund your security deposit, even though you did not damage the rental property.
- A repair shop does defective work on your car and won’t correct it or reimburse you.
- Your neighbor backs his motorcycle into your car and refuses to pay the repair bill.
- A dry cleaner loses your new jacket and offers you only a fraction of its worth.
If you are uncertain about whether you can bring your claim, talk to your county’s conciliation court administrator. The court administrator will tell you if your claim can be heard there.