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Guide to Orange County, NY Small Claims

Camila Lopez - New York Small Claims - July 8, 2024

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    Are you wondering how to file a small claims lawsuit in Orange County, NY? Small claims court is a cost-effective and efficient court where people can resolve everyday disputes such as unpaid bills, damaged property, or breach of contract. To learn how to file a lawsuit in Orange County, read the article below. 

    Common Types of Orange County Small Claims Lawsuits

    Orange County small claims courts handle a variety of cases. However, some types of cases may be better handled in other types of courts. For example, eviction cases are handled in Housing Court. 

    Here are common types of small claims lawsuits filed in Orange County small claims court:

    • You move out of your Middletown apartment, and your landlord refuses to return your security deposit.

    • You order a product from a business, but the product arrives defective, and the business refuses to provide you with a refund or exchange.  

    • While driving in Newburgh, someone hit your car and refuses to pay for the damages.

    • You paid a contractor to remodel your home in Montgomery, but they never showed up.

    • You own a small business in Port Jervis, and your customer refuses to pay their outstanding invoices. 

    • Your neighbor damaged your property, and they won't pay to fix the damages.

    • You gave your roommate a personal loan, and they refuse to pay you back. 

    • You own an apartment complex in Walden, and one of your tenants refuses to pay rent.

    • You took your car to a mechanic for repairs, and they improperly repaired your car. 

    It is important to note that in Orange County small claims, you cannot sue someone to force them to do something or return your property. You can only sue for money. For example, you paid an architectural firm to build a home in Port Jervis. The firm doesn’t do the work, and you sue them in small claims court. If you win your case, you can be compensated for the amount you paid the firm, but the court can’t make the firm do the work as promised. 

    Orange County Small Claims Limits

    The small claims “limits” determine how much you can sue for in Orange County small claims.

    There are two types of small claims courts in Orange County:

    • City Courts

    • Town and Village Courts 

    The main difference between these two courts is the amount you can sue for.

    • In Orange County city courts, the maximum you can sue for is $5,000.

    • In Orange County town and village courts, the maximum amount you can sue for is $3,000. 


    What happens if I am owed more than what I can sue for in Orange County small claims?

    You may need to file your lawsuit in a different court, like a regular civil court. However, Orange County small claims courts are more affordable, efficient, and faster than other types of courts. 

    Also note, you cannot file multiple smaller lawsuits to get around the claim limit. However, if you have multiple claims, you may be able to file two different lawsuits, one for each claim. 

    Orange County Small Claim Court Locations

    There are three City Courts in Orange County that handle small claims cases for up to $5,000
    City Court of Middletown 

    2 James Street

    Middletown, NY 10940

    Phone: 845-476-3630

    City Court of Newburgh

    300 Broadway

    Newburgh, NY 12550

    Phone: 845-483-8100

    City Court of Port Jervis 

    20 Hammond Street

    Port Jervis, NY 12771

    Phone: 845-476-3700

    There are also dozens of towns and villages in Orange County. Most of these towns and villages have courts that also handle small claims. Use the New York Courts’ website to locate a specific town or village court near you. Remember, in Orange County town and village courts, the maximum amount you can sue for is $3,000

    If the other party lives, works or has an office in the following cities, towns or villages, then you can sue in Orange County small claims court: Arden, Bellvale, Blooming Grove, Bullville, Campbell Hall, Central Valley, Chester, Circleville, Cornwall, Cornwall On Hudson, Crawford, Cuddebackville, Deerpark, Florida, Fort Montgomery, Goshen, Greenville, Greenwood Lake, Hamptonburgh, Harriman, Highland Falls, Highland Mills, Howells, Huguenot, Johnson, Maybrook, Middletown, Minisink, Monroe, Montgomery, Mountainville, Mount Hope, New Hampton, New Milford, New Windsor, Newburgh, Otisville, Palm Tree, Pine Bush, Pine Island, Port Jervis, Rock Tavern, Salisbury Mills, Slate Hill, Southfields, Sparrow Bush, Sterling Forest, Sugar Loaf, Thompson Ridge, Tuxedo Park, Unionville, Vails Gate, Walden, Wallkill, Warwick, Washingtonville, Wawayanda, West Point, Westtown, and Woodbury. 

    How Do I Calculate How Much to Sue For?

    This question is trickier than it seems. Generally speaking, taking someone to small claims isn't meant for you to come out winning more than what you are owed. This is because, at the hearing, the judge will want to know how you calculated the amount you are suing for and will ask you to prove your calculations. 

    ‍Here are some tips for calculating how much to sue for:

    • Use receipts. For example, you took your computer in for repairs at a small computer repair business. The repairs cost $1,000. When you get your computer back, you notice it still isn’t functional,  and you will need to take your computer somewhere else and pay for repairs again. Pool together all your receipts for repairs to figure out the total amount the computer repair business owes you. 

    • Use estimates. For example, you hired painters to paint your home. They do a poor job, so you need to repaint your home. Get estimates from other painters to see how much it will cost to repaint your home.

    How Much Does it Cost to Sue in Orange County Small Claims?

    If you are an individual suing another individual or business in an Orange County City Court, then you will pay:

    •  $15 if you are suing for $1000 or less, and 

    •  $20 if you are suing for more than $1000.

    If you are a business (corporation or LLC) suing an individual or business, the cost to file will be:

    • $25 plus postage. 

    • These types of small claims lawsuits are known as commercial claims

    The cost to file in an Orange County town or village court ranges from $10-$15. Confirm any filing fees with the specific town or village court you wish to file in for accurate fees.

    If you are low-income and cannot afford to pay filing costs, you can apply for a waiver of your court fees. 

    • In New York state, this waiver is unfortunately named the Poor Person Relief; however, don’t let this deter you if it is something you need to be able to seek justice in court. 

    • To file for a Poor Person Relief waiver, you should call the court clerk’s office you are suing in. we have seen that different judges require different proof to decide your fee waiver request. The court will likely ask you to submit additional items to prove you do not have the money to pay your court costs.

    Is it Worth it to Sue Someone in Orange County Small Claims?

    You will need to decide this question for yourself as many things go into filing a small claims lawsuit. What we see most of our clients do is take a cost v. benefit approach.

    Here is how some of our clients measure the cost v. benefit of going to small claims:

    • Cost. Spending $20 to get back $2,000 is very affordable. Add the fact that you can represent yourself in small claims court and don’t need to hire an attorney and pay attorney’s fees. 

    • How soon will you find out whether you won? After your small claims court hearing, you can expect to have a decision from the judge within a couple of days, but depending on the court, it could take a couple of months. 

    • Time spent. It is tricky to calculate how much time you will spend on a lawsuit because of our current court system. You may have to go a few times to the court to file the lawsuit, especially if you need more information or do it wrong. People Clerk can help you prepare and file your small claims lawsuit, saving you time trying to figure out the small claims process. 

    • Justice. For some, the driving factor is not money or time. Sometimes just knowing you are deterring someone from hurting others as they hurt you is enough. 

    Statute of Limitations and Orange County Small Claims 

    The statute of limitations in New York are deadlines that let you know by when you should file a small claims lawsuit in Orange County. The statute of limitations can range between 3-6 years. The statute of limitations is the same for a small claims lawsuit as for other types of lawsuits in New York. 

    However, depending on the type of claim you bring, the statute of limitations will be different. For example, there will be a different statute of limitations that addresses breach of contract cases, property damage, fraud, etc.

    Here are some common questions about the statute of limitations:

    • Does my hearing have to be before the statute of limitations? No, but your case has to be FILED before the statute of limitations.

    • Can I still file my small claims lawsuit if the statute of limitations already passed? You will still be able to file your lawsuit because it is not the clerk who decides whether the statute of limitations has passed. The judge is the only person who can decide whether the statute of limitations has passed. If the statute of limitations has passed, the judge will let you know at the hearing and will close your case.

    • How do I get more certainty about the statute of limitations? (1) consult a lawyer before suing in small claims, (2) review the New York state code for your type of claim, and (3) let the judge decide at the hearing.

    • Why should I not wait to file my Orange County small claims lawsuit? It is not recommended that you wait to file your small claims lawsuit for a variety of reasons. (1) You may need more time if you file the first time incorrectly, (2) you may lose evidence the longer you wait, and (3) you begin to lose credibility the more you wait, which may put the judge on alert. 

    What to Do Before You File in Orange County Small Claims?

    Here are some steps you can take before you file a small claims suit:

    1. Ask the other party to pay you back.

    2. Decide where to file the lawsuit.

    3. Determine who needs to sue (the "claimants").

    4. Determine who you need to sue (the "defendants").

    5. Make sure to have the information you will need to prepare the small claims lawsuit.

    Ask the Other Party to Pay You Back

    In Orange County small claims court, individuals filing a lawsuit are not required to send a demand letter before filing. However, we recommend you ask the other party to pay you back either over the phone by calling or texting or preferably in writing in the form of a demand letter

    Here are at least three good reasons why you should send a demand letter before filing a small claims lawsuit in Orange County:

    1. When you send a demand letter, you are likely to be taken more seriously by the other party. 

    2. You will be able to include a copy of your demand letter as part of your evidence to show the judge that you gave the other party an opportunity to resolve the dispute before escalating it to small claims court. 

    3. By sending a demand letter, you may be able to settle the case outside of court without paying court costs.  

    If you are a corporation suing an individual (known as a consumer transaction) in Orange County small claims court, there are special rules you need to be aware of:

    • You are required to mail a demand letter at least 10 days before filing. 

    • Include a copy of your demand letter with the lawsuit and have a notary certify that you sent a demand letter. 

    People Clerk has a demand letter tool you can use.

    Determine in Which Court to File Your Orange County Small Claims Lawsuit 

    Before going to your nearest Orange County small claims court to file your small claims lawsuit, take some time to figure out which court has "authority" over the other party. This is known as "jurisdiction."

    To sue someone in Orange County City Court, the other party must live, work or have an office in Orange County. Also, if you are suing a landlord, you can sue the landlord where the rented unit is located in Orange County as long as the small claims lawsuit concerns the rented unit. 

    Here is the relevant code for Orange County City Courts...the defendant either resides, or has an office for the transaction of business or a regular employment within the county, or where the claimant is or was a tenant or lessee of real property owned by the defendant and the claim relates to such tenancy or lease, and such real property is situated within the county.Uniform City Court Act (UCT) Chapter 497, Article 18. 

    To sue someone in an Orange County town or village Justice Court, the other party must live, work, or have an office in that Orange County town or village. Also, just as with City Court, if you are suing a landlord, you can sue the landlord where the rented unit is located in that Orange County town or village as long as the small claims lawsuit concerns the rented unit.

    Here is the relevant code for Orange County town or village courts, “...the defendant either resides, or has an office for the transaction of business or a regular employment within the municipality where the court is located, or where claimant is or was a tenant or lessee of real property owned by the defendant and the claim relates to such tenancy or lease, and such real property is situated within the municipality where the court is located.Uniform Justice Court Act (UJC) Chapter 898, Article 18. 

    Why can't all courts have authority over the other party? Because this is what your elected officials decided was fair. The logic is that it isn't fair for someone without a connection to Orange County to be sued in Orange County.  

    What happens if I file in the wrong small claims court? You will likely still be able to file your lawsuit as this is a decision for the judge to make, which means that you may not find out until the hearing that you filed your lawsuit in the wrong court. This means they may close your case, and you will have to refile it in the right court. This is risky because if the statute of limitations has passed, then you won't be able to win even if you file in the right court the second time.

    Determine Who Needs to Sue (the “Claimants”)

    Normally, the person or business filing the lawsuit is called the claimant in Orange County small claims. Deciding who needs to be included in a lawsuit as a claimant is a relatively easy determination. Ask yourself, who is owed money? Anyone who is owed money should be included in the lawsuit.

    Not sure who to include? It is better to include everyone who potentially is owed money and let the judge decide at the hearing. If a judge doesn't think someone should be included in the lawsuit, they will take that person off the lawsuit at the hearing and leave everyone else as part of the lawsuit. Otherwise, the judge may have you refile the lawsuit.

    Here are some common citations that trip up our clients to help you better determine who should be included in the lawsuit: 

    • You and your roommate just moved out of a rental unit in Middletown. When you both moved in, you had to pay a $2,000 deposit. Your landlord refuses to return the security deposit. Both you and your roommate are owed the money, so the judge will want to make sure you and your roommate are both included in the lawsuit.

    • You were driving your mother’s car, and another driver hit you while driving. It will cost $1,000 to fix the car. Your mother should be included in the lawsuit since she is the registered owner.

    Determine Who You Need to Sue (the “Defendants”).

    Normally, the person or business being sued is called the defendant in Orange County small claims court. Ask yourself, who is responsible for what happened to me?

    This determination is trickier than deciding who needs to sue. Here are some tips:

    • When in doubt, sue everyone you think is responsible and let the judge decide at the hearing. You don't want the judge to close your lawsuit because even though they think you are right, you didn't sue the right person or business.

    • Security deposit lawsuits. We often see clients sue a property management company and not their landlord in security deposit cases. When suing to get your security deposit back, you want to make sure you sue the person or business listed on your lease or rental agreement as they are the ones holding onto your security deposit, plus anyone else you also think is responsible.

    • Car accident lawsuits. Don't forget to sue the driver that is responsible for hitting your car in addition to the owner of the car, as this is sometimes not the same person.

    Make Sure to Have the Information You Will Need to Prepare the Small Claims Lawsuit

    Prepare for your Orange County small claims lawsuit by making sure you have the correct information for the person or business you are suing.

    Suing an individual in Orange County small claims:

    • You will need their full legal name and their Orange County home, office, or work address. You will be asked for this information on the forms you need to file to start your lawsuit. 

    • Please note, you cannot list a P.O. Box as an address. You will need the Orange County, NY, street address for the individual you are suing. 

    • Don’t have this information? Use Google, Linkedin, or consider having someone run a report called a "Skip Trace" that looks for their information on different databases.

    Suing a business in Orange County small claims:

    • Don’t make the same mistake as most people! Spend time figuring out the correct information to list on your Orange County small claims lawsuit when suing a business.

    • You will need to narrow down a business’s official legal name before suing them in Orange County small claims. What is an official legal name? This is the name the business has used to incorporate its business. The reality is that many businesses are not incorporated (they don't need to be), which means that you are suing an individual and not a business. For example, you paid Ace Mechanics to repair your car. Ace Mechanics doesn't actually repair your car, so you decide to sue them in Orange County small claims. You first need to determine whether Ace Mechanics is a corporation, LLC, or an individual using the name Ace Mechanics.

    • Many businesses also do business using a name other than their official legal name. This is called a "dba", "fictitious business name”, or “trade name.”

    • Once you have determined the official legal name, you will be able to sue the correct business and serve the correct person on behalf of a business. This is important because you want to actually be able to collect your money judgment if you win your case. 

    How to File a Small Claims Lawsuit in Orange County Small Claims Court 

    Generally, there are about 4 steps to taking someone to small claims court in Orange County:

    1. Prepare the lawsuit.

    2. File the lawsuit.

    3. Serve the lawsuit.

    4. Prepare for the small claims hearing.

    We break down each one of these steps below.

    Preparing Your Small Claims Lawsuit 

    If you are suing an individual or business as an individual in an Orange County City Court, you will need to properly fill out a Small Claims Application

    In Orange County, claimants (the person suing) filing as a business must have a corporation in New York state to file a commercial claim against a business or individual. For example, if you are ABC Corporation, a New York corporation, and you want to sue a business based on a commercial transaction or an individual based on a commercial claim arising from a consumer transaction, you need to fill out the following documents: 

    Once you prepare the forms, you will need to file them with the court. People Clerk can help you file a small claims lawsuit with any of the Orange County City Courts. 

    Filing Your Small Claims Lawsuit

    You can submit the Orange County small claims forms in person or by mail. Make sure to take proper payment with you to court. This may be a check, money order, or cash. Some major credit cards are also allowed, but there is an additional fee if you pay by credit card.  

    Serving Your Small Claims Lawsuit

    Once you file your claim with the small claims court clerk, it is up to the clerk to notify the other party that they have been sued (this is called “serving”). The court will serve the lawsuit by mailing the documents to the other party. 

    If the mail comes back as undelivered, you will be able to serve the lawsuit using a friend or a registered process server. You will need to call the court to determine if your lawsuit has been properly served. 

    Prepare for the Small Claims Hearing 

    To actually win your small claims lawsuit, you need to prepare for the hearing. To prepare for your Orange County small claims court hearing:

    • Research the law. We recommend that you research any laws that may support your claims. For example, if your claim is based on a federal act like the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), you don’t want to come to the hearing without knowing which sections of the act to reference in front of the judge. Note, small claims judges handle a wide variety of issues, they are not going to be well-versed in all of these issues. If you are claiming the other party owes you money for violating federal law, make sure you know the federal law in question. At this stage, you may also want to consider consulting with an attorney if you have any doubts about your claims.

    • Prepare your evidence. Make sure you have all your evidence ready and organized with dates and titles so you can easily reference specific evidence in court. For example, if you own a small business in Newburgh and your client is refusing to pay their outstanding invoices, your evidence should include any emails you sent to the client reminding them of the invoices, the invoices themselves, and any other relevant correspondence between you and the client discussing the invoices. Remember, in small claims court, it is your responsibility to prove to the judge why and how much the other party owes you.

    • Prepare what you will say at the hearing. At your small claims hearing, both you and the other party will be able to present your side to the judge. The claimant (the person bringing the lawsuit) usually starts. Be prepared to discuss why you are suing the other party, how much money you are looking for, how you calculated that amount, etc. 

    • Bring multiple copies of your evidence. You should bring at least three copies of your evidence. One copy for you, one copy for the judge, and one copy for the other party.

    People Clerk can help you organize your evidence for your Orange County small claims hearing.  

    What Accommodations Can the Court Provide? 

    The New York State Unified Court System provides a number of accommodations for those who need assistance while pursuing their case in court. For specific questions, call the court or the clerk and convey your needs. The court will inform you of the steps you need to take in order to accommodate your needs. 

    Here are some types of accommodations the court can provide:

    • If you or a witness do not speak English well, you can tell the clerk when you file your lawsuit, and they will assign an official interpreter to your case.

    • The court can provide other types of auxiliary aids and services, including assistive listening devices, and qualified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters. 

    Can I Have a Lawyer Represent Me in Orange County Small Claims?

    Yes. In Orange County small claims, you are allowed to have a lawyer represent you in court. This decision is up to you to make, and although getting a lawyer seems like an obvious decision, legal fees can quickly add up. This shouldn’t discourage you from proceeding in small claims court on your own. 

    Just like you have the option of hiring a lawyer to represent you, the other party in your case does as well. In the case that both parties decide to have a lawyer represent them, the judge can move the case from small claims to civil court.

    Is Small Claims Court My Only Option?

    In Orange County, the other option you have outside of small claims is mediation. Mediation is a meeting between you, the other party, and a neutral third person called a mediator. 

    How does the mediation process work? 

    • Mediation is used to help parties come to a mutually agreeable solution or settlement. It provides the parties with the opportunity to communicate with each other while the mediator facilitates the conversation. Note, the mediator is not there to make a decision on your case. You and the other party can come to a settlement only if you wish to. 

    • The settlement can be for the same amount of money being claimed and can involve other non-monetary agreements between the parties. For example, you and the party you are suing can agree to a payment plan in your settlement.  

    • Orange County offers mediation for certain cases. Check with the courthouse you file in to see if your case can be mediated. 

    • You can bring in any evidence you have to the mediation. This is so the mediator can understand your case better and the other party can see why you brought a case against them and why they owe you money. 

    • If you reach a settlement agreement, you don’t need to go in front of the judge. 

    • If you do not reach a settlement during mediation, don’t worry! You can continue with your court hearing in front of a judge.

    Author

    Camila Lopez

    Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Camila holds a law degree and is a certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.

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