When may I bring
suit before a District Justice?
You may file suit with a District
Justice if you have a complaint against a person or business and wish to
recover an amount of money totaling less than $8000. This is called a
civil lawsuit. The $8000 limit does not include the court costs involved
in the suit. If you are successful, you are entitled to be reimbursed for
court costs. You should be aware that, even for claims of less than $8000
you are entitled to sue in Common Pleas Court.
You may also be brought before a
District Justice to answer a summary offense charge or a motor vehicle
violation. These are called criminal actions.
advantages to suing in District Justice Courts rather than Common Pleas
District Justice Courts are less
formal, less expensive and faster than Common Pleas Courts. Also, you
will need an attorney in Common Pleas Court. In District Justice Court,
an attorney is not required, but it may be advisable to have one present
for certain types of cases.
Where can I
If you decide to sue in a
District Justice Court, you must decide which District Justice has
authority to handle the suit. There are rules which govern where a suit
may be filed. The District Justice closest to you can advise you where to
file. District Justices are listed in the yellow pages of the phone book
under "District Justice" or "Justice of the Peace," their former
How should I
start the law suit?
Once you have found the correct
office, the next step is to file a complaint on a standard form you can
obtain from the District Justice. The form is reasonably easy to fill
out. The important items are:
* your name and address.
* the name and address of the person or business you want to sue.
* The amount of money you are suing for, including all expenses.
* a short statement of why you believe you are entitled to the money. Be
sure to provide enough information so the person you are suing knows why
he or she is being sued.
Although the complaint may be
filed by mail, it is advisable to submit it personally to the District
Justice. One reason is that the complaint has to be officially verified
(notarized), and the District Justice can do this for you. In addition,
it will be easier for the clerk to tell you whether your complaint is
properly completed, and if it is not, how it should be corrected. It will
also be easier to determine precisely what fees you must pay. Remember,
if you succeed, the party you are suing (defendant) will be required to
pay you back for these costs. The costs for filing suits before a
District Justice are (these prices have gone up a little
* $35.50 for suit involving less
* $46.00 for suit involving less than $500.
* $56.00 for suit involving less than $4000.
* $82.00 for suit involving less than $8000.
* $66.00 for suit involving less than $2000. (landlord/tenant)
* $76.50 for suit involving less than $4000. (landlord/tenant)
* $97.00 for suit involving less than $8000.
If the complaint is personally
served by a constable there will be a fee of $17.
How is the other
Once you have filed a complaint,
the clerk will schedule a hearing to be held between 12 and 60 days form
the time you file. The law requires that before the hearing, the other
party must receive a copy of the complaint. This can be done in one of
1. You can request the complaint
be sent by certified mail. The letter will be delivered to the defendant
and the receipt card will be returned to the District Justice as proof
that it was received.
2. The complaint can also be
delivered by the sheriff for an additional fee which can be recovered
like the others if you win the suit. Sometimes having the complaint
personally served is more effective because the person to whom a
certified letter is addressed may not be home or may refuse to accept it.
The sheriff, on the other hand, can leave the paper with an adult
resident of the defendant's house, a person in charge of the store, or
officer of the corporation.
What should I do
before a hearing?
You should gather all documents
and papers relating to the suit. It is also a good idea to line up
supportive witnesses to be present at the hearing.
What happens at
At the hearing, those present
will be the District Justice, you (plaintiff), your witnesses, possibly
your lawyer, the defendant, defense witnesses and possibly the
The District Justice will explain
the procedure to you. Do not be afraid to ask questions.
During the hearing, you will be
given an opportunity to tell what happened. Show any papers, bills,
receipts or letters you have to the District Justice. You will probably
be asked questions. Then your witnesses will be allowed to tell what they
know about the case. The defendant will be given the same opportunity.
You will also be permitted to aske questions of the
after the decision is made?
If you succeed, the other party
may pay without question and is permitted to arrange to pay you in
installments, as set by the District Justice. However, the decision can
be appealed within 30 days to Common Pleas Court, and you can not collect
your money until this time has passed.
If there is an appeal, a Notice
of Intent to Appeal is filed with the prothonotary in the county
courthouse. Copies of the notice will be served on both you and the
District Justice who made the decision. The notice prevents you from
collecting until the appeal is decided.
Remember, if the District
Justice's decision is in favor of the defendant, you, likewise, have the
right to appeal in the manner outlined above.
If appealed, the case will be
heard from the beginning in Common Pleas Court. Since the procedure of
this court is governed by more formal rules, the presence of an attorney
is strongly advised.