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Small Claims Court Process in New York State

NCJ Number
G Ryan; S Roth; R S Isreal; I Wikler
Date Published
The small claims court process in New York State is examined, focusing on the lack of uniformity among the jurisdictions, the extent to which diversity affects court use, and the judgment collection problem.
The impetus for establishing small claims courts was the need to provide a forum to expedite resolutions of civil disputes between laymen who possessed claims that were economically impractical for representation by counsel. Automobile accidents, landlord-tenant disputes, and other debt collection actions involving $1,000 or less comprise a major portion of the claims instituted in the State. A survey of the small claims courts throughout the State revealed a wide disparity in court rules and procedures among different jurisdictions. This lack of uniformity is affected by the cost of bringing an action, accessibility of the court to claimants and defendants, and the use of arbitrators. Several measures should be instituted to ensure statewide uniformity. It is recommended that all jurisdictions use the certified mailing option to serve process on defendants, as provided by statute. The Office of Court Administration should collect caseload data from all jurisdictions. Accessibility of the courts should be assessed in all jurisdictions with respect to convenience of hours, number of cases per session, and proximity of the court to potential litigants. In addition, the use of an arbitrator constitutes a major savings in judicial cost effectiveness. It is unfortunate that few of the surveyed jurisdictions use this technique. Finally, difficulties inherent in collecting unsatisfied judgments that permeate the entire civil court system are magnified in small claims courts, where inexperienced judgment creditors attempt to collect their awarded compensations and must depend upon the sheriff to effect collection activities. It is suggested that the Secretary of State or the State Consumer Protection Board be involved in such collections, because many businesses are conducted in more than one jurisdiction. Five tables, appendixes, a 52-item bibliography, and 39 footnotes are provided.