Small claims cases are those civil suits involving relatively modest amounts of money. They are heard under simplified rules of procedure and evidence (Utah Rules of Small Claims Procedure, UCRA). This results in a speedier resolution of many matters that would otherwise tie up the courts in lengthy civil proceedings.
- Small claims cases filed in Sandy City require a pre-trial conference to include mediation prior to a trial setting.
- Most small claims cases filed in Sandy City have a pre-trial setting of 75-90 days from the date the case is first filed with the court.
- Cases going to trial in a justice court are set before a judge as there is no jury in the trial of small claims cases [§78B-1-104(4) U.C.A.].
Requirements to File a Small Claims Case
- Small claims matters must be for the recovery of money only.
- The amount of the plaintiff's claim cannot exceed $11,000. This limitation includes attorney's fees but does not include service fees, court costs and interest.
- Small claims cannot be used to sue for possession of property or to evict a tenant.
- State statute prohibits small claims actions by an assignee of a claim.
- One may not sue a governmental entity using small claims procedures.
The Sandy Justice Court has territorial jurisdiction over cases if the defendant [can be a person or a business entity] resides or the claim arises (the events happened) within the geographic boundaries of Sandy City.
- The Sandy Justice Court's territorial jurisdiction does not extend to the Salt Lake County islands located within Sandy City's peripheral limits. Those cases must be filed with the Salt Lake County Justice Court.
The Sandy City Justice Court has implemented a program whereby all small claims cases (except for those in which a waiver is granted) will be referred to mediation prior to the court holding a trial. As described below, there are several benefits to you as a party to a small claims case as well as several reasons why the court has implemented this program.
Benefits to Parties
- In mediation, the power to decide what happens in your case stays in your hands. You are the one who will decide whether to resolve your dispute and on what terms, rather than risking an adverse ruling from the judge.
- A judge can generally only hand down win/lose outcomes, and may only award a fixed monetary amount. The judge is limited from using other types of remedies. In mediation, you can devise creative solutions that are tailored to your specific situation. You can also formulate payment plans that both parties are able to live with.
Reasons for Implementation
- According to some sources, over 75% of cases that are mediated are settled by the parties. Requiring parties to mediate greatly reduced the court's case load, while at the same time allowing parties to settle their claims on mutually agreeable terms.
- Parties that agree to settle a case have ownership of that result. Parties are more likely to comply with a voluntary settlement agreement. This saves the parties and the court the time and expense of dealing with enforcement proceedings.
- Many small claims trials result in dismissals or default judgments when one or both parties fail to appear for the trial. This makes it difficult to schedule a small claims calendar, as it is impossible to know which cases will actually go forward. It also requires litigants to wait through many other trials before getting to their case. By utilizing a pre-trial activity such as mediation, the Court is able to reduce the time litigants spend waiting for other cases. If parties are unable to resolve their claims at mediation, they will be given an actual date and time for trial, just for their case, and they will not have to wait while the judge hears other cases scheduled at the same time.
SMALL CLAIMS PRE-TRIAL PROCEDURE
When a party files a new small claims case, the parties will be given a date and time to appear for a pre-trial conference. The small claims trial will NOT be held on this date. The case will be placed on a calendar with other cases, scheduled at the same time. However, because trials will not be scheduled at that time (only pre-trial conferences) you should not have to wait too long for your case to be called. If the Plaintiff fails to appear for the pre-trial conference, the case will be dismissed without prejudice (meaning the case can be re-filed). If the Defendant does not appear, the Plaintiff may be entitled to a default judgment. (It is the Plaintiff's responsibility to ensure the Defendant is properly served with a copy of the Affidavit and Summons as well as the Small Claims Mediation Program document, and to submit the Military Service Affidavit.) If both parties appear, the parties will be directed to mediation, as described below.
SMALL CLAIMS MEDIATION PROCEDURE
When both parties appear at a small claims pre-trial conference the parties will be directed to meet with one another and a mediator. The parties will be required to make a "good faith" effort to resolve their claims through mediation. If the parties are able to settle the claims, the judge will recall the case to discuss the resolution. The case will be over that day. If the parties are unable to reach a settlement, the case will be scheduled for a trial on the next available small claims calendar. The parties will be given an exact date and specific time which will be reserved for trial of only that case.
In mediation both parties will have the opportunity to sit down with a neutral party called a mediator, who will help them talk about the dispute and explore potential, mutually-agreeable solutions. The mediator is not a judge, nor will the mediator give parties legal advice. The mediator's role is to facilitate communication between the parties, help explore and evaluate possible solutions, and ultimately come to an agreement.
Mediation is confidential. Nothing that is said in mediation can be used against a party in court. While parties are being required to meet with a mediator, and attempt to mediate in good faith, the continuation of that process is voluntary. If a party is dissatisfied with the mediation or uncomfortable with the proceedings they may discontinue the mediation process and the case will be scheduled for trial.
Utah Valley University and the law school at Brigham Young University both have mediation programs. Volunteers from those programs will be available at the courthouse to provide free mediation services to you. These individuals are not employed by, or associated with Sandy City or the court, and are completely neutral. This is a mutually beneficial arrangement whereby parties are able to utilize mediation services free of charge, and the mediators can maintain the numbers of mediation hours required by their respective programs. If the parties would prefer, they may utilize (and pay for) the mediator of their choice, outside of this court-provided program. The parties may file a Stipulation indicating that mediation has already been completed and the case will be scheduled for trial.
WAIVER OF MEDIATION REQUIREMENT
Parties to the small claims case will be required to attempt mediation in good faith, as explained above. This requirement may be waived by the judge if a party files a motion requesting waiver of the mediation requirement at least five (5) business days prior to the pre-trial conference, showing "good cause" why the mediation requirement should be waived in that particular case.