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Are you considering filing a small claims lawsuit in Dutchess County? Small claims court is meant to be the "People's Court," where claims may be tried speedily, informally, and inexpensively. To learn how to file a lawsuit in Dutchess County, NY, read the article below.
Common Types of Dutchess County Small Claims Lawsuits
Dutchess County small claims court handles a variety of small claims cases. Generally, as long as there is not a better court that can handle your lawsuit, you can file your case in Dutchess County small claims court. For example, Housing Court is the court that handles evictions, so if you want to evict someone, you would file your case in that court instead.
Here are common types of small claims lawsuits filed in Dutchess County small claims court:
You hired a contractor to remodel your home in Beacon, and they overcharged you after completing the work.
Someone hit your car and refuses to pay for the damages.
You own a small business in Rhinebeck, and your client refuses to pay outstanding invoices for services rendered.
Your neighbor crashed their car into your mailbox and refuses to pay for the damages.
You purchased a refrigerator on Facebook Marketplace that was advertised as new, but when you installed the refrigerator, it didn’t work and had significant wear and tear.
You moved out of your apartment in Red Hook, and your landlord refuses to return your security deposit.
You loaned your coworker money, and they won’t pay back the loan amount.
You rent out an apartment in Poughkeepsie, and the tenant refuses to pay the rent.
Note that in Dutchess County, you cannot sue someone in any small claims court to force them to do something or return your property. You can only sue for money. For example, if you hired a mechanic to repair your car and they refuse to make the repairs, you cannot sue them in small claims court to force them to make the repairs. However, you can sue them for however much you paid to have the repairs done.
Dutchess County Small Claims Limits
The small claims “limits” determine how much you can sue for in Dutchess County small claims.
There are two types of small claims courts in Dutchess County:
Town and Village Courts
The most important difference between these two courts is the amount you can sue for.
In Dutchess County city court, the maximum you can sue for is $5,000.
In Dutchess County town and village courts, the maximum amount you can sue for is $3,000.
What happens if the other party owes me more than what I can sue for in Dutchess County small claims?
If the other party owes you more than the small claims limit, you may want to consider filing your lawsuit in a different court, like a regular civil court.
However, Dutchess County small claims courts are more affordable, efficient, and faster than other types of courts.
You also 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.
Dutchess County Small Claim Court Locations
There are two city courts in Dutchess County that handle small claims cases for up to $5,000:
Poughkeepsie City Court
62 Civic Center Plaza
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
Beacon City Court
One Municipal Plaza
Beacon, NY 12508
There are also dozens of town and village courts in Dutchess County that handle small claims. Use the New York Courts’ website to locate a specific town or village court near you. Remember, in Dutchess 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 any of the following cities, towns, or villages, you can sue them in a Dutchess County small claims court:Amenia, Annandale-On-Hudson, Beekman, Bangall, Barrytown, Beacon, Billings, Castle Point, Chelsea, Clinton, Dover Plains, Fishkill, Glenham, Holmes, Hopewell Junction, Hughsonville, Hyde Park, Lagrangeville or LaGrande, Milan, Millbrook, Millerton, North East, Pawling, Pine Plains, Pleasant Valley, Poughkeepsie, Poughquag, Red Hook, Rhinebeck, Rhinecliff, Salt Point, Staatsburg, Stanfordville or Standford, Stormville, Tivoli, Verbank, Wappingers, Wappingers Falls, Washington, Wassaic, and Wingdale.
How Do I Calculate How Much to Sue For?
Calculating how much to sue for can be 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. At the hearing, the judge will want to know how you calculated the amount you are suing for.
Here are some tips for calculating how much to sue for:
Use receipts. For example, you hired painters to come paint your home in Rhinebeck. It costs you $1,500 to paint your home. However, the painters only paint half of your home and never come back. You can use invoices and receipts to figure out the total amount the painters owe you for only completing half the work.
Use estimates. For example, you hired a mechanic to repair the brakes on your car. The mechanic improperly repairs your brakes, and now you need completely new brakes. Go to another mechanic and ask for an estimate to see how much it will cost you to buy new brakes and install them in your car.
How Much Does it Cost to Sue in Dutchess County Small Claims?
If you are an individual suing another individual or business in a Dutchess 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 suing on behalf of a corporation, partnership, or association, 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 a Dutchess County town or village court ranges from $10-$15. Confirm current filing fees with the specific town or village court you wish to file for up-to-date fees.
What if you cannot afford to pay your filing fees?
If you are low-income and cannot afford to pay filing costs, you can apply for a waiver of your court fees. This fee waiver is called unfortunately called the Poor Person Relief in New York state. Don’t let this deter you from seeking justice in court.
To file for a Poor Person Relief waiver, you should call the court clerk’s office you are suing in. Different judges require different proof to decide your fee waiver request.
Be prepared to potentially submit additional items to prove you do not have the money to pay your court costs.
Is it Worth it to Sue Someone in Dutchess County Small Claims?
This is really something only you can decide. However, most of our clients use a cost versus benefit analysis when analyzing if it’s worth suing in small claims court.
Here is how some of our clients measure the cost v. benefit of going to small claims:
Cost. If you only spend $20 but win $3,000, this is very affordable. The judge could even award you court costs, which means the other party has to pay your court costs as well as what they owe you.
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.
Likelihood of winning or settling your case. Just as with regular courts, most small claims courts settle before the hearing, which means you could get your money back more quickly. You should also consider if you are likely to win your case. Do you have the evidence necessary to back up the claims you are bringing to small claims court?
Time and effort spent. Because of our current court system, it is hard to calculate how much time you will spend on a lawsuit. 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. Luckily People Clerk can help you prepare and file your small claims lawsuit from home while we take care of the logistics.
Justice. It may not be about money, time, or effort. For some people, just knowing they are deterring someone from hurting others the way they got hurt is reason enough.
Statute of Limitations and Dutchess Small Claims
Statute of limitations, which are deadlines, let you know by when you should file a small claims lawsuit in Dutchess 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 personal injury cases and breach of contract cases.
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 file my small claims lawsuit right away? There are several reasons you should file your lawsuit as quickly as possible. (1) You may need more time in case you file your lawsuit incorrectly the first time around. (2) You may lose evidence the longer you wait.(3) You begin to lose credibility the more you wait, and the judge will want to know why you waited so long to file.
What to Do Before You File in Dutchess County Small Claims?
Here are some steps you can take before you file a small claims suit:
Consider sending a demand letter.
Decide where to file the lawsuit.
Determine who needs to sue (the "claimants").
Determine who you need to sue (the "defendants").
Make sure to have the information you will need to prepare the small claims lawsuit.
Consider Sending a Demand Letter
In Dutchess County small claims court, individuals filing a lawsuit are not required to send a demand letter before filing.
Even if you are not required to send a demand letter, here are at least three good reasons why you should send a demand letter before filing a small claims lawsuit in Dutchess County:
When you send a demand letter, you are likely to be taken more seriously by the other party. This demand letter should include your intent to sue in small claims court if the dispute is not resolved.
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.
By sending a demand letter, you may be able to settle the case outside of court, which means no court costs!
If you are suing on behalf of a corporation, partnership, or association (known as a commercial claim), and you are suing an individual based on a consumer transaction, there are different rules to follow:
A consumer transaction involves a transaction between you (the corporation, partnership, or association) and an individual for “money, property, or service which is the subject of the transaction is primarily for personal, family or household purposes.” See UCT 1801-A(b).
You are required to mail a demand letter at least 10 days before filing.
You may need to include a copy of your demand letter with the lawsuit when you file.
Decide in Which Court to File Your Dutchess County Small Claims Lawsuit
In Dutchess County, you can file your small claims lawsuit either in one of the City Courts or one of the various town and village Justice Courts. However, before going to your nearest Dutchess County small claims court to file your small claims lawsuit, make sure you determine which court has "authority" over the other party. This is known as "jurisdiction."
City Courts. To sue someone in any of the Dutchess County City Courts, the other party must live, work or have an office in Dutchess County. Also, if you are suing a landlord, you can sue the landlord where the rented unit is located in Dutchess County as long as the small claims lawsuit concerns the rented unit. See Uniform City Court Act (UCT) Chapter 497, Article 18.
Town & Village Courts. To sue someone in a Dutchess County town or village Justice Court, the other party must live, work, or have an office in that Dutchess 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 Dutchess County town or village as long as the small claims lawsuit concerns the rented unit. See Uniform Justice Court Act (UJC) Chapter 898, Article 18.
Why can't all courts have authority over the other party? Your elected officials set these jurisdiction rules. The logic is that it isn't fair for someone without a connection to Dutchess County to be sued in Dutchess 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”)
In Dutchess County small claims court, the person or business filing the lawsuit is usually referred to as the claimant. Deciding who needs to be included in a lawsuit as a claimant is normally an easy determination. Ask yourself, who is owed money? Anyone who is owed money should be included in the lawsuit.
Note that it is always 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, a judge may have you refile the lawsuit.
Here are some common examples we see trip up our clients:
You and your roommate just moved out of a rental unit in Millerton. When you both moved in, you had to pay a $1,000 deposit. Your landlord has refused to return the security deposit because they claim you owe rent payments. 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 friend’s car, and another driver hit you while driving. It will cost $1,500 to fix the car. Your friend should be included in the lawsuit since they are the registered owner.
Determine Who You Need to Sue (the “Defendants”).
The person or business being sued is usually referred to as the defendant in Dutchess County small claims court. To determine who needs to be sued, ask yourself, “who is responsible for what happened to me?”
Determining who to sue can get tricky depending on your particular case. Here are some tips to help you make this determination:
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 the wrong person in security deposit cases. For example, someone may sue their property management company instead of their landlord, but it is their landlord that has their security deposit. 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.
Be careful with 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, if it’s not the same person.
Make Sure to Have the Information You Will Need to Prepare the Small Claims Lawsuit
Oftentimes, people don’t take the time to prepare their Dutchess County small claims lawsuit. Before you file, you need to make sure you have the correct information for the person or business you are suing.
To sue an individual in Dutchess County small claims court:
You will need the individual’s full legal name and their Dutchess County home, office, or work address. You will be asked this information on the forms you need to file to start your lawsuit.
You won’t be able to list P.O. Boxes. You need to provide a Dutchess County street address that corresponds to where the individual lives, works or has an office.
What do you do if you 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.
To sue a business in Dutchess County small claims court:
Spend the time to figure out the correct business information to list on your Dutchess County small claims lawsuit.
You may want to narrow down a business’s official legal name before suing them in Dutchess 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 ABC Builders to fix your front driveway. ABC Builders never show up, so you decide to sue them in Dutchess County small claims. You first need to determine whether ABC Builders is a corporation, LLC, or an individual using the name ABC Builders.
Many businesses also do business using a name other than their official legal name. This is called an “assumed name,”"dba," "fictitious business name,” or “trade name.”
Search for a business's assumed name on the Department of State website or with the County Clerk’s office in the county where they have an address.
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 be able to collect any money judgments from the correct business.
How to File a Small Claims Lawsuit in Dutchess County Small Claims Court
Generally, there are about 4 steps to taking someone to small claims court in Dutchess County:
Prepare the lawsuit.
File the lawsuit.
Serve the lawsuit.
Prepare for the small claims hearing.
We break down each one of these steps below.
Preparing Your Small Claims Lawsuit
If you are suing as an individual in a Dutchess County City Court, you will need to properly fill out a Small Claims Application.
If you are not suing as an individual, you need to fill out the Commercial Claim Application. Note, there may be additional forms you have to fill out when filing a commercial claim.
Filing Your Small Claims Lawsuit
You can submit the Dutchess County small claims forms in person or by mail.
It is good practice to take 2 copies of the form properly filled out but don’t sign them until you are in front of the court clerk.
Make sure to take proper payment. This may be a check, money order, or cash.
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 win your small claims lawsuit, the most important thing you need to do is prepare for the hearing. Here are some ways you can prepare for your Dutchess County small claims court hearing:
Research the law. It is good practice to know which laws support your claims. For example, if you moved out of your apartment in Beacon and your landlord refuses to return your security deposit, review New York security deposit laws, so you know which claims you can legally make against your landlord at the hearing. If you have any doubts about any of your claims, consider consulting with an attorney.
Prepare your evidence. When we say prepare your evidence, we mean you should gather all the evidence in your case and organize it with dates and titles. For example, if you own a small business in Fishkill and your client refuses to pay their outstanding invoices, include the invoices you have sent the client (in chronological order, if possible) along with other correspondence between you and your client. Remember, in small claims court, it is your responsibility to prove to the judge why and how much the other party owes you. People Clerk can help you organize your evidence for your Dutchess County small claims hearing.
Prepare what you will say at the hearing. At small claims hearings, the judge asks both parties to present their side of the story. Typically, the person who brought the lawsuit goes first. This is where you have the chance to let the judge know why you are suing the other party, how much you are suing them for, and how you calculated that amount.
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.
What Accommodations Can the Court Provide?
The New York State Unified Court System provides a number of ADA accommodations and other reasonable accommodations for those who need assistance while pursuing their case in court. For example, if you or a witness do not speak English well, you can tell the clerk when you file your lawsuit that you will need an official interpreter.
To find out what can be done for you, make sure to call the court or the clerk and convey your needs, they will tell you what needs to be done in order to accommodate those needs.
Can I Have a Lawyer Represent Me in Dutchess County Small Claims?
Yes, a lawyer can represent you in Dutchess County small claims, or you can also choose to represent yourself. Ultimately, this decision is yours 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.
Note that 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 Dutchess 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.
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, in Dutchess county small claims court, the court can’t force someone to give you back your property. So if this is something you would like, you can make it a term of your settlement.
Dutchess County may offer 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.
Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Claudia holds a J.D. degree and is a certified mediator in New York and Florida. She has participated in dozens of small claims mediations in New York City courts.