Delaware Justice of the Peace Court Small Claims Actions: An Overview

Learn about filing a small claims case in Delaware Justice of the Peace Court.

What's the small claims court dollar limit in Delaware Small Claims Court?

You can ask for up to $15,000 in a small claims action filed in the Delaware Justice of the Peace Court—the court that handles small claims matters in Delaware.

Can a landlord bring an eviction lawsuit in the small claims division of Delaware Justice of the Peace Court?

Yes. Evictions are heard in Delaware Justice of the Peace Court. The small claims division is also an excellent forum for other types of cases typically brought in small claims courts, such as property damage matters and breach of contract disputes.

Where should I file my small claims case in Delaware?

Delaware has many courthouses. You must choose the proper court location or "venue," otherwise, the defendant—the person or company you sue—will be able to ask the court to transfer or dismiss your action. In Delaware, you'll file as follows:

  • in the county where the defendant resides, or
  • in eviction cases, the county where the property is located.

Go to the Delaware Secretary of State business entity search webpage for company information. Also, be aware that you might have other options, depending on your case. Most courts post venue rules on the court website.

What's the deadline to file a case in small claims court in Delaware?

You don't have an unlimited amount of time to file a claim. You'll have to bring it within the statute of limitations period for your particular case. For example, the Delaware statute of limitations is three years for contract cases and two years for personal injury and property damage cases. If you don't file within the proper period, you lose your right to sue.

Also, the statute of limitations can stop and restart depending on various circumstances, and figuring out when it expires can be challenging. For instance, if a minor is injured, the personal injury statute won't begin running until the child reaches 18 years of age. Learn more about calculating the statute of limitations.

Can an attorney represent a small claims claimant in Delaware Justice of the Peace Court?

Yes. In Delaware, attorneys can represent small claimants in the justice of the peace courts.

Does the defendant have to answer the small claims complaint?

Yes. In debt or trespass claims, the defendant must file a written answer within 15 days after receiving the court paperwork to avoid an automatic loss and default judgment. A defendant who files counterclaim above $15,000 can still pursue the counterclaim in the justice of the peace court. If the defendant wins the counterclaim, the court will document the outcome on the record, and the defendant can take the case to a higher court. Or the defendant can waive any excess over $15,000 and accept $15,000 as the judgment.

Learn what happens if you get sued in small claims court.

Will I have a judge or jury trial in small claims court in Delaware?

It depends. Delaware allows jury trials in eviction cases, but a judge will hear your case in any other type of matter. A landlord who would like a jury trial must request one within ten days of being served. Most courts require a deposit of fees to cover juror costs, as well.

Find out what to expect at the small claims trial.

Can I appeal a Delaware small claims case?

Yes. You can appeal the decision in a Delaware small claims case. In landlord/tenant summary possession cases, you must file the appeal within five business days starting from the day after the judge signs judgment. In all other cases, you must file the appeal within 15 actual days (not business days) starting from the day after judge signs judgment.

You must comply with this and other rules or you'll lose your appeal rights, so be sure to find the correct date. If you're confused about the process or how to find the date you'll use to calculate the filing deadline, talk with the court clerk or a local attorney.

Will the court collect my judgment for me?

No. You'll be responsible for all collection efforts. It's a good idea to determine whether you can collect before deciding whether to sue.

Where can I learn more about small claims cases in Delaware Justice of the Peace Court?

Most courts include filing instructions on the court website or provide self-help services. For additional resources, try Delaware's justice of the peace court and court proceedings webpages.

You can also view Delaware's small claims law online. Go to Delaware Code Online for the statutory codes (Del. Code Ann. tit. 10, §§ 9301 to 9640) and to Rules of the Delaware State Courts for the court rules (Justice of the Peace Courts, Rules 1 to 72.1).

For detailed help with case filing, court strategy, and collecting a money judgment, see Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court by Attorney Cara O'Neill (Nolo).

Look out for Legal Changes. This overview doesn't provide all of the information needed to file a small claims case. Also, keep in mind that statutes can change, and checking them is always a good idea. How the courts interpret and apply the law can also change. These are just some of the reasons to consult an attorney if you have any questions about litigating your case or if you aren't comfortable independently verifying the law.

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