You can ask for up to $12,000 in the small claims division in Pennsylvania Magisterial District Court—the court that handles small claims matters in Pennsylvania. Small claims matters are also heard in Philadelphia Municipal Court.
Evictions aren't heard in the small claims division of Pennsylvania Magisterial District Court. However, it's an excellent forum for other types of cases typically brought in small claims courts, too, such as property damage cases and breach of contract disputes.
Pennsylvania has many Magisterial District Courts. 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 Pennsylvania, you can file where:
You might have other options, depending on your case. Most courts post venue rules on the court website.
You don't have an unlimited amount of time to file a lawsuit. You'll have to bring it within the statute of limitations period for your particular case. For example, you'll have two years for injury and property damage cases, and four years for contract matters. If you don't file within this period, you lose your right to sue.
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.
Lawyers can appear on behalf of small claims plaintiffs or claimants in Magisterial District Court.
A judge will hear your case at the Magisterial District Court small claims hearing. If either side asks for a jury trial in Magisterial District Court, the court will transfer the case to a higher court. Jury trials aren't allowed in Philadelphia Municipal Court (other than on appeal). Find out what to expect at the small claims trial.
Yes. Pennsylvania law allows either party to file an appeal within 30 days of entry of judgment. You'll want to find out how you'll receive notice of the entry of judgment. In many small claims courts, the clerk sends a notification by mail, but you'll need to verify the procedure used by your court. You must comply with this and other rules, so be sure to do your research and count the dates accurately, or talk with a local attorney.
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.
Most courts include filing instructions on the court website or provide self-help services. For additional resources, try the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Magisterial District Court pamphlet. You can also view Pennsylvania law online on the Pennsylvania General Assembly webpage. (42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 1123 and 1515; Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, Rules 400 to 405, 1002, 1006, 2179; Rules of Civil Procedure Governing Actions and Proceedings Before Magisterial District Judges, Rules 301 to 342; and Philadelphia Municipal Court Rules of Civil Practice, Rules 101 to 144.)
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.
Updated February 7, 2020