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What are Georgia Small Claims Cases and Class Action Lawsuits?

In the State of Georgia, small claims and class action lawsuits are types of civil cases handled by the Georgia Courts. Small claims suits are filed by a person or business to recover an amount under $15,000 for an injury. According to O. C. G.A § 15–10–2, the Magistrate Court, present in each county, has judicial power to resolve these cases. Whereas class action lawsuits are civil claims filed by a group or class of people for an identical injury, usually against a business, corporation, or the state. Depending on the type of injury suffered, a class action lawsuit may be filed in a Georgia state or federal court. However, a majority of these cases are handled by the Federal District Courts. Anyone can begin a small action or class action suit in Georgia.

What is a Class Action Lawsuit in Georgia?

The court procedure and adjudication of class action lawsuits in Georgia are regulated by O. C. G.A § 9–11–23, for cases petitioned in the state courts. Meanwhile, lawsuits filed in a federal court are governed by Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The definition of a class-action lawsuit or “collective action” is the same under these laws. Principally, a class action lawsuit refers to a court procedure whereby many individuals petition to resolve a corporation’s wrongdoing simultaneously. Class action petitions can result from securities fraud, overdue wages, faulty consumer products, deceptive advertising, hazardous drugs/products, and shareholder/investor claims, among others.

How do I File a Claim in a Georgia Small Claims Court?

A plaintiff may sue another person or business (defendant) for damages worth less than $15,000 in a Georgia Magistrate Court. Before initiating any claim in court, an individual must have adequate proof that another party rightly owes money for an injury sustained. Evidence may be in the form of a receipt, witness, guarantee, affidavit, bill of sale, or warranty.

Claims must be filed in the resident county of a defendant, where a business is physically established, or where the registered agent of a business is located. This claim can be filed by an individual (18 years and older), an agent of a company, or a legal guardian on account of a minor person, against an individual or a corporation. An interested party may find a registered agent for an incorporated business through the Secretary of State’s Corporation Division or by contacting the division on (404) 656–2817. When a business is not a corporation, claims should be filed in the county where the brick and mortar location of the business can be found.

To begin a small claims action, an individual must file the Statement of Claim and Sheriff’s Entry of Service forms. These forms are available online on the Magistrate Courts’ websites and can be filed in-person at the court, electronically, or by mail. Plaintiffs are required to pay the filing and service fee. These fees are different in each county and can be found on court websites or by contacting the Clerk of Magistrate Court. Once a case is filed, a defendant who has been served with a summons and complaint has 30 days to respond to the service. There is an additional 15 days in which the defendant is in default but may still file an answer with the court. When a defendant fails to respond at the expiration of the 45 days, the judge may enter a default judgment at the request of the plaintiff.

When the defendant responds within the approved statutory time limits, the court schedules a hearing date within 15 to 30 days of that response. However, before that date, some courts may attempt to have the parties agree to a settlement. Anyone who disagrees with the outcome of a case may appeal the case to a county Superior or State Court within 30 days of the judgment. However, a default judgment cannot be appealed. It is important to bear in mind that the court cannot force a defendant to pay for the damages. Plaintiffs are fully responsible for collecting their award (judgment). The following collection methods can be used to recover damages:

  • Proof of judgment (Fieri Facias or Fi-Fa) to place a lien on the defendant’s real property
  • Using a collection company to recover the debt
  • Request a payment plan from the court
  • Garnishment (an order requiring a defendant’s employer to settle the plaintiff out of the salary of the defendant, or for a bank to do the same to a defendant’s bank account)

Interested persons may find further information on the Georgia small claims court processes on the state’s website.

Do I Need a Small Claims Lawyer?

Plaintiffs and defendants have the option of hiring a small claims lawyer or proceeding pro se (without legal counsel) in the Georgia Magistrate Courts. It may be worthwhile to retain a lawyer if the defendant has one to protect a person’s interests. In addition, lawyers can offer sound legal advice, prepare evidence for a case, and represent a litigant in court.

How do Class Action Lawsuits Work in Georgia?

Typically, class action lawsuits occur when many people have the same complaint about a corporation for a personal or financial injury. For instance, dangerous pharmaceuticals or false advertisements. Filings in the state courts follow the provisions of O. C. G.A § 9–11–23. After a grievance is filed with the court, it must go through a certification or approval process to be designated as a class-action lawsuit and subsequently be resolved by the court. To certify a class-action lawsuit, a judge will consider factors such as:

  • If there are several people involved in the lawsuit that pursuing independent actions will be ineffective
  • If the class representative(s) and group members have a common legal problem
  • If the representative party or parties can sufficiently represent the class’ interests
  • If the group’s claim against a defendant or several defendants is valid

When a case is certified, it will proceed to the pretrial discovery stage, where relevant documents and evidence are exchanged between the opposing parties. In most cases, a lawsuit will be resolved before a trial by settlement. For cases that are not certified in one court, the lawyer representing the group may file the claim in another court, depending on the reason for rejection. Given the complexities of these cases, the time to resolution is lengthier than other civil claims, spanning months and years.

Is a Class Action Better Than a Single Party Suit?

Depending on the nature of a case, an individual may decide to file for a class action or single party lawsuit. Usually, class action suits are filed or joined when it is not feasible to pursue a claim independently because of litigation expenses. Also, these lawsuits are more cost-effective and less hands-on than individual actions. However, where a party’s interests will be better represented in a single party suit, or where a party wants to conclude a case quickly, it may be more prudent to file an independent claim with the court instead.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the document or person involved

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party websites may vary.

What Cases are Heard by Small Claims Courts in Georgia?

In Georgia, the Magistrate Courts hear matters for small claims that are $15,000 or less in controversy. Cases heard by this court include contract disputes, property disputes, landlord-tenant disputes, and employment wage disputes. However, the court cannot resolve domestic or family-related claims. Neither can it grant injunctive remedies (court orders requiring a party to perform or desist from an action) or hear real estate ownership claims.

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