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Justice Court

Personal property damages, contract disputes, recovery of personal property, recovery of money, interpleader, County ordinances, protection orders, forcible entry, unlawful detainer, and landlord/tenant disputes. The amount in controversy, or the value of the property, cannot exceed $12,000 for Civil Claims or $7,000 for Small Claims.

Neither the Clerks nor the Judge can provide you with legal advice. Questions should be directed to an attorney or you may review the Montana Justice Court Rules of Civil Procedure.

Documents

A basic comparison between civil and small claim lawsuits.

CIVIL SUIT SMALL CLAIMS
Claim Limit $12,000 $7,000
Filing Fee $50 $30
Service Jurisdiction Defendant can be served anywhere in the State. Defendant must be served in Carbon County.
Type of Action Justice Court has jurisdiction, in part, over contract obligations, landlord-tenant issues including non-payment of rent and possession of rental property, collection of money owed, and recovery of personal property. Small Claims is limited to the recovery of money or personal property

PRE-REQUISITE: before filing a Small Claims suit, a certified letter must be sent to the debtor demanding payment. A copy of the letter must be attached to the Complaint.

Filing the Complaint The Complaint can be filed with the Court in person or by mail. The person filing the suit must personally appear and sign the Complaint before the Court Clerk.
Agents, Corporations, Partnerships The law requires that these entities file the Complaint through an attorney. An agent may file the Complaint on behalf of a corporation or partnership.
Attorneys Optional Not permitted
Service of Papers Plaintiff is responsible for arranging service by the Sheriff’s Office or private process server. Plaintiff is responsible for arranging service by the Sheriff’s Office or private process server.
Service Costs Fees associated with service of documents on Defendant are the same in both Courts. Fees associated with service of documents on Defendant are the same in both Courts.
Procedures A Defendant has 20 days from the service of a Complaint and Summons to file an Answer (10 business days if the Complaint is for possession of rental property). If the Defendant fails to file an answer, the Plaintiff may file a written request for a default judgment. If the Defendant does file an Answer, a pretrial conference and trial will be set. A trial date is scheduled when the Complaint is filed. The Defendant must be served at least 5 days prior to the trial. If service is not made within that time, the trial must be re-scheduled, and Plaintiff will again need to arrange service on the Defendant.
Trial Bench or Jury Trial Bench Trial Only
Appeals Appeals must be filed within 30 days from the date of judgment. Either party dissatisfied with a judgment may appeal to District Court. Appeals must be filed within 10 days from the date of judgment, however appeals are limited to questions of law only.
Filing Limitations None Ten cases in a calendar year.

Neither the Clerks nor the Judge can provide you with legal advice. Questions should be directed to an attorney or you may review the Montana Justice Court Rules of Civil Procedure.

Not all charges in Justice Court are issued in citation format but, rather, are filed by the County Attorney as a criminal complaint. During an initial appearance before the Judge, a Defendant will, in part, be advised of their rights and receive a copy of the Complaint. Unless the Complaint is a felony, a Defendant will enter a plea of not guilty, guilty, or nolo contendere (a plea the Defendant does not admit guilt, but believes that a Judge or jury would issue a guilty verdict). A not guilty plea results in scheduling a pretrial hearing and a jury or bench trial. Defendants may be entitled to a Court appointed attorney if he/she cannot afford an attorney and if the offense could result in jail time. Conditions of release and, if applicable, a bail amount will be issued by the Judge. If a Defendant pleads guilty or nolo contendere, a sentence will be imposed by the Judge.

Traffic violations, fish and game violations, misdemeanor offenses, alcohol involving juveniles, and preliminary hearings.