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Small Claims Court

The Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office informs inquiring parties to consult with an attorney.

The Small Claims Court information is written in chronological order. You will see helpful information that begins with your claim in Small Claims Court and continues with detailed information on how you can collect on a money judgment.

You will gain the knowledge needed to work hand and hand with the Civil Division located in the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office.

[Note: The following information is designed to provide the reader  with a basic understanding of the Civil Division functions. This information is general, as its purpose should only be used as a guide. It shall not be offered as legal advice.] 

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The Small Claims Court is an informal court where individuals can sue for money only, up to $3,000 without a lawyer.

For example, if you feel that a person or business damaged something you own, you may sue that person or business for the monetary amount of your damages. You may also sue a person or business for money damages arising out of false advertising or other deceptive practices. You cannot, however, sue in Small Claims Court to compel that person or business to fix the damaged item or to require the performance of the act promised in an advertisement; your lawsuit can be only for money.

Most Small Claims Courts have a clerk who can assist you with the procedures for bringing your lawsuit. In those town or village courts that do not have clerks, the judge may assist you.

Anyone over the age of 18 years can bring an action to Small Claims Court. If you are younger than 18, your parent or guardian may file the claim for you. Corporations, partnerships, association or assignees cannot sue in Small Claims Court, but they can be sued.

If you sue in Small Claims Court, you are the claimant (plaintiff); if you have been sued, you are the defendant. You can sue more than one defendant in the same case if necessary.

If you are sued, and you believe that a third party is responsible for the claim, you may be able to bring that party into the lawsuit as a defendant. Contact the clerk of the Small Claims Court for information about a “third-party action.”

A corporation may authorize an attorney, officer, director or employee of the corporation to appear to defend a claim.

If you choose, you may be represented by an attorney at your own expense, but it is not necessary to have an attorney since Small Claims is meant to be a “people’s court” where claims may be tried speedily, informally and inexpensively. The defendant has the same choice. If there are attorneys on both sides, the case may be transferred to a regular part of the court.

There is a Small Claims Court in Dutchess County located at 10 Market Street Poughkeepsie, NY 12601, 845-431-1710. The cities of Poughkeepsie and Beacon each have a Small Claims Part. Town and village courts handle Small Claims in the municipalities where they are located.   View a list of important municipal phone numbers, including courts, in Dutchess County.

You, or someone on your behalf, must visit the Small Claims Court to file a statement of your claim.  Visit Municipal Contacts and Court Information page for contact information or contact Dutchess County Court at:
10 Market Street
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
845-431-1710

You should be prepared to give a brief statement of the facts that form the basis of your claim. Check any documents relating to your case for the relevant dates and names. If you are suing on a contract or for property damage, you may claim interest as well as damages. You must sue in a court having a Small Claims Part in an area where the defendant lives, works, or has a place of business.

You will be required to pay a filing fee of approximately $5.00, which includes the cost of mailing a notice of the claim to the defendant.

When the claim is filed, the clerk will tell you when the case will be tried. The clerk will then send the notice of claim to the defendant by both certified and regular mail. The notice of claim tells the defendant when the case will be tried and gives a brief statement of your claim and the amount of money you are seeking. If the copy of the claim sent by regular mail is not returned as undeliverable within 21 days, the defendant is presumed to have received the notice, even if the claim sent by certified mail has not been delivered.

If the notice is not delivered by the post office, the court will set a new trial date and tell you how to arrange for personal service of the notice of claim on the defendant. Personal service may be made by any person (including a friend of relative) who is 18 years of age or older. (Exception- you or any other party associated with the claim may not serve the paperwork.)

If service of the notice cannot be made upon the defendant within the four months from the date of its inception, the action will be dismissed without prejudice. You may pursue the action at a later time.

A Small Claims case will not proceed to trial until the defendant has been served with a notice of claim.

If a claimant (plaintiff) wins, the court will enter a judgment for a sum of money. The court may also require the plaintiff to take certain action. For example, the plaintiff may have to return damaged merchandise to the defendant before entering a judgment.

If a Small Claims judgment has been entered in your favor, you may obtain an information subpoena or subpoena from the Small Claims clerk upon a payment of $2.00 fee.  If you request, the clerk can assist you in the preparation and use of the information subpoena forms.  (Stationery stores such as Office Max and Staples carry these forms.)

An information subpoena is a legal document that may help you to discover the location of assets of the judgment debtor (defendant).  It is a legal direction to a person or institution to answer certain questions about where the assets of the defendant are located.  The information subpoena may be served upon the defendant or upon any person or corporation that you believe has knowledge of the defendant’s assets - the Telephone Company, Landlord, or Bank.   

Separate forms are used for service on the defendant and service on any other person or corporation.

The person or corporation served with an information subpoena must answer the questions served with the subpoena within seven days of receipt. 

The information subpoena, accompanied by two copies of written questions, and a prepaid return address envelope, may be served by ordinary or certified mail, return receipt requested.

Winning a judgment does not guarantee you will collect.

The court provides some help in the collection of judgments. For example, prior to rendering the judgment, the court can order the defendant to disclose his or her assets and restrain the defendant from disposing of them. However, you must take the necessary steps to obtain payment of your judgment.

After winning a judgment in your favor, you should try to negotiate a payment from the losing party (defendant) in order to collect on your judgment. If the defendant does not pay you directly, you may need the services of a civil law enforcement officer, namely, the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office, Civil Division.

When you cannot obtain payment directly from the defendant, you must first file at:

Dutchess County Clerk’s Office
22 Market Street
Poughkeepsie NY, 12601

You must complete this step before consulting with the Civil Division. As with all money judgments, you must file the transcript of judgment with the County Clerk’s office. For information concerning your transcript of judgment please call the County Clerk’s office at 845-486-2125.

You must provide the Civil Division with the information needed to locate assets (money or property) owned by the defendant. Our office does not research or investigate any information concerning the defendant. You have to obtain all the necessary information before the Sheriff’s office will perform any efforts to seize the assets to satisfy your judgment. The Civil law enforcement officer will request mileage and other fees before he or she seizes any assets. In many circumstances, the fees paid in advance will be added to the original judgment amount, thus, refunded to you once the defendant satisfies the judgment.  

You must determine the type of service you want  the Civil Division to perform to attempt to collect your judgement. Once this is determined, ask the County Clerk’s office for an Execution or Income Execution based on the method of collection as outlined in the following chart.

Execution  

  • Good for 60 days  
    • Bank Account
    • House or Real Estate
    • Demand 
    • Personal Property -   Automobiles

Income Execution

  • Good for 20 Days
    • Wages

Bank Accounts

One simple way to improve the chances of collecting your judgment is to learn the name and address of the bank where the defendant keeps a savings or checking account.

You may have to examine your resources.

Determine what methods of payment transpired from you to the defendant. A way to achieve this is by viewing the back of a canceled check you or a friend may have paid the defendant. With this information you could locate where the defendant banks.

The Civil Division could perform a service known as a Bank Levy and remove any funds necessary to satisfy your judgment.

Real Property - House or Real Estate

If the defendant owns real property, you may be able to collect your judgment from a Real Property Sale. The clerk will direct you to the proper office so you may review a defendants’ property ownership.

Consult with the Civil Division so they may conduct a sale at public auction.

It is your responsibility to prepare the papers to sell the property. The Civil Division, after deducting fees and expenses, will auction the property and distribute the proceeds accordingly.

This execution is rather complex. Please contact our office at:

Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office
Attention: Civil Division
150 North Hamilton Street
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
845-486-3840 

Demand

A Demand is based on the honor system. The civil law enforcement officer serves the defendant with paperwork stating there is a money judgment against him or her. The officer can only demand the money. The officer may work out a payment schedule with the defendant to satisfy the judgment, but he or she cannot force the defendant to pay.

Personal Property

Your judgment can be paid by the sale of a defendant’s personal property, such as an automobile. To proceed with a Car Levy, you must complete a Request for DMV Records (form MV-15), which can be obtained from any motor vehicle office in New York State, and mail it, with payment and a copy of your ID, to:
 
New York State Department of Motor Vehicles
MV-15 Processing
6 Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12228
 
Please note, local DMV offices cannot give you the information needed to seize a vehicle. For more information on obtaining another person’s DMV records, visit the NYS DMV website. (link to: https://dmv.ny.gov/get-another-persons-records)
 
It is your responsibility to prepare the paperwork required to sell the property. To successfully serve a Car Levy, the civil law enforcement officer will need:

  • Vehicle title abstract
  • Year and make of the car
  • License plate number
  • Location of the defendant’s car

If the officer locates the car, he or she may seize it and sell it at public auction. All proceeds from the sale of the car are used to satisfy the money judgment.

Wages

Another method of collecting on a judgment is by obtaining the defendants’ home address along with the employers’ name and physical street address. By this, you could receive the money necessary to satisfy your judgment as well as collect on a great deal of interest that accrues from the time the judgment was first rendered.

Note: An Income Execution is only acceptable in our office when signed by an attorney or County Clerk.

If the defendant is employed and earns the minimum salary as required by Federal Law, you may be entitled to a wage garnishment. Civil Law dictates the following: An employer by law must deduct 10% of the defendant’s salary until the judgment is paid in full. Before a wage garnishment can be performed, a defendant must be given the opportunity to pay voluntarily. (Civil Law gives the defendant 20 days to pay voluntarily.) Failure to remit any money would result in an immediate wage garnishment.

A defendant may file for bankruptcy. Our office requires proof of this filing by the bankruptcy attorney. A temporary stay is placed on the judgment pending the outcome of the bankruptcy court.