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What are Michigan Small Claims Cases and Class Action Lawsuits?

Individuals who have been treated wrongly, are owed money, or have suffered property destruction, can seek legal action to recover damages in the State of Michigan. Usually, this happens when out-of-court dispute resolution methods such as mediation fail to work. When the claim involves money amounting to $6,500 or less in controversy, it is a small claims case and can be filed in the Michigan District Court or the District Court itself. On the other hand, when the claim is to obtain relief for a similar injury suffered by several people, it is referred to as a class-action lawsuit. Typically, class action suits are filed by one or more persons, “representatives,” on account of a wider group or class. Due to the size of plaintiffs and the intricacy of these cases, most class action cases are filed with the Federal District Courts in Michigan.

What is a Class Action Lawsuit in Michigan?

In Michigan, federal and state courts hear class action lawsuits. These lawsuits are mostly handled by the federal courts, even if filed in a state court initially. Depending on the court, a case will either be regulated by state or federal law or court rules. The Michigan class action court rule is derived from the federal rule. As such, this rule has the same eligibility requirements for plaintiffs as with its federal counterpart, even though there are a few differences, such as the class certification period (the statutory time limits within which a case can be allowed to proceed in court).

In simple terms, a class action lawsuit is a legal process where one or more persons, also known as representative parties or class representatives, file a petition on behalf of a larger group to seek damages for a similar issue. An individual, or group, can either file a new claim or join an existing one, depending on the circumstances of a case. Class action suits may involve defective products, employee age discrimination, fraudulent services, sexual assault, nonpayment of wages, harmful drugs, insurance lawsuits, false advertising, and more. The prerequisites to move forward with a class action case in a Michigan federal or state court are provided in Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 and Rule 3.501, respectively.

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

The filing procedures for a small claims case follow provisions established under Michigan law, specifically MCL 600.8401 to 600.8427. Typically, these cases begin when individuals or businesses who cannot resolve their disputes through mediation or settlement file a petition in the small claims division of the District Court, also known as the Small Claims Court. Before bringing an action to court, it is important to note the following:

  • Under MCL 600.8424, claims involving libel, assault/battery, slander, fraud, and other deliberate injuries cannot be filed with the Small Claims Division; neither can claims against the state or state agencies.
  • In filing a lawsuit in the Small Claims Court, an individual forfeits the right to a jury trial, an attorney, the right to recover any amount exceeding $6,500, and the right to appeal a judge’s decision.
  • A small claims case can only be filed within statutory limits—within three years of a personal or property injury (MCL 600.5805) and within six years for a breach of contract claim not described under MCL 600.5807 (2) to (8).
  • A petition can be filed by an individual, sole proprietor, partner, or corporation, or by a person on behalf of a county, village, city, township, or local/intermediate school district. However, a full-time employee may represent a sole proprietor, partner, or corporation if such a person has personal or direct knowledge of the dispute in question. While an appointed officer or employee with such knowledge may file for a county, village, city, township, or school district. Where such a person is unavailable, whether due to illness or termination of employee duties, the following persons may file the claim (MCL 600.8408):
    • The employee’s supervisor, a partner, the owner, or a member of the corporation’s board of directors
    • The officer’s successor, employee’s supervisor, or a member of the county’s government
  • The proper venue of filing. As a rule, cases must be filed in the District Court, where the defendant resides, the business is located, or the incident occurred. An interested person may find a map of the District Courts on the Michigan judiciary’s website.
  • An individual cannot exceed five filings in one week in a Small Claims Court. Whereas an individual filing on behalf of a county, village, township, or city cannot exceed 20 filings (MCL 600.8407).
  • Before trial, plaintiffs or defendants have the right to remove their cases from the small claims division to the general civil division of the District Court and have their cases heard by a District Court judge. These parties also have the right to demand that a judge hear their case in the small claims division, rather than a magistrate. Though persons who file in the general District Court have the right of counsel restored to them, they lose the right to an appeal when the case is adjudicated by a District Court judge. The loss of the appeal option also applies to cases heard by a judge in the Small Claims Court. When a magistrate decides a small claims case, any party to the case (plaintiff or defendant) can appeal the decision within seven days. A judge will hear this appeal.

Persons interested in transferring their cases to the general civil division may complete and file the Demand and Order for Removal Form (DC 86). This document can be found on the Michigan Courts’ form page.

To begin a small claims action, an individual must complete and file a notarized Affidavit and Claim Form (DC 84) and serve the defendant with a summons and complaint. Among the information that will be needed to complete Form DC 84 are the defendant’s name/address, the reason for filing a petition, and the amount sought to reclaim. The DC84 form and other required forms can be found online on the SCAO Small Claims Forms page or in paper form at the appropriate District Court with an instruction sheet on completing the form. Some courts or counties, including Lansing County District Court and Waterford County, also provide forms and instruction sheets on their websites. A petitioner must pay the filing and services fees for a claim or request a waiver from the court with the Affidavit and Order, Suspension of Fees/Costs Form (MC 20).. Filing fees are uniform across the courts but vary by the dollar amount recoverable in damages:

  • $30 for claims $600 or less
  • $50 for claims from $600.01 to $1,750
  • $70 for claims from $1,750.01 to $6,500

In cases where a plaintiff succeeds in a petition, the judge may order the defendant to reimburse the plaintiff for the filing fee. Filing can be done in person or by mail. Petitioners will also be required to provide copies of supporting documents such as leases, receipts, estimates, contracts, guarantees, etc.

Although the court procedures across the Michigan counties are similar, it is still important to check local court rules and procedures. Most District Courts have the filing, service, counterclaim, hearing, removal, dismissal, and judgment information for small claims petitions published on their main websites.

Do I Need a Small Claims Lawyer?

Small claims petitions can be filed in the small claims division or general civil division of the Michigan District Court. Plaintiffs who file civil suits with the Small Claims Courts give up certain legal rights (MCL 600.8412),, including the right to counsel. Only persons filing in the general civil division of the District Court have the right to be represented by a lawyer in Michigan. As with all civil cases, litigants are completely responsible for attorney fees; the court cannot appoint an attorney to represent any person in a civil case. In the regular court, an attorney can file the claim and appear in place of the litigant, unless in cases where a client’s testimony is required. However, in the Small Claims Court, litigants need only describe the reason for litigation in front of a magistrate or judge, who will then make a ruling based on the facts presented. Litigants may subpoena witnesses, testify, and present evidence to support their claims.

How do Class Action Lawsuits Work in Michigan?

In Michigan, class action lawsuits are resolved by the federal or state courts. A person (lead plaintiff or representative party) may petition the court on behalf of many others for a matching legal issue. Often, the defendant is a company accused of perpetrating an injury on multiple parties.

The Michigan Courts handle these actions per the provisions of MCL Rule 3.501. Typically, a case begins when a complaint or petition is filed with the court. However, before a case can proceed in court, a judge must certify it. This means that there must be proof of the class-action status. This process is also known as the “class certification.” and must be requested within 91 days of filing a motion, after service of process to the defendant(s) has taken place or the statutory period for service is expired. The exception to this rule is if a sufficient or adequate reason exists to allow the court to proceed with consideration.

MCL Rule 3.501 (A) and (B) outline criteria used to determine if it is appropriate to maintain a case as a class action, including whether the interests of the class are aptly represented and protected by the lead plaintiff(s), if all plaintiffs have legitimate and identical claims, or if litigation is inadequate for an individual claim. Cases that are certified move to the discovery phase (exchange of evidence and documents) and may be settled by negotiation without a trial or with a trial. There is no fixed limit for the length of time in which these cases can be resolved.

Is a Class Action Better Than a Single Party Suit?

In determining whether it is better to file or join a class action or begin an individual lawsuit in court, it is necessary to consider the facts surrounding a case. Persons who cannot afford the litigation expenses or whose claims would be inconsequential for a single party suit may be better off joining a class action suit. Not only are the litigation costs for class action suits less costly because it is shared among class members, but also, most attorneys charge a contingency fee for these cases. This fee is a percentage of any settlement money occurring from the lawsuit, which must be approved by the judge. If the court rules in favor of the defendant, plaintiffs are not liable for any attorney fees. This is quite different from single party suits where petitioners are wholly responsible for their legal costs. However, individuals who sustained damage more substantial than those borne by other class members and who can afford the legal fees may proceed with a claim individually.

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 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 Michigan?

The Small Claims Courts in Michigan hear civil cases that do not exceed $6,500 in monetary damages. Examples of these cases include:

  • Landlord-tenant disputes involving rent or security deposits
  • Car accidents relating to insurance policies
  • Dishonored checks (insufficient funds)
  • Contract disagreements, including breach of contract
  • Property damages

As stated earlier, claims for willful damages cannot be filed in the Small Claims Court, whether or not they satisfy the jurisdictional limit for small claims cases. Other than the types of cases listed above and in MCL 600.8424, there are also conversion, trespass, and false imprisonment cases, which are categorized as intentional torts, and cannot be initiated in the court.

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