Question from One of Matt’s Readers
“I am a landlord with several properties. I’ve been having a problem with a particular small claims court judge. He always want to put off rendering a decision on a cases. It takes two to three weeks to get a decision on any type of damage hearing. When I do receive the decision in the mail the amount awarded is always about half of what I asked for, with no explanation. I take meticulous records and proof to court and have everything documented. I’m always surprised when he doesn’t make a decision right there. Is the judge required to explain why he disallowed part of my damages. Is this something I should appeal? On what grounds?
or am I throwing good money after bad?”
In Marion County, Indiana, there are nine small claims courts. You can appeal judgments from these nine courts to the Marion Superior Court on any grounds. Actually, you don’t need a reason to appeal. So, one option is for you to obtain your ejectment in the small claims court and then appeal the adverse monetary judgment to the Marion Superior Court. That will be a longer process, however. That is one option.
Another option is to avoid the small claims courts completely and file all of your lawsuits in Marion Superior Court. That is a slower and more complicated process, however. My law firm had a client who experienced the same troubles that you are experiencing. That client, out of pure frustration, filed all its lawsuits in Marion Superior Court. It costs more money and often requires a lawyer’s help. That is a second option.
A third option would be to ask the judge for a few minutes of her time to discuss her court procedures in private. You cannot talk about a specific case in private with a judge, but a good judge would be receptive to a general discussion about her courtroom procedures and the evidence she requires. I would try to make that overture. That might not work, but it is probably worth a try.
A fourth option might be to change the way in which you present your case. If you do not provide the court with a one-page summary of all your damages, you should start doing so. I would label the summary as an exhibit and formally introduce it into evidence. I would make a “big deal” out of your summary of damages. It should be typed, include a title, and look like a formal document. Make it a serious effort.
Here’s yet another suggestion… file a motion to correct error or a motion to reconsider after your next inadequate judgment award. Describe why the court erred and provide an itemized damages calculation. There is not a formal means by which the court in small claims cases can consider a motion to correct error or motion to reconsider, but I would still give it a shot. If you try this, make sure you file this document soon after you get your judgment.
Another option is to simply keep doing what you’re doing. Frankly it is not unusual to wait two or three weeks to get a decision out of any judge in any court in any county in the state. So, I’m not surprised or alarmed that it is taking some time for you to get your judgments.
As a final thought, it might worth trying to bring an attorney to your next case. Judges tend to treat litigants differently when a lawyer is present. After that one case, you might find that the judge treats you differently.
I have given you several suggestions. You might experiment with one, two or all of these. Unfortunately, there is no single, absolute and perfect solution. It is frustrating when courts ignore the law and the facts. It is even more frustrating, when it seems that a court has its own agenda. Please be patient and diligent. Persistence helps as well. Keep trying, and keep fighting for a just result in your cases. For your own good, assume that it is your fault that the judgments are wrong. Assume that you could communicate your position better. In other words, don’t blame the judge for hearing you wrong. Try speaking clearer. Present a better case. You may be perfectly right and you may be doing a good job of presenting your case, but assume you could do better. You might find that a better articulated and presented case will serve you well.