Is conciliation Court right for me?
"Conciliation Court," sometimes called "small claims court" is a less formal court proceeding set up for people to be able to manage some legal claims without attorneys (think Judge Judy).
Whether conciliation court is right for you depends on a number of factors. Conciliation court in Minnesota is only for disputes with a dollar value of $15,000 or less, and cannot be used for defamation (someone harming your reputation), title to real estate (boundary line disputes or claims of who owns real estate), or medical malpractice claims (suing your doctor).
Instead most conciliation court cases are about small amounts of money loaned to another but not paid back, a landlord security deposit dispute, or someone owes you money for work completed that remains unpaid after demand.
Disclosure issues in real estate are often brought in conciliation court, for example whether a seller knew about and lied about a problem with real estate before a sale. A common scenario is when a seller claims there has been no water intrusion problems with a property in its disclosures to a buyer. Soon after the sale, a rainstorm floods the basement and the repair crew says that they have been out for a similar problem to that same home recently. The buyer can sue in conciliation court for the amounts rightfully owed by the seller for the misrepresentation.
plaintiff's claim & summons
Your "claim" should state the reasons that you believe you should be paid money, the person who owes you that money, and the specific amounts that you are demanding. Try to include the who, what, where, when, and why in enough detail so that the Judge or referee is able to quickly understand your issues and so that the person you are making claims against has a fair opportunity to respond.
Minnesota Guide & File allows you to type up your claim against the person from whom you seek money.
Minnesota Guide & File is fairly new online system that allows users to create certain court forms necessary for conciliation court. To start a case, select Interview: Conciliation Court Complaint and fill out the required information Review your forms on the Summary Page. Print or eFile.
Your claim should state all of the facts that you believe are necessary for the judge to understand what wrong occurred and why you should be paid the amounts you are claiming are owed to you. For example, in a real estate sale disclosure case, at a minimum you would want to state the date and person signing the disclosures, the content of the disclosures, the reasons you believe that the person signing the disclosures was untruthful, the date of the real estate closing, how you came to learn of the undisclosed problem, and specifically how that problem has cost you money. You should take some time to layout and simplify your story to the Court so that the Judge or Referee can understand your concerns quickly and easily.
mailing or service of the summons
In order to win a case, the person making the claim must prove that the other people involve have notice of the claim.
Rule 508(d), Minn. Gen. R. Prac. states how that notice is to be given:
(1) If the defendant’s address as shown on the statement of claim is within the county, the administrator shall summon the defendant by first class mail, except that if the claim exceeds $2,500 the summons must be served by the plaintiff by certified mail, and proof of service must be filed with the administrator. If the summons is not properly served and proof of service filed within 60 days after issuance of the summons, the action shall be dismissed without prejudice.
(2) If the defendant’s address as shown on the statement of claim is outside the county but within the state, and the law provides for service of the summons anywhere within the state, the administrator shall summon the defendant by first class mail, except that if the claim exceeds $2,500 the summons must be served by the plaintiff by certified mail, and proof of service must be filed with the administrator. If the summons is not properly served and proof of service filed within 60 days after issuance of the summons, the action shall be dismissed without prejudice.
(3) If the defendant’s address as shown on the statement of claim is outside the state, the administrator shall forward the summons to the plaintiff who, within 60 days after issuance of the summons, shall cause it to be served on the defendant and file proof of service with the administrator. If the summons is not properly served and proof of service filed within 60 days after issuance of the summons, the action shall be dismissed without prejudice. A party who is unable to pay the fees for service of a summons may apply for permission to proceed without payment of fees pursuant to the procedure set forth in Minnesota Statutes, section 563.01.
defendant's counter claim
(a) Counterclaims Allowed. The defendant may assert a counterclaim within jurisdiction of conciliation court which the defendant has against the plaintiff, whether or not arising out of the transaction or occurrence which is the subject matter of plaintiff's claim.
(b) Assertion of Counterclaim. To assert a counterclaim the defendant shall perform all the following not less than 7 days before the date set for trial of plaintiff's claim:
(1) file with the court administrator a counterclaim required by Rule 507;
(2) pay to the court administrator the applicable fees or file with the administrator the affidavit in lieu of fees prescribed in Rule 506.
Rule 509, Minn. Gen. R. Prac.
"The judge may attempt to conciliate disputes and encourage fair settlements among the parties. If at the trial the parties agree on a settlement the judge shall order judgment in accordance with the settlement. If no agreement is reached, the judge shall hear, determine the cause, and order judgment. Written findings of fact or conclusions of law shall not be required." (MN Court Rule 512e).
"[T]he judge shall hear testimony of the parties, their witnesses, and shall consider exhibits offered by the parties. The party offering an exhibit shall mark the party’s name on the exhibit in a manner that will not obscure the exhibit. All exhibits will be returned to the parties at the conclusion of the trial unless otherwise ordered by the judge." (MN Court Rule 512b).
effective judgement or appeal or motion to vacate
Within 21 days, you can move to vacate a default judgment or appeal the decision. "Any person aggrieved by an order for judgment entered in conciliation court after contested trial may remove the cause to district court for trial de novo (new trial)" (MN Court Rule 521).
Such an appeal "de novo" means with a clean slate and fresh start. This significantly limits the value of a conciliation court victory.
For most Minnesota counties, conciliation courts are following standards of the executive orders issued by Governor Walz. See Executive order 20-78 and Executive order 20-79. If you want information about updated court policies for your specific county, you can follow this link for more information: Minnesota Judicial Branch. For information on Hennepin County proceedings see: Administrative Order Re Hennepin County District Courthouse Access.
Conciliation Court Rules
Conciliation Court (Small Claims Court)
Minnesota Judicial Branch
Conciliation Court: A User's Guide to Small Claims
The Office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison
Minnesota Guide & File Summary Page
Minnesota Judicial Branch Court Forms