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19th Judicial Circuit Court ofLake County, Illinois
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19th Judicial Circuit > Center for Self Representation > How to Prepare, File, and Serve a Small Claim
 

 

Small Claims>How to Prepare, File, and Serve a Claim>

Small
Claims
Overview

 

Alternatives to Court

How to Prepare, File, and Serve a Claim

Preparing for your Day in Court

Frequently Asked Questions & Additional Information

After the Judgment

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STOP!
Please go back and read the Small Claims Overview
 for the information you need to prepare and present
 your Small Claim case


How to Prepare, File, and Serve a Claims

Additional Information


Small Claims Forms, Checklist and Instructions

Description

Form Number

Revision Date

     Checklist and Worksheet
 Plaintiff's Small Claims Court Checklist Checklist
 Defendant's Small Claims Court Checklist Checklist
 Qualifications to Waive Court Fees Information
 Small Claims Trial Preparation Worksheet - fillable Worksheet
 
     Forms for Use Before and During Trial
 Plaintiff's Small Claims Complaint Form 171-32 R 06/06
 Small Claims Summons - Notice to Defendant ( w/Copy) 171-140 R 02/02
 Defendant's Small Claims Appearance 171-8 R 08/06
 Petition and Order to Sue or Defend as an Indigent Person 171-189 R 12/04
 Small Claims Order  171-94 R 02/03
 Order (Blank) 171-94 R 01/00
 Small Claims Judgment Order 171-296 R 02/03
 Memorandum of Judgment 171-214 R 02/01
 Certificate of Attorney 171-366 R 12/06
 
     Forms for Use after the Judgment
 Affidavit for Garnishment Non-Wage with Interrogatories to Garnishee 171-3 R 03/01
 Affidavit for Wage Deduction Order 171-7a/b R 11/06
 Body Attachment Order 171-141 R 05/05
 Complaint of Forcible Entry and Detainer 171-29 R 06/05
   Citation to Discover Assets 171-23 R 09/07
 Citation Notice 171-23a R 07/08
 Rider to Citation to Discover Assets 171-350 06/05
 Answer to Citation to Discover Assets Proceeding 171-351 06/05
 Memorandum of Judgment - Real Estate Lien 171-214 R 02/01
 Motion (Blank) 171-236 R 04/01
 Motion to Vacate 171- Proposed
 Notice to Appeal - Civil 171-239 R 02/01
 Notice of Filings Appeals 171-241 R 02/01
 Notice of Motion 171-91 04/06
 Non-Wage Garnishment Notice 171-243 R 03/01
 Non-Wage Garnishment Summon 171-147  R 03/01
 Non-Withholding Wage Deduction Order 171-7c R 12/98
 Order and Rule to Show Cause Order 171-228b R 04/03
 Satisfaction and Release of Judgment 171-121 R 12/98
 Turn Over Order 171-153 R 12/98
 Wage Deduction Order 171-150a R 03/06
Wage Deduction Summons 171-149 R 03/06
 

Some of the forms listed above are designed so that users can fill in the blanks using their computer.  Completed forms can then be printed and filed in court or with the Clerk of the Circuit Court.  At this time, not all forms are available with fillable fields.  Forms that have fillable fields are designated as   "fillable" below.

PLEASE NOTE: To use the fillable forms you must have at least Adobe Acrobat Reader 7.2 or newer.

Instructions for fillable forms:

  1. Choose the fillable form that you would like to use by clicking on that form.  Upon clicking on   the form, Acrobat Reader will download the form to your computer.
     
  2. Once the form is displayed, you may click on any of the blanks where text is usually typed.  The cursor will then appear in that blank.  You may now type the desired text.  When the text for that blank has been completed, press the TAB key to move to the next fillable field.
     
  3. Once all of the desired fields have been completed, you may print the form.  NOTE:  These forms only allow for filling and printing.  You will not be able to save the form once it is filled in.  When you are finished filling the fields and printing the form, you may exit Acrobat to return to the list of court forms.

Get Adobe Acrobat Reader
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All forms are available in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format.  If you do not have the Adobe Acrobat Reader, it can be downloaded for free from Adobe by clicking on the button at the left.

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Additional Information

Filing a Claim

Before you file your claim, you must ask the party you are suing (known as the "defendant") for the money. You can do this either orally or in writing.

Always sue for a specific dollar amount. Be prepared to substantiate and verify the dollar amount of your damages. 

To file your claim, you will need to know the correct and complete name of the party you are suing. If you're suing a business, it's important to know whether it's a corporation, partnership, or sole proprietorship.

A small claims court case must also be filed in the proper court, or "venue," as it is sometimes called.

At the hearing be prepared to tell your story in a brief, concise, logical way and to prove what you say by bringing evidence such as photos, receipts, bills, contracts, or witnesses to support your case. Be sure your exhibits are organized, concise, and well marked. If you are claiming a service was performed improperly.

The clerk will assign a number to each Small Claim case. Write down the number and refer to it in all dealings with the clerk and sheriff.

If you should change your address after you file your case or your "Appearance", be certain to notify the clerk and the opposing party of your new address. Likewise, if you change your phone number.

All Small Claims Court sessions are open to the public. You may attend any of these courtroom proceedings to familiarize yourself with the procedures. The courtroom is opened at 8:45 AM and 1:15 PM, Monday though Friday.

Court reporters are not provided in small claim cases. If you want a transcript of your trial, you must arrange for a court reporter at your own expense.

If you need additional information, you may call the Office of the Circuit Court Clerk. Remember, the clerk is not allowed to give legal advice.

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Where to File Your Claim

A small claims court case must be filed in the proper court, or venue. You may want to consult the local information (by county, in the Circuit Clerk's Office) for assistance in obtaining this information.

In Lake County, a summons is a pre-printed legal document supplied by the small claim clerk which notifies the defendant that they are being sued, the date for the "Return Day."  The Court has no power to hear a case until the defendant is served the summons. When the defendant receives the summons, he should also receive a copy of the complaint telling the reason for the suit and the amount claimed, and a blank Clerks Appearance form.

The plaintiff selects both the "Return Day" and the trial date. The trial date is AUTOMATICALLY the fourteenth day after the "Return Day," (provided the defendant has been served with the summons and complaint.)

PLAN AHEAD: When selecting the "Return Day", the plaintiff should be sure witnesses, if any, can be in court on the trial date.

The "Return Day" may be on on weekday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday, at either 9:00 AM or 1:30 PM, not less than 14 nor more than 40 days after the issuance date on the summons

NO returns may be set at any time on Thursdays. However, before selecting the "Return Day", the plaintiff must consult the small claim clerk to avoid court holidays and dates which are already filled with other cases. If a trial is mistakenly scheduled on a holiday, it will be held on the next following court day.

Your claim must be filed in the appropriate venue. The proper place to file your case is where the defendant, (the person you are suing) lives or does business.

If your claim is about a signed contract, you can file where the contract was signed, where the defendant lived or did business at the time the contract was signed or agreed to, or where the contract was to be performed.

If the defendant is a corporation, you can sue where the contract was breached. In cases involving injury or property damage, file where the injury or damage occurred or where the defendant or defendants live.

If you do not have a signed contract and you are suing because the defendant owes you money for goods, services, loans, or extensions of credit for personal, family, or household use, file your case in the judicial venue in which the defendant lived when the agreement or oral contract was entered into or in which the defendant now lives.

If you are suing because of money owed on a retail installment account, a sales contract, or a motor vehicle finance sale, you can sue in one of the following judicial venues:

  • Where the buyer lives;
  • Where the buyer lived when the contract was entered into;
  • Where the buyer signed the contract; or
  • Where the goods or vehicle are permanently kept.

If you think you are being sued in the wrong venue, request a dismissal. Be sure to write to the court address indicated on the plaintiff's claim well in advance of the trial date and state the grounds for the dismissal. You can also appear on the trial date and request a dismissal. If the court agrees with you, the case will be dismissed unless all defendants are present and agree to have the trial.

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How to Serve Your Claim

The person or business you are suing is called the "defendant." Before your case can be heard in small claims court, each defendant must receive a copy of your claim. This is called "serving" the defendant, or "service." The defendant must be served within the State of Illinois. There are two exceptions: if your complaint involves (1) real property owned by a defendant who lives outside the state of Illinois or (2) a car accident where the owner or operator of the motor vehicle involved in an accident is an out-of-state resident. Contact the court clerk office for service instructions.

If the defendant is a corporation, check to see if the defendant maintains an agent for service in Illinois by checking the Illinois Secretary of States website using the Corporate/ Limited Liability Company (LLC) database by file number or name. Alternatively, a preliminary check of corporate name availability may continue to be conducted via telephone by calling (217) 782-9521. For LLC name availability, please call (217) 524-8008 or by writing:

Springfield Office:
501 S. Second St.
Suite 328
Springfield, IL   62756
Hours: Mon-Fri
8:00 AM - 4:30 PM
217-782-6961

Chicago Office:
69 W. Washington
Suite 1240
Chicago, IL   60602
Hours: Mon-Fri
8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
312-793-3380

The defendant must be served within explicit time limits. The defendant must be served at least 3 days before the return date. 

You may NOT serve the claim yourself.

The defendant can be served in one of the following ways:

  1. By a Sheriff:

    By hand delivery from the Sheriff or other authorized person to the defendant or a member of the household, age 13 or older.

  1. By Certified Mail:

    Only the small claims clerk can serve the claim this way. There is a fee. Service is completed when the receipt, signed by the defendant, is returned to the clerk. If the defendant refuses to sign, service is not considered complete.

  2. By a licensed private detective.

The person who serves the defendant must file a proof of service form called "Return" with the small claims clerk before the return date. The clerk has the form and will be able to tell you of any time limitations in filing it. 

The complaint will tell you the Defendant, the reason you are being sued and the amount claimed. The summons will tell you when and where to file your "Appearance" if you contest the claim. DO NOT IGNORE THE SUMMONS. If you do nothing in response to the summons, the Court will probably award the plaintiff the amount claimed in the complaint plus court costs.

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  Who to Serve

A copy of the claim must be delivered to each person or business being sued. This is called serving the defendant or defendants.

If you are suing an individual, serve the person you are suing. If you are suing more than one individual (for example, the registered owner and the driver of a car involved in an accident), serve each person you are suing.

If you are suing a single-owner business, serve the owner. If the business is a corporation, you may serve any corporate officer or authorized agent.

If you are suing a partnership under its business name, serve one of the partners. If you are suing a partnership under its business name and the partners individually as well, serve each partner. If you are suing a general partnership, serve the general partner, general manager, or the agent for service, if there is one.

If you are suing a corporation, serve an officer or the agent for service. You will need the exact name of the corporation. To find out the names and addresses of the officers or the agent for service, by checking the Illinois Secretary of States website using the Corporate/ Limited Liability Company (LLC) database by file number or name. Alternatively, a preliminary check of corporate name availability may continue to be conducted via telephone by calling (217) 782-9521. For LLC name availability, please call (217) 524-8008. 

If you are suing a county, serve the county clerk. You can find the address and phone number in the government pages of your phone book. It is usually listed in the county section under the heading ASSESSOR-COUNTY CLERK-RECORDER or just COUNTY CLERK.

If you are suing a city, serve the city clerk. You can find the address and phone number in the government pages of your phone book. It is usually listed in the city section under the heading CLERK.

If you are suing the state, the State Attorney General's office provides legal representation to all elected state officials and the departments and agencies of state government, and acts to guard the interests of the people of Illinois. 

Mailing Addresses

Main Office Locations

Regional Office

SPRINGFIELD
Illinois Attorney General
500 South Second Street
Springfield, IL 62706
217-782-1090
TTY: 217-785-2771

CHICAGO
Illinois Attorney General
100 West Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60601
312-814-3000
TTY: 312-814-3374

NORTHERN ILLINOIS
Illinois Attorney General
7230 Argus Drive
Rockford, IL 61107
(815) 484-8100
TTY: 815-484-811

Call the Attorney General's office at 1-800-243-0618 (TTY: 1-877-844-5461) or 217-782-1090 (TTY: 217-785-2771) for more information.

You may not sue the federal government in small claims court.

If you are suing your landlord, and the manager of your apartment building rented the apartment to you and won't tell you where the landlord lives, you can serve the manager. To locate the name and address of the owner, you may go to your local property tax office. Give the address of the property to the property tax office clerks and they will be able to give you this information.

The person who serves the defendant must file a proof of service form with the small claims clerk before the return date. Otherwise, service is not considered complete and the case will not proceed. 

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Locating a Person or Business

How to Locate a Person
If you can't find the person you want to sue or who owes you money, you may find the following information helpful in locating him or her.

If the person has moved, address a letter to him or her at the last known address. Several spaces below your return address, write, "Address Correction Requested. Do Not Forward." The letter will be returned to you with the new address, if one is on file.

If the person you are seeking owns property, a search of the tax rolls could help you find his or her home or business address. The tax rolls in your local assessor's office list the names and addresses of property owners in the county by both owner name and address of property. You can find the address and phone number of the assessor's office in your county in the government pages of your phone book. It is usually listed in the county section under the heading ASSESSOR-COUNTY CLERK-RECORDER or just ASSESSOR.

The county register-recorder's office maintains a listing of property owners by name and lists the location of the property owned. You can find the address and phone number of the register-recorder's office in your county in the government pages of your phone book. It is usually listed in the county section under the heading ASSESSOR-COUNTY CLERK-RECORDER or just RECORDER.

If the only information you have concerning the other party is a telephone number and the number is one that is listed, a reverse directory will provide the address. Reverse directories can be found at the main library.

How to Locate a Business
If the only address you have is a post office box
, you can request the name, address, and phone number of the holder of a post office box that is used for business purposes from the post office. Bring proof that the box is used for business purposes.

If the only information you have concerning the other party is a telephone number and the number is one that is listed, a reverse directory will provide the address. Reverse directories can be found at the main library.

You may also find the following information useful:

Corporations
The Secretary of State's office maintains a record
of the names and addresses of the officers of corporations and their agents for service. The agent for service or a corporate officer can be served with the claim in a small claims action. You can locate the information by checking the Illinois Secretary of States website using the Corporate/ Limited Liability Company (LLC) database by file number or name. Alternatively, a preliminary check of corporate name availability may continue to be conducted via telephone by calling (217) 782-9521. For LLC name availability, please call (217) 524-8008 or by writing:

Springfield Office:
501 S. Second St.
Suite 328
Springfield, IL   62756
Hours: Mon-Fri
8:00 AM - 4:30 PM
217-782-6961

Chicago Office:
69 W. Washington
Suite 1240
Chicago, IL   60602
Hours: Mon-Fri
8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
312-793-3380

Sole Proprietorships and Partnerships
The county clerk's office maintains a listing of fictitious business statements
. The statement lists the names and addresses of the owners of businesses operating under a name different from the owners. Check the printout (or computer) for a listing of the business to obtain the certificate number. Ask the clerk to assist you in finding the certificate in the files. The certificate contains the owner's name and address. In some counties you can obtain this information by mail. Check with the county clerk of your county to determine availability, cost, and the procedure to follow. You can find the address and phone number of the county clerk's office in your county in the government pages of your phone book. It is usually listed in the county section under the heading ASSESSOR-COUNTY CLERK-RECORDER or just COUNTY CLERK.

The city clerk's office, tax and permit division, maintains a list of the names and addresses of most persons licensed to do business in a city. You can find the address and phone number of the city clerk's office in the government pages of your phone book. It is usually listed in the city section under the heading CLERK.

Limited Partnerships
For limited partnership information contact:

Secretary of State -- (217) 782-4104

For Limited Liability Companies (LLC), please call (217) 524-8008. 

Give the name of the company. Ask for the following information:

  1. Full name and address of the limited partnership

  2. Name and address of the general or managing partner; and

  3. Name and address of the agent for service.

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How To Name a Defendant

It is very important to name the defendant correctly, because you will only be able to collect from the party or parties whose name is exactly the same as the name that appears on your claim.

If you are suing an individual, write his or her first name, middle initial, and last name.

If you are suing a company owned by one person, you must write both the owner and the company. You should also name the owner as the individual to increase your chances of collecting if you win. Write the letters "dba," which stands for "doing business as," between the name of the owner and the company name, if the owner is doing business under a fictitious name. For example, you would write Sue Smith, individual & dba Continental Candies.

If you are suing a husband and wife, write the husband's full name and the wife's full name. For example, James A. Jones and Sally R. Jones. If you don't know the wife's first name, write James A. Jones and Mrs. James A. Jones.

If you are suing a partnership, it's a good idea to name both the partnership and the partners as individuals as well. For example, you would write Jim Smith, individual & John Jones, individual & dba Smith & Jones. If you win your case, you will be entitled to collect from either the partnership or the individual partners.

If you are suing a corporation, write the exact name of the corporation, as in the following example:

Sally's Dresses, a corporation
or
Sally's Dresses, Inc.

If a corporation owns a division or subsidiary, it should be designated as in the following example:
                              "Lotus Corporation," doing business as "The Flower Company."

You do not name an individual when suing a corporation. Just the corporation is named. If you wish the court to serve your defendant by certified mail, court staff will need the name of a corporate officer or agent for service.

If you are suing as a result of a vehicle accident, you must name both the registered owner and the driver. If the owner and driver are the same person write, for example, Sam Jones, owner and driver. If the owner and driver are not the same you would, for example, write Lucy Smith, owner, and Betty Smith, driver.

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How to Subpoena a Witness

It is often very helpful to have a witness in court with you who knows firsthand the facts of the case and can support your point of view, or you may need documents or records to prove your case.

If a witness to the dispute you want as a witness refuses to appear in court voluntarily, you may ask the Clerk of the Court to issue a subpoena to make the individual appear. You must complete the face of the subpoena by filling in the caption of the case as well as the name and address of the witness.

The subpoena may be delivered to the witness by the Sheriff. The cost of serving the subpoena varies depending upon the distance between the Sheriff’s Office and the place where the Sheriff serves the witness. Also, the witness is entitled to advance payment of a fee plus mileage each way for necessary travel. The winning party may ask the Court to order the losing party to reimburse (pay back) these expenses. If fees are not pre-paid the witness is not legally bound to honor the subpoena and/or appear in court.

A witness should be subpoenaed a reasonable period of time in advance of the trial date so they can plan to come to court.

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How to Countersue or Counter Claim

If you believe the party suing you owes you money, you can countersue by filing a Counterclaim. Both cases will be heard at the same time.

If your claim is for $10,000 or less obtain a Counterclaim form from the small claims clerk in the court where you are being sued. The claim is filed with the clerk with a filing fee.

You must notify the other party that you are suing them by having a copy of the Counterclaim served on them.

If your counterclaim exceeds the jurisdictional limit of the small claims court  the case will be reassigned by the small claims judge.

Upon receipt of the above described documents, usually the small claims court will transfer its file to another circuit court (civil division). In this manner, both the plaintiff's and defendant's claims may be heard together.

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  How to Change a Court Date

A continuance is a request to postpone a court date. It is requested through the small claims clerk but can only be granted by the judge. The request is called a "motion" and must be in writing and delivered to the other party before date sought to be changed.

If you do not have enough time before your court date to write for a continuance, you should either appear in court as scheduled and ask for a continuance. 

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How to Amend a Claim that is already filed

You can change or amend a claim that has already been filed in small claims court only by getting written permission from the small claims judge.

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Now take your completed paperwork to the Circuit Clerks Small Claims Division to file you claim.  

We recommend you continue to the
"Preparing for your Day in Court"
section for additional information.

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