We all know that in our very human and imperfect world, things don't always turn out the way they should. Sometimes people don't keep their promises. Sometimes they fail to provide a product or service. Sometimes unscrupulous people just try to pull a fast one.
Fortunately, when events like this hurt a small business's bottom line, claims do not need to involve tens-of-thousands of dollars to justify presenting the matter in court.
Conciliation, or "small claims" court, is a more affordable option to enforce legal rights. At Dougherty, Molenda, Solfest, Hills & Bauer, we pride ourselves on not only helping our larger government and business clients, but also providing quality services to everyday people and small businesses. Our attorneys routinely help all of our clients, regardless of size or walk of life, with their conciliation court claims.
When you are deciding whether to pursue conciliation court in Minnesota, here are five things to remember about the conciliation court process:
1. Conciliation Court is for general claims of $15,000 or less.
The Minnesota Legislature has limited recoverable damages for conciliation court claims to $15,000.00. Thus, even if you think your claim exceeds $15,000.00, the maximum award in conciliation court is capped at this amount.
2. Filing fees are significantly lower in conciliation court.
Filing fees vary from county to county in Minnesota. However, there is, on average, a $330 filing fee to start an action in district (or traditional and more formal) court. The filing fee for conciliation court, on the other hand, is only around $80.
3. The proceedings are much less formal in conciliation court.
The form and manner of conciliation court varies greatly from county to county. Generally, conciliation court proceedings are much more relaxed and informal than in district court. Oftentimes, the parties simply go in front of a judge or referee, present their evidence, and have an informal discussion as to why they are entitled to damages. However, sometimes the parties may have a "mini trial," complete with brief witness testimony and exhibits.
4. Settlement in conciliation court is common.
On the day of the conciliation court hearing, judges and referees usually expect parties to speak to each other before the hearing to 1) exchange evidence and 2) see if the parties can settle the matter without needing judicial help. While it depends on the particular circumstances of a case, settlement is often a good way to ensure that a party recovers at least part of the claim, as getting a court judgment does not necessarily guarantee collection of actual money.
5. Conciliation court decisions are easily appealable.
If the judge or referee's decision is not to one party's liking, that party can easily "remove" or "appeal" the decision to district court. There are strict timelines and additional court fees to appeal or "remove" a conciliation court decision. Once the appeal is "perfected" through removal, the case will be in district court, where more formal, complex rules will apply.