The response to COVID-19 has impacted access to courthouses and may change the way cases are handled.
Learn more »

Conciliation Court (Small Claims Court)

Conciliation Court is also known as "small claims" court. General claims of $15,000 or less can be filed in Conciliation Court.

OverviewConciliation Court is also known as "small claims" court. It is a specialty court where people can have their cases heard without complicated legal procedures. Generally, claims of $15,000 or less can be filed in Conciliation Court.

IMPORTANT: Winning a case in Conciliation Court does not guarantee payment. You are responsible for collecting your judgment from the other party. The court does not collect the payment for you. Collecting a judgment can be difficult and may involve more out-of-pocket expenses for filing fees and other costs.

Agent

A person authorized to act on behalf of someone else.

Appeal

Asking a higher court to review a decision made by a lower court.

Claim (Statement of Claim)

The alleged loss of money or property experienced by the plaintiff, and the facts that led up to the alleged loss.

Counterclaim (Statement of Counterclaim)

The alleged loss of money or property experienced by the defendant that came from the same event(s) as the plaintiff’s claim.

Defendant

The person or business who is being sued.

District Court

The court that hears cases involving disputes between people or businesses, with more formal and complicated rules. Unlike Conciliation Court, there is no monetary limit. When a Conciliation Court case gets appealed, it goes to District Court.

Judgment Creditor

The party who won the Conciliation Court case and is owed money or property.

Judgment Debtor

The party who lost the Conciliation Court case and owes money or property.

Judgment: Docketing

Putting the judgment on an official list, which then creates a lien against certain real estate owned by the judgment debtor in that county. Docketing the judgment allows the judgment creditor to request a Writ of Execution and Financial Disclosure. The judgment creditor can request to transcribe a judgment from Conciliation Court to District Court in the same county, and from District Court in one county to District Court in another county.

Judgment: Entry

When the Court Administrator put a judgment on the official record. The date of entry of judgment is when the timeline for appeals starts, and is also the date used to calculate when a judgment expires.

Jurisdiction

A court's power under the law to hear and decide a case.

Order

A judge’s final decision, such as ordering one party to pay money to another party, returning property to another party, or dismissing the case.

Plaintiff

The person or business who starts the case by filing a claim.

Service

Formally giving copies of any papers you are filing with the court to the other party in a case. The different methods of service in Conciliation Court are personal service, service by first-class mail, or service by certified mail. The method you use depends on what you are serving and where the other party is located.

Statute of Limitations

A law that puts a maximum timeframe on how long a person has to start a lawsuit based on the claim and facts of the case. When the time is up, the person who was harmed loses the right to file a claim in court, unless there are specific legal exceptions that apply to the case.

Venue

The county where a case is filed.

Is there a limit to the amount of money or property I can ask for in Conciliation Court?

You can file a claim in Conciliation Court for up to $15,000. If your claim involves consumer credit, then the maximum amount is $4,000. These are the maximum amounts allowed before you add the court filing fee (see “What is the fee to file in Conciliation Court?” below).

Court Administration cannot accept claims over $15,000. You can choose to lower your claim to the limit of Conciliation Court, but you cannot later ask for more through another claim or split your claim into multiple smaller claims if they involve the same circumstances.

What types of claims are and are not allowed in Conciliation Court?

You can generally file for out-of-pocket expenses and for return of property in Conciliation Court. Some examples include:
 
  • Security deposit
  • Property damage
  • Return of pet(s)
  • Return of seized vehicle or other property
Some claims that you cannot file in Conciliation Court include:
 
  • Title to real estate
  • Libel or slander
  • Medical malpractice
  • Actions against deceased people
  • Injunctions
For a complete list of the types of claims that are and are not allowed in Conciliation Court, see Minn. Stat. § 491A.01.

What is the statute of limitations for my case?

There are different statutes of limitation, and which one applies depends on the type of claim and facts of the case. If you have questions about the statute of limitations in your case, talk with a lawyer to get legal advice.

Where do I file a Conciliation Court claim?

Generally, a Conciliation Court claim is filed in the county where the defendant lives or has a place of business. If the defendant is a corporation, you can also file in the county where the business office or branch office is located. For more information on business locations, contact the MN Secretary of State.

There are two common exceptions:
 
  • If the case involves "bad checks," the claim should be filed in the District Court of the county where the checks were written.
  • If the case involves a landlord-tenant dispute, the case may be filed in the District Court of the county where the rental property is located.
See Minn. Stat. § 491A.01 for other exceptions. Court staff cannot tell you where to file your case. If you are not sure where to file, talk to a lawyer for legal advice.

Do I need to have a lawyer in Conciliation Court or District Court?

Individuals can represent themselves or be represented by a lawyer in Conciliation Court and District Court. However, an individual may not be represented by a non-lawyer.

A business or association may be represented by a non-lawyer, such as an officer or manager, only in Conciliation Court. This is done by filing a Power of Attorney for Conciliation Court. See Minn. Stat. § 491A.02, subd.4.

If a business wants to appeal a Conciliation Court judgment to District Court, then the law requires that the business be represented by a lawyer. This includes having a lawyer sign the paperwork demanding the appeal. See the "Advisory Committee Comment" to Rule 521 of the General Rules of Practice for District Courts (Tit.VI).

If you want a lawyer to represent you, it is up to you to find a lawyer. The court does not appoint lawyers in Conciliation Court cases.

How do I file a claim in Conciliation Court?

There are several ways you can start a Conciliation Court claim. You can:
  To complete the Statement of Claim and Summons, you need the following information:
 
  • your name and address;
  • The name and address of the defendant (home address if the defendant is a person; address of principal place of business if a business entity);
  • the amount of your claim; and
  • the legal reason for the claim and the date your claim occurred.
You must sign the claim and file it with the court. You will need to pay the filing fee at the time of filing. See below for more information about filing fees and fee waivers.

Court staff can explain how to fill out the form, but they cannot tell you who to sue or how to write your claim. Talk with a lawyer to get legal advice if you need help with your case.

What is the fee to file in Conciliation Court?

You can find the Conciliation Court filing fee on the District Court fees page. To find the filing fee, choose the county you are filing in from the drop-down menu and look for “Plaintiff / Petitioner and Defendant / Respondent - First Paper Filed.”

If you have a low income and cannot afford the filing fee, you can ask the court to waive the fee by filling out an Affidavit of Inability to Pay Conciliation Court Filing Fee form and filing it with your claim.

Keep in mind that sometimes there may be additional costs. For example, there is an extra cost of $5 if you choose to file your forms with the court electronically.

If I am asking for a fee waiver, do I still include the fee as part of my claim?

Yes. Rule 506 of the General Rules of Practice states that if you win the case, the amount of the filing fee you would have paid must be added to your claim. You must then pay that money to the court administrator when you collect on the judgment.

When and how do I serve the defendant?

For claims under $2,500, the Court Administrator's office will serve the claim on the defendant by first class mail stating the date and time of the hearing. You will also receive a Notice of Hearing from the court as to the date and time of the hearing.

For claims over $2,500 or if service cannot be made by first class mail, the Court Administrator’s office will give you a Notice of Hearing and instructions on how you have to arrange for service. Generally, you must serve copies of both your Statement of Claim and Summons and the Notice of Hearing on the defendant. After service is completed, the person who served the paperwork will fill out an Affidavit of Service. This Affidavit of Service must be filed with the court within 60 days of the issuance of the summons or before your court date, whichever is sooner.

How do I file and serve a counterclaim?

If you were served with a Statement of Claim and Summons and you disagree with the plaintiff’s claim, you can respond at the hearing without the need to file anything. However, if you believe that the plaintiff owes you money or has property they should return to you, you can consider filing a counterclaim. Generally, a counterclaim should relate to the same circumstances as the plaintiff’s claim. If you have questions about whether to file a counterclaim against the plaintiff or to file a new claim, talk to a lawyer for some advice.

You can download the Statement of Counterclaim and Summons form online or get the form at your local courthouse. You must file the counterclaim and pay the filing fee (or file a fee waiver) at least 7 days before the scheduled hearing.

You do not need to serve your counterclaim on the plaintiff. The Court Administrator will let the plaintiff know that you filed a counterclaim, and it will be heard at the same hearing as the claim.

What happens if my counterclaim is more than $15,000?

If your counterclaim is more than $15,000, you can either reduce the amount of your claim to be within the Conciliation Court limit of $15,000, or have the claim and counterclaim heard in District Court.

To be heard in District Court, you must file an affidavit with Conciliation Court at least 7 days before the hearing. See Rule 510(a) of the General Rules of Practice for more information on what must be included in your affidavit. The MN Judicial Branch does not publish a specific affidavit for this purpose. If you need help preparing an affidavit or have other questions about removing a case to District Court, talk to a lawyer for some advice.

How do I ask to reschedule my court date?

If you need to ask the court to reschedule your court date (called a continuance), your request must be in writing and filed at least 5 days before your court date. You may have to pay costs of up to $50 before you get a new court date. Each party can only ask for a new court date once.

Can I have a jury for my Conciliation Court hearing?

No, the law requires Conciliation Court hearings to be in front a judge or referee.

Can I get a subpoena in Conciliation Court?

Yes. You can ask court administration to issue you a subpoena. You can use the subpoena to require a witness to appear for a hearing, or to demand someone to give you documents.

You will need to pay a fee for each subpoena you want. If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask for it be waived by completing and filing an Affidavit for Proceeding In Forma Pauperis and a Supplemental Affidavit for Proceeding In Forma Pauperis with the court. If you are requesting multiple subpoenas, you will need to fill out a Supplemental Affidavit for each subpoena request.

How do I prepare for the hearing?

If you have any documents or photos you want to show the judge, you should bring at least 3 copies to court (if appearing in person). One copy is for you, one is for the judge, and the third is for the other party. If you do not have copies for all parties, the judge may choose not to consider it.

You may also want to review the Going to Court Help Topic.

If you need help deciding how to present your case, or determining whether your evidence is relevant, talk to a lawyer for some legal advice.

What happens if I filed a claim but now want to settle with the other party?

If you filed a claim and have decided to settle the case with the other party, you must notify court administration in writing. One option is to fill out and file the Notice of Settlement and Dismissal form. With this option, your case will be dismissed before the hearing without a more detailed settlement agreement entered into the case.

If you prefer to have an enforceable settlement agreement included in your case, you can fill out and file a Settlement Agreement and Order. This form must be signed by both parties and lays out the details of the settlement agreement (for example, Defendant must pay plaintiff a certain amount of money by a specific date). With this option, the agreement must be approved by the judge at your scheduled court hearing.

What can I do if the other party violates a written settlement agreement?

If the judge approved a signed Settlement Agreement and Order at your court hearing, the agreement and/or the court order will often say that the court may enter a judgment without a hearing if one of the parties files an affidavit explaining that the agreement was violated. If your settlement agreement or court order has this language and the other party violates your agreement, you can fill out and file an Affidavit of Noncompliance (see Instructions for more information). This document tells the court exactly how the agreement has not been followed and asks the court to enter a judgment instead.

What happens at the hearing?

At the hearing you and the defendant will appear (either in person or remotely) in front of a judge or referee, who may encourage you to settle the case. As the plaintiff, you will be asked to state your case first. All parties and witnesses who appear will testify under oath. You can use notes prepared ahead of time to help you clearly explain how you calculated the amount of damage you are claiming. You can show the judge evidence that supports your claim, such as receipts, repair bills, estimates, and other items.

When it is the defendant’s turn to speak, you should not interrupt them. If you disagree with something the defendant says, ask the judge if you can respond to their statement. The judge can ask questions of you, the defendant, or any witnesses that appear for the hearing.

You can learn more by watching the How to Handle a Conciliation Court Hearing video.

What happens after the hearing?

The judge or referee may or may not make a decision on the claim at the time of the hearing. Court administration will send notice of the decision (called an order) to all parties.

Keep in mind that any Conciliation Court judgment does not become effective until 24 days after the order is mailed out (or 21 days if the order is sent electronically). This 24-day period allows a party to appeal or request to vacate a default judgment. The last day of the 24-day period will be listed in the order.

What happens if I do not appear for the hearing?

All parties must appear for the hearing. If you do not appear at the hearing, the judge may dismiss your claim or counterclaim, or award a "default" judgment against you. If neither party appears for the hearing, the judge may dismiss the case, or court administration may strike the case from the calendar.

Can I ask the court for a new hearing if I missed my court date?

If you did not appear for the hearing and the judge dismissed your claim or ordered a judgment for the other party, you can ask the judge to vacate the order and set a new court date so you can appear and state your case. This must be done by completing the Affidavit and Order Vacating Order for Judgment and Granting New Trial and filing it with the court.

The judge’s order will not become effective until 24 days after notice of the judgment is mailed to you (or 21 days if it is sent electronically). The court administrator will tell you the exact date in the notice.
 
  • If the deadline in the judge’s order has not passed, follow Minn. Gen. R. Prac. 520(a). You must complete and file the Affidavit before the deadline in the judge’s order.
  • If the deadline in the judge’s order has already passed, Minn. Gen. R. Prac.  520(b) requires that you file a motion with the court within a “reasonable” time after learning of the judgment. The judge will decide whether the time period has been reasonable. You must serve a copy of your motion to all other parties, and file the motion and Affidavit of Service with court administration. The MN Judicial Branch does not publish a specific motion for this purpose, but you can use the generic Civil Motion packet.
There are very specific reasons in the rule for why the judge can grant your request to vacate the order and schedule a new hearing. If you are not sure how best to make your argument, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer.

If your request for a new hearing is granted, the judge may require you to pay a fee to reopen the case. This fee must be paid before the judgment can be vacated and the new court date set. If a court date is set, court administration will notify all parties.

How do I appeal a Conciliation Court judgment?

If you disagree with the Conciliation Court decision, you can appeal by filing a Demand for Removal/Appeal from Conciliation Court. This will remove the case to District Court for a new trial. See Minn. Gen. R. Prac. 521.

In District Court, you can ask for your appeal to be decided by either a judge or by a jury. There will be more fees if you would like your case decided by a jury.

The Rules of Civil Procedure apply to cases that are removed to District Court.  District Court is more formal and complex than Conciliation Court.  Because appeals are more complicated, you should get help from a lawyer. Court staff cannot give legal advice or help you prepare your appeal.

*IMPORTANT* You can only appeal the Conciliation Court judgment if both parties appeared and there was a trial. You cannot appeal if the judge granted a default judgment. You also cannot appeal a case if you did not show up to the hearing. Instead, you can ask the court to vacate the judgment and set a new hearing. See “Can I ask the court for a new hearing if I missed my court date?”

What happens in a Conciliation Court appeal?

Filing an appeal in Conciliation Court removes the case to District Court, where it is started over from the beginning. Appeals are more complicated, more formal, and take longer than a Conciliation Court claim. Appeals to District Court are governed by the Rules of Civil Procedure.

You should be prepared to present your case, have your witnesses ready to testify, and have all your evidence available. Keep in mind that you may have to subpoena your witnesses again.

You are encouraged to review the Civil Trial: What to Expect as a Self-Represented Plaintiff or Defendant booklet to prepare for your trial. It is also a good idea to talk to a lawyer for legal advice.

Can I change my claim on appeal to the District Court?

You have 30 days after removal to District Court to amend your claim or counterclaim. Within the 30 days, you must serve the other party with a formal complaint and file it, along with an Affidavit of Service, with the court. See Minn. Gen. R. Prac. 522.

Are there any costs or fees associated with filing an appeal?

You will need to pay the initial civil filing fee for a District Court case at the time you file your appeal paperwork. If you cannot afford these fees, you can request that they be waived by filling out fee waiver forms. See the Fee Waiver (IFP) Help Topic for more information.

If you appeal and do not win, you may be required to pay the other party $50 as "costs." See Minn. Gen. R. Prac. 524.

If I appealed my case to District Court and I still do not agree with the outcome, can I appeal again?

Yes, you can appeal your case again to the MN Court of Appeals. However, the procedures and rules for the Court of Appeals are different than for District Court and Conciliation Court. You will not be able to submit new evidence to support your case.

See the Court of Appeals Help Topic for more information. You are strongly encouraged to talk to a lawyer about whether you should pursue an appeal. You may be able to get free legal advice through the Appeals Self-Help Clinic.

How do I collect money after winning a judgment?

The first step in collecting a judgment is to have the judgment "docketed.” This process is sometimes called “transcribing the judgment.” You can docket a judgment by filing an Affidavit of Identification of Judgment Debtor form with court administration in the county where you won your judgment. There will be a fee for docketing the judgment.

Judgment interest will be added to the amount of your judgment starting on the date the judgment was entered. This interest is calculated automatically by the court.

IMPORTANT: Winning a case in Conciliation Court does not guarantee payment. You are responsible for collecting your judgment from the other party. The court does not collect the payment for you. Collecting a judgment is not always easy and may involve more out-of-pocket expenses for filing fees and other costs.

For more detailed steps on how to collect on a judgment, see the Judgments Help Topic.
If you need help understanding how to fill out or file the forms, contact District Court Administration or one of the Self-Help Centers. You can also get help from a lawyer.
Rules & LawsIf you are representing yourself in a Conciliation Court case in Minnesota, you are responsible for following the same laws and rules as an attorney. Read Rights and Duties of Self-Represented Parties.

The following is a list of some of the laws and rules that pertain with Conciliation Court. See also Laws, Rules & Legal Research. Get more help with legal research at a local law library.

For advice on how laws and rules apply to your case, talk with a lawyer.
Resources by the Minnesota Judicial Branch
  *This video is on YouTube. The MN Judicial Branch and the Statewide Self-Help Center are not responsible for any content found on YouTube other than those published by the MN Judicial Branch. Videos are provided for general education purposes by the Statewide Self-Help Center.
  External Resources