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How to Make a Post-Trial Motion in Small Claims Court

Post-trial motions in small claims may be made immediately after both sides present their respective cases, or they can be made after the case is over and the judge has rendered a decision.

The losing party may make a motion to the judge requesting a new trial. This is not the same as an appeal. An appeal is an application to a higher court to review what happened at the trial.

A post-trial motion for a new trial is addressed to the trial judge and basically says “Hey judge, you misinterpreted some of the evidence” or “Hey judge, I just learned some facts about the case that I couldn’t have possibly known before, and I think I should have a new trial.”

The problem with post-trial motions is the substantial justice standard, which holds that as long as the trial was fair and each side had an opportunity to present its case, substantial justice has been achieved. In that case, no new trial will be granted.

Another type of post-trial motion is one made if either party missed the trial date: This is one where the party that missed the court date asks that the case be restored to the court calendar for a trial on the merits. Because it’s small claims court where the policy is to try to give the parties their day in court, these motions generally are granted.

Like all motions, a motion to restore the case rests in the sole discretion of the judge. Most states require any such request be accompanied by a reasonable excuse for why you missed the date and a meritorious claim or defense, meaning that there is some legal basis to support your complaint or if you’re the defendant to defeat the plaintiff’s complaint.

  • If you’re the plaintiff and don’t show up, your case would be dismissed. You can make a motion to have the case restored to the trial calendar so you can have your day in court.

  • If the defendant fails to appear for the trial and a default judgment was entered against her, the defendant would have to show some sort of reasonable excuse as to why the case should be restored, basically re-tried with the defendant present.

In some places, a reasonable excuse for missing the trial is “I forgot” or “I missed the bus.” If you have a legitimate reason, such as you were out of town, never got notice, or had a medical problem, present any proof you have when you make the motion. If you just screwed up, it’s probably better to just admit that and throw yourself on the mercy of the court.

If you know in advance that you’re going to have a problem with a scheduled trial date, it’s better to notify your opponent and the clerk of the court beforehand rather than trying to get your case restored after the fact.

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