How to Appeal a Small Claims Case if You Win - dummies

How to Appeal a Small Claims Case if You Win

By Judge Philip Straniere

Why would you want to appeal a small claims case if you won? Most people who win are satisfied and don’t want to appeal, but in a few possible scenarios you may consider it:

  • The court didn’t award you all the money you asked for.

  • The court gave you only nominal damages and didn’t find you to be entitled to any compensatory damages.

Appealing a case you won can open up a can of worms better left unopened. For example, if you appeal even though you won, you face a variety of possible outcomes:

  • The appellate court may review the small claims court record and decide that the judge was wrong to decide the case in your favor. This may result in your case being reversed, with the appellate court making its own binding findings based on the trial record or a new trial being ordered. If this happens, hopefully there’s an even higher court you can appeal to.

  • The defendant may also decide to appeal (sometimes called a cross-appeal) because you’ve opened the door, even if she already decided to abide by the decision of the small claims court judge. She has nothing to lose by filing a cross-appeal and gets a second chance to possibly reverse the decision at your expense, because you’ll be paying the costs of the appeal.

  • The appeals court may decide that there were mistakes at the trial level, but decide not to completely reverse the small claims judge. Instead, the appeals court remands the case, meaning it’s sent back for a new trial.

  • The appeals court can decide you’re right and entitled to more money. But the amount you’re seeking had better be worth the time involved and the downside risks.

If you’re the plaintiff and the defendant appeals the case, you don’t have to stop trying to enforce the judgment until after the appeal is heard. You won, so go and enforce your rights against the defendant. Most courts don’t automatically prevent you from collecting your money just because the defendant is appealing the decision.

The defendant may ask the small claims court to stay, or temporarily hold up, your enforcement pending the appeal, but most states require that the stay be obtained in the court hearing the appeal.

This is because after the notice of appeal is filed, the case is technically in the appellate court, and the lower level small claims court can’t tell the appellate court what to do. This means you have to find out where the appellate court is located. It may be in the county seat or some other place not in your locality.