How to Make Motions During Trial in Small Claims Court - dummies

How to Make Motions During Trial in Small Claims Court

By Judge Philip Straniere

You can make a motion during a small claims trial. Of course, if both sides are representing themselves without the assistance of counsel, there’s little likelihood that either side will have the expertise to make any motions, but if your opponent has a lawyer, you probably will be faced with at least one motion during your trial.

The most common motion is one by the defendant to dismiss for failure to prove the case. A motion to dismiss is made by the defendant after the plaintiff presents her case.

A defendant’s lawyer may say you failed to prove your prima facie case, meaning that even giving the best possible interpretation to all of your evidence, you’ve failed to make a legally enforceable claim against the defendant. If you have a case in which the testimony of an expert is needed, and you don’t have that expert, you can bet that a motion to dismiss will be made and granted.

Several things can happen if the defendant’s lawyer makes a motion to dismiss the case on prima facie grounds:

  • The motion is granted. Your case is over, dismissed on the merits.

  • The motion is denied. The defendant has to present her case.

  • The judge responds decision reserved. In the interest of time, the judge decides to wait to decide the motion until after the defendant has presented her case.

    Technically, the judge is supposed to rule on the motion when it’s made, and if necessary, take a recess to make the decision. In reality, reserving a decision gives the judge the ability to hear the whole case before deciding on the motion. Reserving the decision allows the case to move forward. Because there is no jury, there’s really no prejudice to either side.

A common motion that may arise during the trial and one the judge may generate herself is to adjourn the case when it becomes apparent a party or witness needs an interpreter. If the judge thinks an interpreter is needed, don’t even waste your time objecting. If the case goes ahead, and the loser appeals alleging she didn’t understand English, the appeals court will most certainly order a new trial.