How to Track an Elusive Defendant for Your Small Claims Case - dummies

How to Track an Elusive Defendant for Your Small Claims Case

By Judge Philip Straniere

One difficult situation that may emerge as you prepare your small claims case is not being able to find your defendant. You may be able to figure out the defendant’s legal name or designation, but if your defendant is elusive, try the following ways of tracking her down:

  • If you’re suing a store, look to see if there are any licenses posted somewhere within the store. If you’re in a place like New York City, just about every business must have some sort of license, and they’re required to be posted.

  • If you have a contract, bill of sale, or invoice from the defendant, it should include the legal name of the entity. In some places, if the business is licensed, the license number should be on the document. You can then contact the licensing agency, give them the number and get the correct name of the defendant.

  • If you paid by check, look at the back of the check to see how it was endorsed and the name of the account the money went into.

  • If you paid by credit or debit card, check your monthly statement for the correct name or contact your card issuer to verify to whom the payment was made.

  • If you know the address of the business property, check the county clerk records and see who owns the property. If there’s a mortgage on it, find out whose name is on it as the borrower. If your lawsuit arises out of an incident concerning the property, this is a good way to get the name of the owner to name as the defendant in the lawsuit.

    But be warned: If you’re merely looking for the correct name of the business operating at that address, the business may not be the owner — it may be the tenant, so the name of the owner won’t help. However, in some states, leases are recorded as well and the name of the tenant which could be the business you’re after may be named in the recorded lease.