Special Civil Court

Special Civil Court

Lawsuits for amounts up to $15000 are called special civil cases. They are filed in the part of the Civil Division of Superior Court called the Special Civil Part.

Examples:

  • A person or company failed to comply with a written or oral contract.
  • Your car was damaged in an accident.
  • You paid money as a down payment and want it returned.
  • Your property was damaged or lost.
  • Merchandise you bought is defective.
  • Work you paid for was faulty or not completed.
  • You want to be paid for work you did.
  • Someone wrote you a bad check.
  • You gave a landlord a security deposit that was not returned.

Cases not eligible:

  • Malpractice claims against doctors, dentists, lawyers, or other professionals
  • Claims for child support or alimony
  • Cases involving wills and inheritance
  • Claims seeking anything other than money from the defendant

Do I need a lawyer to file a lawsuit in the Special Civil Part?

The court system can be confusing, and it is a good idea to get a lawyer if you can. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you can contact the legal services program in your county to see if you qualify for free legal services.

Legal Services of New Jersey maintains a directory of regional legal services offices.

The NJ State Bar Association also maintains a list of county referral services that might be helpful.

Things to think about before representing yourself in court

Filing a special civil lawsuit

How to sue for an amount of money up to $15,000

This kit has all of the forms and instructions for self-represented litigants to file a special civil case for money damages

Note: You must be 18 to file a court case. If you are under 18, your parent or guardian must filed the case for you.

8 steps to file a special civil case

  1. Complete the Special Civil Part complaint (Form A in the Kit).

  2. Complete the top part only of Special Civil Part Summons (Form B in the Kit). Do not include personal identifiers such as social security numbers on the copy of the documents that you file with the court. Complete the forms, make a copy, and then redact or black out the personal identifiers on the copies you will submit to the court.

  3. Include the current address of the person you are suing.

  4. Attach the filing fee or request a fee waiver:

  5. Suing one defendant up to $3,000: $50
    Suing one defendant for more than $3,000: $65
    Each additional defendant:$5
    Mail service fee: $7 each defendant
    If requesting a jury trial: $100

    Checks should be made payable to “Treasurer, State of NJ”

  6. Check forms to make sure they are complete. Sign the forms.

  7. Make copies of all of the documents you will submit to the court and put them in a safe place. Check that you have redacted the personal identifiers on the copies you prepare for court. Mail or bring the complaint, the summons and the fee to the county Superior Court where the person or business is. Certified mail is recommended.
    *Note: If the defendant does not file an answer, you will need to pay for the papers to be hand-delivered

  8. The defendant can file a written answer to the court within 35 days of getting the court summons.

  9. If the defendant files an answer, the court will send you a notice with a date to appear in court. If the defendant does not file an answer, you might be entitled to a default judgment Contact the court if you cannot come to court on your assigned date. Your case might be dismissed if you do not come to court.

Serving the papers on the defendant

Your case cannot move forward unless the defendant receives the complaint and summons from the court.

The court will mail the complaint and summons to the defendant(s). The defendant must then file an answer.

NOTE: You must give the court the correct address for the defendant or your case can not move forward.

If you are being sued in a special civil case

If you are being sued in a special civil case

  • You are the defendant in a lawsuit.
  • You must file an answer with the court. If you do not file an answer, a money judgment might be entered against you.
  • You will receive a summons from the court with the date and time to come to the courthouse
  • You must appear in court on the date stated on the notice.
  • If you do not come to court, a money judgment might be entered against you.
  • If you cannot come to court on the date you were given, you must call the number on the notice or contact the Special Civil Part office where the case was filed to ask for a new date.

Do I need a lawyer to defend myself in a Special Civil Case?

The court system can be confusing, and it is a good idea to get a lawyer if you can. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you can contact the legal services program in your county to see if you qualify for free legal services.

Legal Services of New Jersey has a list of regional legal services offices.

The NJ State Bar Association has a list of NJ list of county referral services that might be helpful.

Corporations, limited liability corporations and limited partnerships must be represented by an attorney if the lawsuit is more than $3000.

Do not ignore the summons. Even if you do not have a lawyer, it is better to try to defend yourself in court than to ignore the summons.

Things to think about before representing yourself in court.

How to file an answer in the Special Civil Part.

Defendants must file a written answer to the complaint within 35 days of the date shown on the summons.

Each defendant must file a separate answer.

If you have evidence showing that you do not owe the amount claimed, such as receipts, attach copies of those papers to every copy of your answer. Keep copies of all the original documents and bring them to the trial.

You also can choose to file a counterclaim, cross-claim or want to file a third-party complaint

6 Steps for filing an answer to a lawsuit in the Special Civil Part

  1. Complete the answer form and write your explanation why you think you do not owe the money that the person suing you is asking for. Do not include personal identifiers such as social security numbers on the documents filed with the court. Complete the forms, make a copy, and then redact the personal identifiers on the copies you will submit to the court.

  2. Attach the filing fee of $30. Use a check or a money order payable to "Treasurer, State of NJ."

  3. Check to make sure forms are completed and signed.

  4. Make copies of all documents you submit to the court and put them in a safe place. Check that you have redacted the personal identifiers on the copies you prepare for court.

  5. Mail or bring the answer and the fee to the county Superior Court where the case was filed.

  6. You must also mail or bring your answer to the plaintiff and to any other parties in the case. If the other parties are represented by attorneys, send the information to the attorneys instead


  7. You will get a notice with a date to come to court. Contact the court if you cannot come to court on your assigned date due to circumstances beyond your control. If you do not appear in court, the court might find you in default and a money judgment might be entered against you.

You might receive a list of questions, called interrogatories , from the plaintiff. You must answer the questions and return them to the plaintiff within 30 days. Read more about preparing for trial.

Filing fees and fee waivers

  • To sue one defendant : $75
  • Each additional defendant: $12

All checks must be made payable to Treasurer, State of NJ

Do you qualify for a fee waiver ?

You might not have to pay to file your cases if your income and assets are low enough. Fill out the Fee Waiver form and give it to the court along with the required documents.

You can apply for a fee waiver in any NJ state court: Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Superior Court and Tax Court.

Request a fee waiver

Court filing and copy fees might be waived for litigants who

  1. Have income at or below 150% of the current poverty level (based on the number of people in the household; AND
  2. Have no more than $2,500 in liquid assets such as cash or bank accounts.

When to file an application for a fee waiver

Under Court Rule 1:5-6, the court clerk cannot file your case unless the required fee is included. In order to keep your case moving forward as quickly as possible, a fee waiver request should be filed.

Applying for a fee waiver in an appeal of a Superior Court case

To apply for a fee waiver in the Appellate Division of Superior Court:

  1. You must submit your application in the Superior Court in the county where your case was first filed.
  2. If your application is denied in Superior Court, you then have 20 days to apply for a fee waiver in the Appellate Division.

Applying for a fee waiver in an appeal of an agency determinations

File directly with the Appellate Division of Superior Court in Trenton if you want to request a fee waiver in your appeal from an administrative agency determination

If you have any questions about where to apply for a fee waiver, call the Superior Court Clerk’s Office at 609-421-6100.

Preparing for trial

Both the plaintiff and defendant will be asked to give testimony in court.

Bring witnesses. The court cannot accept written statements. You must bring the witness to court with you.

Bring all of the documents you need to prove your side of the case at the trial. The court cannot use text messages or emails on your mobile phone. You must print them out and bring them with you.

You will be questioning your witnesses and the witnesses brought by the other person. Write down your questions and bring them to court with you.

Bring to court records of any transactions that may help you prove your case. That could be

  • Cancelled checks, money orders, sales receipts
  • Bills, contracts, estimates, leases
  • Letters
  • Photographs
  • Other documents proving your claim

Interrogatories

The parties in a court case are able to ask each other for information about the evidence they will use in court. The questions are called interrogatories. The interrogatories are sent directly to the other party and not to the court. If there is more than one defendant in a case, separate interrogatories can be sent to each of them.

Deadlines

Plaintiff: You have 30 days after receiving a defendant’s answer to send your interrogatories to that defendant

If you are suing for personal injury or automobile negligence, you must demand interrogatories in the complaint.

Defendant: You have 30 days after receiving a copy of the complaint to send your interrogatories to the plaintiff.

All parties:   Whether you are a plaintiff or a defendant, all interrogatories must be answered within 30 days of when you received them.

If you do not return your answers to the other parties within 30 days, the court might rule against you by suppressing your answer.

If you miss the deadline, your filing is “stricken,” or removed, from the court record. You must pay a $25 fee within 30 days to have the case reinstated and your filing accepted.

After 30 days, the restoration fee goes up to $75.

After 45 days, the court might make the suppression order final, and then you will lose the case.

Use this kit for interrogatories for contract and debt collection cases over $3,000.
Use these instructions if your case involves an auto accident or personal injury.

Settlements

The court will ask that you try to settle your case so that you can avoid a trial. You might also want to contact the other party, or the other party’s lawyer, to talk about settling the case.

Your day in court

  • The plaintiff and the defendantmust come to court at the time and date stated on the summons, unless otherwise notified by the court.
  • Bring all witnesses and evidence needed to present your case.
  • On the day scheduled for trial, the court will help you try to settle your case through a settlement conference with a trained neutral third person. This person will try to help the plaintiff and the defendant reach an agreement. The neutral third person is not a judge.
  • If a settlement cannot be reached, your case likely will be heard by the judge on the same day.

If the plaintiff does not appear, the judge could dismiss the case.

If the defendant does not appear, the judge could enter a default judgment and the defendant might have to pay all or part of the money claimed in the lawsuit.

Appealing a Special Civil Case

Either party can appeal a decision in Special Civil court. You should consider whether the amount at stake in your case is worth the cost of filing an appeal.

When to file

The appeal must be filed in the Appellate Division of Superior Court within 45 days of the court’s decision.

Do I need a lawyer to file an appeal?

You do not have to have a lawyer to appeal your case. But the appeals process can be confusing. You will have to convince the appeals court that the judge made a mistake. It is a good idea to get a lawyer if you can.

Things to think about before representing yourself in court

Steps to file an appeal

  1. File a Notice of Appeal.
  2. Request a transcript [link forthcoming] of your case from the Appellate Division. You must have the official transcript in order for your appeal to be considered.
  3. Complete a Case Information Statement.

Use the Appellate Division Practice Checklist

Filing Fees

  1. $250 must be submitted with the Notice of Appeal. This is the cost of the appeal.
  2. $500 must be submitted with to the clerk of the Appellate Division within 30 days of filing the Notice of Appeal. This amount is a deposit for the cost of the transcript. The total cost of the transcript is $500 for each day or part of a day that your trial was held.

Do you qualify for a fee waiver ?

Did the special civil court waive your fee? If so, you can attach a copy of the order and a signed letter that says your finances have not changed since the case was filed.

Use the Certified Statement in Support of a Motion to Proceed as an Indigent

If you did not receive a fee waiver in your small claims case, you can submit a request for a fee waiver with your appeal.

Mail or bring your appeals documents to:

Appellate Division of Superior Court
Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex
P.O. Box 006
Trenton NJ 08625

Send copies of your appeals document to:

  1. All parties in the case who appeared in court
  2. The local Special Civil Part office that handled your special civil case
  3. The judge who decided your special civil case

Keep a copy of each document for yourself.

Preparing your appeal

You will need to prepare a brief , which is a document that explains why your appeal should be granted.

Questions about your appeal?

Call the Appellate Division Clerk’s Office at 609-815-2950.

Collecting Your Money

If you were awarded a judgment in small claims court, you are a judgment creditor .

You should contact the person who owes you the money, the judgment debtor, to talk about payment.

The court cannot guarantee payment

Although the court will try to help you collect the money owed to you, it cannot guarantee your debt will be paid.

Fees and other costs for writs of execution

The filing fee is $35.

Other Costs:

  • Ten percent fee: The special civil part officer will charge the debtor an extra ten percent on top of the amount to be recovered
  • Mileage: You will be charged for the distance the special civil part officer has to travel from the county courthouse to the judgment debtor’s home or place of business. See the special civil part officer mileage rates.
  • Sales and Advertising: If the special civil part officer sells personal property to get the money you are owed, you might be charged for things like advertising the sale.

Writ of Execution

Read our brochure on How to Collect a Money Judgment

A writ of execution is a court document that gives a special civil part officer the right to collect money from a judgment debtor’s bank account or personal property. Real estate cannot be used to collect money owed in the Special Civil Part.

Seizing a motor vehicle

You must be able to show that the vehicle is registered in the debtor’s name. You will need either:

  1. A certified of the title, or
  2. A certified lien search from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission.

The debtor might have an outstanding loan or debt on the car. You must determine if there is value or equity in the debtor’s car before you ask a special civil part officer to take it.

Other items that could be used to satisfy a writ include:

  • Office or sports equipment
  • Household items
  • Jewelry
  • Clothing

The debtor can keep $1,000 worth of personal property and clothing. If the debtor does not have more than $1,000 worth of personal property, this method cannot be used by the special civil part officer to satisfy your judgment and to collect the money owed to you.

Bank levy (taking funds from a bank account)

Use packet How to File a Motion to Turn Over Funds

You can ask a special civil part officer to collect the money from the debtor’s bank account if the account is in New Jersey.

Special civil part officers are not required to search for the debtor’s bank accounts. You must provide the name of the bank, the address and no more than the last 4 digits of the account number, if possible. Do not provide the Special Civil Part Office with the debtor’s entire active financial account number. Provide it to the officer directly if necessary.

After the money has been levied upon by the special civil part officer, it is considered frozen. You must then file a Motion to Turn over Funds with the court and serve a copy upon the debtor and the bank. If the court grants the motion, the judge will sign an order that the special civil part officer will deliver to the bank. The officer will take the money from the bank, deposit it into an official business trust account, and then mail a check to the creditor or creditor’s attorney by the 15th day of the following month.

Execution against wages (garnishing a debtor’s salary)

Use packet How to File a Wage Execution

The judgment creditor can request an execution against a person's wages if the debtor works in New Jersey and earns more than $217.50 per week. To request a wage execution, send a Notice of Application for Wage Execution to the debtor by regular and certified mail. File a copy of the application and a statement of how you mailed the application to the debtor with the Office of the Special Civil Part in the county where the case was heard.

If the debtor objects to the wage execution, a hearing will be immediately scheduled by the court. If the debtor does not object or the court does not allow the objection, the court will order a wage execution to be delivered to the debtor's employer by the special civil part officer. The employer will hold back a portion of the debtor's wages and will send this money directly to the officer. The officer will deduct a 10 percent commission and send the rest to you.

If the money is not collected

Writs for wage executions can last for 20 years, but other writs expire in two year. After two years, the debtor can choose to:

  1. Request a new writ of execution from the court by following the same procedures used the first time in order to have the special civil officer keep trying to get the money; OR
  2. Request to have the judgment recorded as a lien against any real estate owned by the debtor. Once the judgment is recorded in the Superior Court, the debtor cannot sell with clear title any real estate owned in New Jersey until the debt is paid.
  • To get a lien, a Statement for Docketing from the Special Civil Part Office where the case was heard. You can send the Statement for Docketing, plus a $35 filing fee payable to Treasurer, State of New Jersey, to
    • Clerk of the Superior Court
    • Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex
    • PO Box 971
    • Trenton, NJ 08625

Glossary of Terms

Answer:   An Answer  is a written response that explains why the defendant thinks they do not owe the money to the plaintiff in a court case.

Appeal:   Parties in a court case have the right to an appeal by applying to a higher court to reverse the decision of a lower court.

Breach of Contract:   A breach of contract is a failure to perform a promise that is a part of a written or oral contract.

Brief:  A brief is document submitted to the court to explain your side of the case.

Certification:  A certification  is a written statement made to the court when you file papers with the court, swearing that you believe the information contained in the papers is true.

Complaint:  A complaint  is a document in which you briefly tell the court the facts in your case and the relief you want the court to grant.

Counterclaim:   A Counterclaim  is a defendant’s written explanation to the court about they believe they are entitled to relief in the case.

Damages:  The amount of money the plaintiff sues for in a lawsuit is called damages.

Default:  When the defendant does not appear in court to respond to the complaint or does not file an answer, a judge could rule in your favor. This is called a default. Also, if you do not show up in court, the court could dismiss your case.

Defendant:  The defendant  is the person or business against whom a case is filed.

Fee waiver:  The court does not charge a filing fee for litigants who can prove that their income is no more than 150% of the current poverty level and that they have no more than $2,500 in cash and bank accounts.

File:  To file  means to give the correct forms and fee to the court.

Interrogatories: Interrogatories  are written questions to the other party or parties in a lawsuit whose purpose is to get information that can be used at trial.

Judgment:  A judgment  is the official decision of a court in a case.

Judgment creditor:  A person who is owed money as a result of a court order.

Judgment debtor:  A person who owes money as a result of a court order.

Lien:  A lien  is the legal right of a creditor to claim a debtor’s property until a debt is paid.

Litigant:  A litigant is person in a court case.

Motion:  A motion is a written request in which you ask the court to issue an order, or to change an order it has already issued.

Order:  An order  is a signed paper from the judge telling someone they must do something.

Party:  A party  is a person, business, governmental agency, etc., involved in a court action.

Personal Identifier:  A personal identifier  is any personal information that is unique to an individual, including Social Security number, military status, driver’s license number, license plate number, insurance policy number, active bank account and credit card numbers. This information could be used to steal someone’s identity or their money. All documents filed with the court are available for public inspection. Therefore no personal identifiers should be included on documents filed with the court.

Plaintiff:  The plaintiff  is the person who starts the lawsuit by filing the complaint.

Redact:   to redact   is to remove or to hide parts of a written document.

Proof Hearing : the judge or court can direct the plaintiff   to submit written documents or tell their story in a proof hearing to support or prove the how much the defendant owes.

Return Date:  The return date   is the date the plaintiff and defendant are told to appear in court.

Service: Service  is mailing or delivering copies of your papers to the lawyer for the other party or to the other party directly if they have no lawyer.

Service of Process:Service of Process   is the official delivery of the papers to the other party.

Summons:  A summons   is the paper that notifies the defendant that he or she is being sued and briefly explains the steps they need to take once they have received this notice.

Tort:  A tort   is when someone has harmed you and you want them to pay for it.

Transcript:  A transcript   is a written record of everything that was said during a court hearing.

Testimony: Testimony  is a statement given in court that gives evidence about a case.

Writ:  A writ  is an document issued by a court that orders a person, business or organization to do something.