In Pennsylvania, a lawsuit involving a claim of $12,000.00 or less can be filed in Magisterial District Court. For claims over $12,000.00, the party filing the lawsuit, who is known as the plaintiff, must file in the Court of Common Pleas. Representation by an attorney is not required in Magisterial District Court proceedings.
If you would like to file a lawsuit in Magisterial District Court, you must first determine which Magisterial District Judge has authority to hear your case. You may file in the Magisterial District where the transaction took place, where the defendant can be served, or where the defendant conducts business. Magisterial District Judges are listed in the blue pages of the Verizon phone book and also on the County of Erie's website at www.eriecountygov.org/courts/mdj/. Once you have determined which Magisterial District Judge should handle your claim, you should go to the District Judge's office and complete a Civil Complaint form. You will be asked to furnish your name, address and phone number, the name, address and phone number of the defendant, the amount of money you are seeking and a short statement of why you believe you are entitled to the money. When you file the complaint, you will pay a filing fee based upon the amount of money you are seeking and the type of service to the defendant you want, i.e. certified mail or a Pennsylvania Constable. If you win, the party you are suing, known as the defendant, will be required to reimburse you for these costs.
A civil hearing on the Complaint will be scheduled when a Complaint is filed. Before the hearing, the defendant will receive a copy of the Complaint and it will notify the defendant of the time and place of the hearing.
At the hearing conducted by the Magisterial District Judge, all parties will be allowed to testify and to present evidence and witnesses supporting their case. The Magisterial District Judge will issue a decision or a judgment immediately following the hearing, or within five days. Either party may appeal the Magisterial District Judge's decision by filing a Notice of Appeal with the Prothonotary at the Erie County Court House within thirty days of the Magisterial District Judge's decision or within ten days of a judgment for possession in a landlord-tenant case. Regardless of who wins before the Magisterial District Judge, if the party who lost files an appeal, the case starts over in the Court of Common Pleas and the plaintiff must attempt to prove his or her case again.
If the plaintiff wins at the Magisterial District Judge's office and no appeal is filed by the defendant, but the defendant does not pay the judgment, you — as the plaintiff — must take further action by going back to the Magisterial District Judge and asking that an Order of Execution be issued to collect the amount owed to you. There are additional costs for this Order that include fees for the Constable to collect the amount owed to you.
If the defendant wins and the plaintiff does not appeal, the plaintiff may be barred from suing the defendant again on the same claim. 8/11
If you need to consult with an attorney or would like more information on small claims court, please contact the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service.