tell your legislatures to increase small claims limits


     Both HALT and shlep believe that increasing the dollar limits at Small Claims courts is a most-promising strategy for achieving broader access to justice in the United States. At the main webpage of its Small Claims Reform Project, HALT states that small claims courts “have tremendous promise as a means of empowering ordinary people to take charge of their own routine legal needs,” and that significant increases in dollar limits “would be the most meaningful reform to increase consumer access to the small claims courts.”  HALT has a national campaign to increase the dollar amounts, and would like to see $20,000 case limits.  Unfortunately, consumers in most states still face limits of $5000 or less.  [Find out the small claims rules and dollar limits in your state, at this HALT page.] 

 doorFront Back in August 2000, long before launching shlep, I wrote “Supersize Small Claims” for the now-defunct [reproduced at Crime & Federalism, as part of the guest post fedLabs 101: small claims, big potential“] The article asserts that “[Our lawmakers could give a big chunk of the civil justice system back to the people by simply increasing the dollar limits allowed in small claims courts.”  And, the C&F post preaches:

Do you want to give power back to individuals?  Would you prefer to do so on a broad scale, at the local level, and without waiting for federal constitutional amendments, programs or court precedent?   Whether you’re a liberal or libertarian, a lawyer, legislator or law student, I have a suggestion: start working to increase the dollar limits in small claims courts in your state.  I can’t think of anything that could so quickly, and at so little cost, increase access to justice — especially, if coupled with other modest reforms that have been shown to work well in several states (e.g., from adopting Plain English forms and evening hours, to exploiting digital technology — as with California’s Small Claims Self-Help Center).

The newest HALT eJournal (March 12, 2007) reminded me today of this prior advocacy and of the continued need for ATJ advocates and all citizens to lobby for more effective small claims courts.  The main piece in HALT’s March 12 eJournal focuses on bills pending in four states that would increase the small claims dollar limits:

  • New Hampshire: Senate Bill 32-FN, introducted by Sen. Joseph Foster would increase the state’s small claims dollar limit from $5,000 to $10,000
  • graphClimbS  Kentucky: House Bill 198 was introduced by Rep. Tom Burch in January, would increase the state’s small claims dollar limit from a miserly $1,500 to a paltry $3,000.  [If you live in Kentucky, please press hard for evern higher limits.]
  • Michigan: Representative John Pastor reintroduced Michigan House Bill 4160, which would increase the small claims dollar limit from $5,000 to $7,500. 
  • Oregon: House Bill 2316 has passed and would increase the state’s small claims dollar limit from $5,000 to $7,500.  It is now awaiting a reading in the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.  A little legislative jawboning would sure help.

Self-helpers don’t need any further nudging to contact their state legislators.  Or, do they?

ProfPointer  p.s.  I can’t promise you more access to legal justice, but I can assure you better, timely access to law-related commentary, if you head every Monday to both Blawg Review and the The Barrister Blog‘s Weekly Review.  Today’s Blawg Review #99 is hosted by Matt Barr at Begging to Differ.  Our thanks to Matt for listing shlep‘s post last week on Family Court Civil Gideon.

1 Comment

  1. Daniel Quackenbush

    March 13, 2007 @ 7:22 pm


    I’m speaking of California. Small claims courts are Kangaroo courts. There are essentially no rules of evidence, no effective cross-examination, and the judge isn’t neutral (that is, the judge decides how the case is presented, not necessarily the parties), etc. Plaintiff can’t appeal the kangaroo court ruling. When the defendant appeals, there is merely another kangaroo court proceeding. Finally, although the California courts have held otherwise, small claims courts violate the California constitutional right to a jury trial (“the right to jury trial shall [supposedly] remain inviolate.”

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