Montana Small Claims Court Process

Montana Small Claims Court Process

Last Updated: April 3, 2023 by Ashley Porter

Quick Facts Answer
Small Claim Maximum $7,000
Deadline to File 5 or 8 Years
Filing Fees $30
Appeal Deadline 10 Days

Small Claims Court Basics in Montana

Small Claims Court is an informal court designed for minor cases limited to a maximum claim amount. The trial does not involve a jury. Instead, the plaintiff and defendant present their case to the judge, who makes a decision.

Common suits filed by landlords include:

  • Recovery of unpaid rent
  • Damages that exceed the amount of the security deposit
  • Failure to uphold the responsibilities of the rental agreement
  • Early termination of a lease

Common suits filed by tenants include:

  • Failure to return the security deposit correctly
  • Failure to uphold the responsibilities of the rental agreement
  • Overcharging for damages

How Long Does the Small Claims Court Process Take in Montana?

A typical small claims case in Montana takes one to two months, from the date of filing, but can be longer if there are problems serving the defendant, the trial is continued, or other delays occur.

How Much Can You Sue For in Small Claims Court in Montana?

In Montana, the maximum amount that can be recovered through Small Claims Court is $7,000.

To attempt to recover an amount of more than $7,000, the suit must be filed as a regular civil case in Justice Court.

How Long Do You Have to File a Small Claim in Montana?

In Montana, you have up to 8 years from the date of the dispute to file a small claims case if the tenancy was governed by a written lease agreement. If the lease was oral, the case must be filed within 5 years.

Are Lawyers Needed or Allowed in Small Claims Court in Montana?

Small Claims Court is designed to be simple and not require an attorney. Montana Small Claims Court only allows the use of an attorney if all parties are represented by an attorney.

Where are Small Claims Cases Filed in Montana?

In Montana, Small Claims Court is a division of Justice Court. A small claims case should be filed in the Justice Court in the judicial district where the defendant lives or can be served.

Use the court locator to find your local Justice Court. Select your county or city and then expand the Limited Courts of Jurisdiction to find the nearest Justice of the Peace.

How to File a Small Claims Case in Montana

Step 1: Send the landlord a demand letter by certified mail. If the landlord does not correct the issue within a reasonable time, you can proceed with filing a small claims case. Montana courts recommend giving the landlord at least 14 days to respond to the demand letter.

In the demand letter, you must include:

  • The amount you believe you are owed
  • The reasonable deadline by which you expect to be paid
  • A statement that you will sue in small claims court if you are not paid

Step 2: Complete a Complaint form. Attach a copy of your demand letter and written lease agreement (if any). If you would like the sheriff’s office to serve the defendant, complete a Praecipe form. Otherwise, you will need to hire a private process server.

Contact the court clerk before filing to determine how many copies of each document they require.

Step 3: File the Complaint in person at your local Justice Court.

Step 4: Pay the filing fee.

How Much Does it Cost to File a Case in Small Claims Court in Montana?

The fee for filing a case in Small Claims Court in Montana is $30.

What if You Can’t Afford to File a Case?

You can still file a case if you cannot afford the fees by filing a Fee Waiver.

Small Claims Court Process in Montana

After filing a small claims case in Montana, the court clerk will issue an Order with a hearing date, and the appropriate documents are served on the defendant.

Step 1: Serve the defendant. After you file the Complaint, you will need to serve the defendant at least 5 days before the trial.

The following documents must be served on the defendant:

  • Complaint
  • Order and Notice to Defendant

Service on the defendant can be completed by:

  • Private process server
  • Sheriff or constable

Step 2: Attend the trial. On the trial date, you should bring copies of any evidence you have to support your claim. The judge will give you and the defendant an opportunity to provide your arguments before deciding to dismiss the case or issue a judgment.

If the defendant does not attend the trial, the judge will issue you a default judgment.

Winning a Small Claims Judgment in Montana

If you win the judgment in Montana, the other party may appeal the case, you may be paid the judgment within the allotted time period, or you may need to pursue additional actions to recover the debt.

If the defendant disagrees with the outcome of the trial, they have 10 days after the issuance of the judgment to appeal to District Court by filing a Notice of Appeal and serving a copy on the defendant.

When the judge issues the judgment, it is due immediately. The courts recommend waiting until the 10-day appeal period has expired before filing a court case to enforce the judgment.

If the debtor is delinquent on their payment or refuses to pay, there are multiple court actions available to recover the debt. The most common methods of enforcing a judgment are garnishment of wages, bank garnishment, or property seizure. To initiate these processes, you would need to ask the court to issue an execution.

A judgment gains annual interest at a rate of 3% plus the bank prime rate published by the federal reserve system on the day the judgment is entered. You have 10 years to collect a judgment before it expires.