Rhode Island Small Claims Court Process

Rhode Island Small Claims Court Process

Last Updated: December 20, 2022 by Ashley Porter

Quick Facts Answer
Small Claim Maximum $5,000
Deadline to File 10 years – Civil actions
Filing Fees $55 – In-person or by mail

$75.75 – electronic filing

Appeal Deadline 2 business days

Small Claims Court Basics in Rhode Island

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 Rhode Island?

A typical small claims case in Rhode Island takes one to three 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 Rhode Island?

In Rhode Island, the maximum amount that can be recovered through Small Claims Court is $5,000.

To attempt to recover an amount of more than $5,000, the suit must be filed in District Court.

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

You must file a small claims case in Rhode Island within 10 years.

Are Lawyers Needed or Allowed in Small Claims Court in Rhode Island?

Small Claims Court is designed to be simple and not require an attorney in most situations. However, either party can be represented by an attorney if they so choose.

Corporations must be represented by an attorney unless their total assets do not exceed $1 million or the majority stakeholders are family members.

Where are Small Claims Cases Filed in Rhode Island?

In Rhode Island, Small Claims Court is a division of District Court. A small claims case should be filed in the District Court where the rental property is located.

  • Newport County – Murray Judicial Complex – 2nd Division District Court
  • Kent County – Noel Judicial Complex – 3rd Division District Court
  • Washington County – McGrath Judicial Complex – 4th Division District Court
  • Providence County – Garrahy Judicial Complex – 6th Division District Court
  • Bristol County – Garrahy Judicial Complex – 6th Division District Court

How to File a Small Claims Case in Rhode Island

Step 1: Create an online account for the electronic filing system.

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Electronic filing is required unless you cannot access the electronic filing system. You can apply to waive the requirement by filing a Petition so you can file in person or by mail.

If you are eligible to waive the electronic filing requirement, you can file a Complaint in person with the clerk of the appropriate court, or by sending the document by mail with the filing fee.

Step 2: Log in and click Start a New Case.

Step 3: Enter names and contact information for yourself and the defendant.

Step 4: Select Small Claims as your filing code. Enter Plaintiff’s Complaint as your filing description and upload the Complaint as your lead document.

The document must be:

  • Saved as a PDF
  • Not password protected
  • Black and white (color documents will be converted to black and white)
  • 8½” x 11” or 8½” x 14” size
  • At least 200 dot-per-inch (DPI) resolution
  • No greater than 25 megabytes (if larger, upload as separate files)
  • Saved without hyperlinks or shortcuts to external documents or websites

Step 5: Pay the filing fee.

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

The fee for filing a case in Small Claims Court in Rhode Island is $55. If you file the case electronically, the total fee is $75.75, which includes additional fees for the filing system.

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 Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis.

Small Claims Court Process in Rhode Island

After filing a small claims case in Rhode Island, the appropriate documents are served on the defendant and the defendant files an answer or counterclaim before the case is scheduled for a trial.

Step 1: Serve the defendant. After you have filed the complaint in person, by mail, or electronically, you will need to serve the defendant.

The following documents must be served on the defendant:

  • Complaint
  • Summons
  • Language Assistance Form

Service on the defendant can be completed by:

  • Certified or registered mail
  • Registered private process server
  • Constable

If service is to an individual, you can leave the documents at the individual’s residence, deliver them to the individual personally, or hand-deliver them to a person residing at the individual’s residence of suitable age and discretion.

If service is to a corporation, you can deliver the documents to an officer, managing or general agent, by leaving the documents with an employee at the corporation’s office, or with someone designated by the corporation to receive service.

Service must be made on the defendant within 120 days of filing the complaint.

Step 2: Defendant files an Answer or Counterclaim. Within 20 days of the filing of the complaint, the defendant must file their answer by mailing or hand-delivering a copy to the appropriate court. Once the answer has been filed, the clerk of the court will issue a trial date within three weeks of the filing.

If the defendant decides to file a counterclaim, they can use the form attached to the answer. If the defendant does not provide their answer or counterclaim within this time period, you will be issued a default judgment. In this case, you will not need to attend the trial.

Step 3: 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 files a counterclaim prior to the trial, they waive their right to an appeal. In this case, you are entitled to appeal the counterclaim if you disagree with the judge’s decision.

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

Winning a Small Claims Judgment in Rhode Island

If you win the judgment in Rhode Island, 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 two days excluding weekends and legal holidays to file an appeal by filing a Notice of Appeal.

When the judge issues the judgment, they will determine a time period for repayment. In the best case, the judgment debtor pays their debt within this period.

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 placing a lien on real estate. To initiate these processes, you would need to file a case through the District Court to seek court-enforced repayment of the judgment.

A judgment gains interest at a rate of 12% annually. You have 20 years to collect a judgment before it expires.

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