Tennessee Small Claims Court Process

Tennessee Small Claims Court Process

Last Updated: January 13, 2023 by Ashley Porter

Quick Facts Answer
Small Claim Maximum $25,000
Deadline to File 3 years – Property damage

6 years – Violation of lease, collection of rent

Filing Fees Vary by court
Appeal Deadline 10 days

Small Claims Court Basics in Tennessee

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 Tennessee?

A typical small claims case in Tennessee 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 Tennessee?

In Tennessee, the maximum amount that can be recovered through Small Claims Court is $25,000.

To attempt to recover a higher amount, the suit must be filed as a civil case in Circuit Court.

How Long Do You Have to File a Small Claims Case in Tennessee?

The time limit for filing a small claims case in Tennessee depends on the type of case filed:

  • Three years: Property damage
  • Six years: Violation of a lease agreement, collection of rent

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

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

Where are Small Claims Cases Filed in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, Small Claims Court is a division of General Sessions Court. Every county in Tennessee has a General Sessions Court. Small claims are filed in the county where the rental property is located or where the defendant lives.

How to File a Small Claims Case in Tennessee

Step 1: Contact your local court clerk to obtain the correct form(s) to file your case. The required forms vary by county. When speaking with the clerk, also ask about the specific filing procedures in that court.

Step 2: File the forms according to the specific filing procedures in your local court. Filing methods typically include in-person, by mail, or electronic.

Step 3: Pay the filing fee.

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

The fees for filing a case in Small Claims Court in Tennessee vary by court but are typically between $120 and $250. Contact your local court clerk to determine the applicable filing fees.

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

You can still file a case if you cannot afford the fees by filing an Affidavit of Indigency.

Small Claims Court Process in Tennessee

After filing a small claims case in Tennessee, the required documents must be served on the defendant and the court clerk schedules a hearing date.

Step 1: Serve the defendant. Service on the defendant can be completed by mail, sheriff, constable, or private process server. The procedure for serving the defendant varies by court, so check with your local court clerk to determine the correct process.

Step 2: Get witnesses. If you think it would help your case, ensure that any witnesses are available to attend the trial. For example, you may ask the apartment manager to serve as a witness to how clean you left the apartment after moving out.

You may need to subpoena a witness if you are unable to get them to attend voluntarily by serving a subpoena.

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 they decide 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 Tennessee

If you win the judgment in Tennessee, 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.

Either party can appeal the decision to the Circuit Court within 10 days (excluding Sundays) after the issuance of the judgment by filing a Notice of Appeal.

In the best case, the judgment debtor pays their debt promptly after the issuance of a judgment. If the judgment debtor has not paid within 10 days, you can proceed with a court-enforced collection of the judgment.

If the debtor is delinquent on their payment or refuses to pay, you can recover the debt through bank or wage garnishment.You have 10 years to collect or renew a judgment before it expires. A judgment collects interest at a rate decided by the court, up to 10% per year.