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A small claims action may be filed if the claim does not exceed $10,000. All eviction cases, regardless of the amount of damages claimed, are filed in small claims court. You are responsible for presenting your own case. It is not necessary to be represented by an attorney. The Clerk of Circuit Courts, court commissioners and other personnel are not authorized to provide legal advice. This brochure is intended to provide only a summary of basic procedures and information. Small Claims procedures are contained in Chapter 799 of the Wisconsin Statutes. The number for Small Claims is (608) 785-9705.
For most claims, the proper county to file your lawsuit is:
1. Where the claim arose;
2. Where the defendant resides.
It is your responsibility to review the facts of your case and to decide where to file your action.
Small claims summons and complaint forms and garnishment packets may be obtained from the Clerk of Circuit Courts office, Room 1200, Courthouse and Law Enforcement Center, 333 Vine St., La Crosse, Wisconsin 54601-3296. The original summons and complaint must be filed with the Clerk of Circuit Courts office, Room 1200.
Setting a Hearing Date
All Small Claims actions are scheduled for 9:00 a.m. on Fridays in Intake Court. Make sure that you allow adequate time to accomplish timely service when choosing your court date. Remember that Saturdays, Sundays and holidays are not included in computing the number of days required for proper service. In eviction actions, the court date cannot be more than 30 days from the date you "issue" the summons. You "issue" the summons when you sign and date it. The defendant must be served at least 5 days prior to the return date (first court date). For all other Small Claims cases, the court date cannot be more than 30 days from the "issue" date. The defendant must be served at least 8 days prior to the return date.
Service of Summons
Summons and complaints can be mailed to the defendant if they live in the county and if the case is not for an eviction. All evictions must be served by the Sheriff Department or a process server. Other summons and complaint cases may also be served by the Sheriff Department or a process server. There is a fee for the Sheriff Department service. A copy of the summons and complaint should be personally served on the defendant or a competent member of the defendant's household. If, with reasonable diligence, the defendant cannot be personally served, the plaintiff may appear on the court date and ask for an adjournment to allow for service by publication. Publication is accomplished by placing notice in the legal section of a local newspaper for one week and mailing a copy of the summons and complaint to the defendant's last known address. Proof of service must be filed with the Clerk's office.
The plaintiff must appear at the court date or the case will be dismissed. If the defendant does not appear, a judgment will be granted. If the defendant does appear, the parties will be asked to settle in the hallway. If no agreement is reached, the Judges have established a local court rule ordering the parties to go to mediation. The exception is if there is an attorney involved. However, all landlord tenant actions must be mediated. A law clerk is available to assist. If no agreement can be reached between the parties, the case will be then set for a trial before the court. If you fail to go to mediation, when required, your case will be dismissed by the Court.
If a judgment is rendered by a judge after the final hearing or trial, it will be entered on the court record by clerk of circuit court staff and a Notice of Entry of Judgment will be mailed to each party at their last known address. This notice will state the amount of the judgment, including statutory costs.
State law directs the Clerk of Circuit Court to compute costs and insert them in the judgment in favor of the successful party as follows: filing fee, service fees, statutory attorney fees, witness fees, jury fees and any other costs which may be allowed by the court.
Selected Fee Schedule (Effective October 30, 2007)
Small Claims
Summons & Complaint/$94.50
Service by mail (per defendant)/$2.00
3rd Party Complaint/$117.50
Writ of Eviction/$5.00
Writ of Execution/$5.00
Copies (per page)/$1.25
Disclosure of Assets
State law provides that a person obtaining a judgment for money is entitled to receive information regarding the financial status of the unsuccessful party within 15 working days after entry of judgment. Forms called Order for Financial Disclosure are available in Room 1200. Failure of the judgment debtor (unsuccessful party) to provide this information in writing to the judgment creditor is punishable by court imposed sanctions. The judgment creditor may compel the judgment debtor to appear in court and disclose this information by filing a Petition and Order for Hearing. This form is also available in Room 1200 of the Courthouse and Law Enforcement Bldg, 333 Vine St., La Crosse, WI. If judgment debtor fails to appear at this hearing, the court may issue an Order for Commitment.
A court judgment in your favor does not automatically result in the payment of money. You must first initiate collection of a judgment. Further court procedures are necessary. The primary method available to small claims litigants for enforcing the payment of judgment are (A) Garnishment and (B) Writs of Execution. (A) Garnishment is a method of collection that allows the judgment creditor to obtain monies owed by others to the judgment debtor, usually by attaching the judgment debtor's earnings or bank accounts (See 815 Wis. Stats.) (B) A judgment creditor may ask the court for a Writ of Execution directing the sheriff to seize specific, non-exempt personal property belonging to the judgment debtor for purposes of satisfying a judgment. You may want to obtain professional advise to decide a Writ of Execution is appropriate for your case (see 815 Wis. Stats.)
Docketing the Judgment
Once a judgment has been obtained, the judgment creditor may "docket" it by taking the case file to Room 1200 and paying a fee. When a judgment is docketed, the effect is to place a lien on any real estate owned by the judgment debtor in La Crosse County for 10 years. However, it is not required that a judgment be docketed to attempt collection from judgment debtor.
Reopening Judgment
The small claims court may reopen a default judgment. To reopen the judgment a Notice of Motion and Motion to Reopen is prepared and submitted to the assigned court. This form is available in Room 1200 of the Courthouse and Law Enforcement Center, 333 Vine St., La Crosse, WI. A date and time of the hearing is obtained from the clerk of the assigned court. A copy of notice of motion must be served on the opposing party before the motion date. The judge will determine whether the judgment will be set aside and a hearing held on the merits of the case.


Updated: 07/31/2012