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Minnesota Court Records

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What are Minnesota Small Claims Cases and Class Action Lawsuits?

Parties who have legitimate grievances against other individuals, businesses, or government agencies have the option of filing a small claims action or class action lawsuit with a Minnesota Court. When a party’s claim for a sustained injury amounts to $15,000 or less (or $4000 or less for a consumer credit transaction), it is a small claims case. When it involves a large number of people who have suffered a corresponding financial or personal harm, it is a class-action lawsuit. The small claims court in Minnesota is the Conciliation Court, a division of the District Court. Although these claims are typically filed by 18 years/older or emancipated individuals, a person less than 18 years may bring an action to court, but it must be through a parent or guardian.

What is a Class Action Lawsuit in Minnesota?

A class-action lawsuit is a legal process where several plaintiffs seek remedies from a defendant because of a shared injury. Individuals can obtain compensation for defective products through this collective action, insurance fraud, harmful health products, environmental torts, and any other injury endured because of a corporation’s willful or negligent actions. Generally, a case will proceed as a class action lawsuit if there are too many plaintiffs that resolving the case independently would not be practical. Rule 23 of the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure regulates class action claims in the state courts.

How do I File a Claim in a Minnesota Small Claims Court?

The Minnesota Conciliation Court (or Small Claims Court) provides members of the public with an informal and cost-effective way to resolve disputes with a low dollar amount ($15,000 or less; $4,000 or less for consumer credit actions). The practices and procedures of this court are established by law under Minn.Stat. §§ 491A.01 et seq. and the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure.

A small claims case commences in court when an individual serves a defendant with a summons and complaint. A case does not begin in Minnesota if the plaintiff (petitioner) merely files a complaint with the court. Typically, claims can only be filed within the statutory limit. For example, contract/property claims have a 6-year limit. Chapter 541 of the Minnesota Statutes mentions the various statutory limitations for civil cases.

To initiate a small claims petition with the court, the first thing to do is gather, complete, sign, and file the required court forms. The Statement of Claim and Summons form and other essential forms can be found on the Court Forms page or through a local administrator’s office. Also, the Guide & File platform can be used to create and file forms electronically. A plaintiff will need the defendant’s details (name and address), the monetary value of the claim, reason for filing, and date when the incident took place to complete the Statement of Claim form.

At the time of filing, petitioners will be expected to pay a filing fee. This fee may differ by county, but the base fee is $75. Acceptable means of payment include cash, check, and money order. Still, petitioners may check with the court to find out if credit or debit cards are permitted. Indigent persons may apply for a fee waiver by filing an Affidavit of Inability to Pay Conciliation Court Filing Fee form as well.

The venue to file a claim is in the county where a defendant (sued party) resides. If the case is against a nonindividual (business, corporation, government agency) or involves a landlord/tenant dispute about security deposits or overdue rent, it should be filed in the county where the business, agency, or rental property is located. If it involves a dishonored check, action must commence where the check was dispensed (Minn.Stat. § 491A.01 subd. 10).. Other jurisdictional venues (places of filing) are outlined by Minn.Stat. § 491A.01.

After filing, a plaintiff must then serve the defendant as directed by Minn.Stat. § 491A.01 subd. 3a.(c). The court administrator’s office may be contacted to confirm service processes. The law requires defendants who have been served to attend their court hearing unless a settlement is reached before then and the court dismisses the case. The Minnesota judicial branch offers additional information and resources to litigants involved in small claims cases on its website.

Do I Need a Small Claims Lawyer?

Litigants of a small claims case in Minnesota do not need to retain legal counsel. Since the procedures of the court are quite straightforward, plaintiffs and defendants are prohibited from obtaining legal counsel unless permitted by the judge or unless the party is a business appealing a Conciliation Court judgment in the District Court. If the judge approves counsel, an attorney may only assist the litigant according to the judge’s directions. However, litigants can seek legal advice for a small claims case. A good example of why a party may speak to a lawyer is to know the statute of limitations for a specific case.

How do Class Action Lawsuits Work in Minnesota?

Class action lawsuits are filed when mass issues of product liability, fraud, misleading advertisement, defective drugs, employment wages/discrimination, and other related legal issues happen. In Minnesota, a case proceeds as a class-action lawsuit when the court approves it as such. This is known as certification. These lawsuits can be filed in federal and state courts. Following Rule 23 of the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure, state courts will approve a class action claim if:

  • A general legal issue exists
  • Class members will be represented impartially and adequately by the class representative
  • The representative party’s claims or defenses match those of the class
  • It will be ineffectual to pursue individual actions based on the size of the class

It should be noted that the state law is adopted from the federal law covering class actions, Rule 23. Therefore, the certification requirements for both jurisdictions are similar.

When the court certifies a class action, such an order will define the class and the claims and defenses of the class, and class members will be notified. The order will also appoint a representing attorney (class counsel) in accordance with Rule 23.07. Afterward, the case goes to the discovery phase and will be tried in court unless a settlement is reached pre-trial.

Is a Class Action Better Than a Single Party Suit?

The nature of a civil case plays a significant role in determining if an individual will be better off filing/joining a class action or filing a single party claim. A class-action lawsuit has a greater chance of succeeding when the plaintiff is a member of a group (class) who suffered similar harm. Independently proceeding with a claim will be futile or impractical. When the class action suit does not suitably represent or protect a person’s interests, an individual may opt to begin an independent or single party lawsuit. Typically, litigation of a single party suit is more costly than a class action suit where the members share the cost. However, because of a class-action lawsuit’s complexity, a single party suit will be faster to resolve in court. It is also important to keep in mind that the damages recoverable through a class action may be less than that of a single party suit. As such, it is advisable to talk to a lawyer before any action.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the document or person involved

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party websites may vary.

What Cases are Heard by Small Claims Courts in Minnesota?

Small claims cases heard by the Minnesota Conciliation Courts include:

  • Unpaid wages
  • Landlord/tenant conflicts (including property damage, disputes arising from security deposits
  • Debt actions
  • Personal injury
  • Dishonored/bad checks
  • Possession or recovery of personal property

Per Minn.Stat. § 491A.01 subd. 4, certain claims are excluded from the court’s jurisdiction. These cases include real estate titles, boundary line disputes, libel/slander, cases filed for injunctive relief, class action lawsuits, evictions, and medical malpractices.

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