Representing Yourself or Your Business in a Small Claims Action

Posted by Ingrid Johnson on Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A small claims action can be filed if the amount demanded is $6,500 or less. You can choose to represent yourself in a small claims action or hire an attorney to help. If you would like to represent yourself, the Iowa Judicial Branch website has some good resources for explaining the process: 

Essentially, this is the process for filing a small claims action:

  1. Review the instructions for self-represented litigants:
    1. Instructions for Filing a Small Claims Action for Money Judgment
  2. Electronically file the appropriate court forms.
    1. Free forms are available on the iowacourts.gov website: https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/court-forms/
    2. Depending on the case, you will likely have to file: 1) a Petition and Original Notice (likely Form 3.1); 2) a Verification of Account, Identification of Judgment Debtor, and Certification Re Military Service (Form 3.27); and, 3) pay the $85 filing fee.
    3. You must file electronically unless you get permission from the court.
      1. Instructions for efiling: https://www.iowacourts.gov/efile/efile-instructions/
  3. Serve the Petition and Original Notice on the defendant.
    1. In small claims actions, you can serve by certified mail, which will likely be cheaper than serving by sheriff. However, if you are worried about the defendant accepting service or are unsure of where they are located, you can ask the sheriff to serve them. Contact the sheriff in the county where the defendant lives or works and they likely will have an instructional form to fill out and will request a fee.
  4. Wait 20 days. The defendant generally has 20 days after receiving service to file an Answer.
    1. If the defendant files an Answer denying your claims or asserting a counterclaim, the clerk of court will set a date for a hearing. You must attend the hearing or risk getting your case dismissed with prejudice (meaning you cannot bring the case again).
    2. If the defendant files an Answer admitting your claims, the court can enter a default judgment against the defendant.
    3. If the defendant fails to respond to your Petition within 20 days of receiving service, you can ask the court to enter a default judgment against the defendant. The defendant generally has 20 days after the decision is rendered to appeal.

Additional help:

  1. What to bring to courtf
  2. Tips on representing yourself: https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/representing-yourself/
  3. Additional information on small claims actions: https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/representing-yourself/small-claims/
  4. What the clerk of court can help you with: https://www.iowacourts.gov/efile/efile-help/
  5. Small claims rules: https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/code/2018/631.pdf