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Starting a Civil Suit in the Magisterial District Court
Self Help - Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas

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I am thinking about filing a small claims Civil Lawsuit.
Do I go to Magisterial District Court or Common Pleas Court?

Claims for $12,000 or less may be filed in Common Pleas Court; however, Magisterial District Courts are less formal, less expensive and faster than Common Pleas Courts. The Magisterial District Court has standardized forms to complete and file. The Court of Common Pleas does not provide such forms in all cases. It is up to you to determine which court is most appropriate for your claim.

What cases may be filed at Magisterial District Court?

You may file a civil suit at Magisterial District Court if you have a complaint against a person or business and wish to recover an amount of money totaling $12,000 or less. This is called a civil lawsuit. The $12,000 limit does not include the court costs involved in the suit, or any interest which may be due on your claim. If you are successful, you are entitled to be reimbursed for court costs. Cases for more than $12,000.00 must be filed at the Court of Common Pleas.

To which Magisterial District Court should I go?

If you file a suit in Magisterial District Court, you must determine which Magisterial District Judge has authority to handle the suit. Magisterial District Judges Rule 302 is the rule which governs where a suit may be filed. Generally, the suit must be filed where the person you are suing lives or is located, or where your claim arose. For example, a small claim arising out of a traffic accident or contract dispute could be filed at the office of the Magisterial District Judge who serves the territory where the accident occurred or where the contract was signed. However, Rule 302 allows for other options. To determine which Lehigh County Magisterial District Court office covers a certain address, use the MDJ locator.

Do I need to hire an Attorney?

In Magisterial District Court, an attorney is not required, but it may be advisable to have one present for certain types of cases. If you choose to represent yourself, there is no assistance available from the Magisterial District Court office staff. You must be prepared to follow court rules and prepare your own documents.

If you want to obtain the service of an attorney, but do not know whom to contact, you should visit the Lehigh Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service website.

Do I need to pay for filing the complaint?

In most cases, yes. You will pay filing fees and fees to have the complaint served on the other party. Keep in mind that if you succeed in the suit, the party you are suing (the defendant) may be required to pay you back for the court costs.

I am ready to file a small claims Civil Lawsuit.
Before you begin

Important information

  • You will be the PLAINTIFF.
  • The person or business you are suing will be the DEFENDANT. You will need their name and address.
  • You must know the amount of money you are suing for, including all expenses.
  • Be prepared to write a short statement explaining why you believe you are entitled to the money. Include the dates when events important to your case occurred.
Step 1 Form Preparation

Complete the Civil complaint form fully and neatly. Be sure to provide enough information so the person you are suing knows why he or she is being sued.

Step 2 Filing the Complaint

Once the complaint is completed, you must file it at the correct Magisterial District Court office. Be prepared to pay the filing fees.

Although the complaint may be filed by mail, it is advisable to submit it personally to the Magisterial District Court office. It will be easier for the clerk to tell you whether your complaint form has been properly completed. It will also be easier to determine precisely what fees you must pay.

There will be an additional fee for service of the complaint to the defendant which will vary according to how it is served.

Step 3 Serving the Complaint

Once you have filed a complaint, the Magisterial District Court office staff will schedule a hearing between 12 and 60 days from the time you file. The law requires that before the hearing, the other party must receive a copy of the complaint.

This can be done in one of two ways:

  1. CERTIFIED MAIL: You can request that the complaint be sent by certified mail. The letter will be delivered to the defendant and the receipt will be returned to the Magisterial District Court as proof that it was received; or
  2. PERSONAL SERVICE BY SHERIFF OR CONSTABLE: The complaint can be delivered by the sheriff or a constable for an additional fee which can be recovered if you win the suit. Sometimes having the complaint personally served is more effective because a person may not be home or may refuse to accept a certified letter and a sheriff or a constable can attempt to make service on the complaint.

Minor Court Civil Rule 307 Service of the Compliant and Rule 308 Service upon Individuals are available at

I filed a small claims Civil lawsuit, now what happens?
I Have my Hearing Date and Time. What should I do before the hearing?

You should gather and organize all documents and information relating to the suit. You must have any document that is important to your case with you. The Magisterial District Judge will only consider documents presented at the hearing. It is also a good idea to have witnesses present at the hearing.

What happens at the hearing?

At the hearing, those present will be the Magisterial District Judge, you (the plaintiff), your witness, your lawyer if you choose to have one, the defendant, defense witnesses, and possibly the defendant's lawyer. The courtroom will almost always be open to the public as well. The Magisterial District Judge will explain the procedure to you. Do not be afraid to ask questions. During the hearing, you will be given an opportunity to tell what happened that caused you to sue the defendant. Show any papers, bills, receipts, or letters you have to the Magisterial District Judge. You will probably be asked questions by the other side, or possibly by the Magisterial District Judge. Then your witnesses will be allowed to tell what they know about the case. The defendant will be given the same opportunity. You will also be permitted to ask questions of the defendant. The Magisterial District Judge's decision may be made at the hearing or you may be informed of it later, within five days of the hearing.

What happens if I win?

If you succeed in your case, you will get a judgment on paper stating that the defendant owes you a specific amount of money. The other party may arrange to pay you in installments, lasting up to 12 months, as set by the Magisterial District Judge. However, the defendant has 30 days to appeal the decision to Common Pleas Court and you cannot collect your money until that time has passed.

Remember, the court does not pay you and in most cases it is your responsibility to file the judgment and collect the money from the defendant. The losing party does have the right to appeal which may delay any collection.

If you win and the defendant does not appeal within 30 days, you, the plaintiff maybe able to go to the Magisterial District Court and ask that an Order of Execution be entered by the Magisterial District Judge. The plaintiff must ask for this order within 5 years after the judgment.

What Does the Order of Execution Do?

The Magisterial District Judge will deliver the order to the sheriff or a constable who will serve it upon the defendant. At the time it is served, the sheriff or constable will also list the property which he/she intends to sell. The money from the sale will be used to pay the costs of the sale and the amount of the judgment. The property a Magisterial District Judge can order to be sold does not include land. Each person can claim a $300.00 exemption. That means $300.00 worth of property is set aside and cannot be sold to pay for the judgment. The documents the sheriff or constable serves on the defendant explains the exemption to the defendant.

What is a Default Judgment in Favor of the Plaintiff?

Judgment in favor of the plaintiff means that you, the plaintiff, will be awarded the judgment asked for without having to present your case to the Magisterial District Judge. You win because the defendant failed to defend the case or appear in court.

What can I do if I lost?

If you lost the case and the Magisterial District Judge's decision is in favor of the defendant, you also have the right to appeal to the Court of Common Pleas. You must file your appeal within 30 days of the date the Magisterial District Judge made the decision.

The appeal process may be too complicated to handle without a lawyer. If you want to obtain the service of an attorney, but do not know whom to contact, you should visit the Lehigh Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service website

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The forms and instructions that are available from this website are not a substitute for professional legal advice. Court employees cannot give you legal advice or help you fill out /complete the forms. It is your responsibility to read and complete the forms and to take required steps to file and serve the documents. If you decide to use these forms in an actual action, be prepared to spend appropriate time gathering information, completing forms and following the Rules of Court. The Court assumes no responsibility for the use of these forms and accepts no liability for actions taken by using these documents, including reliance on the instructions and/or contents. To obtain legal advice and to insure the proper use of this material, you should contact a lawyer.

If you want to obtain the service of an attorney, but do not know whom to contact, you should visit the Lehigh Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service website.

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