North Dakota Eyes Raising Threshold for Small Claims Court

February 27, 2009

North Dakota’s Senate has narrowly endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment that would block attempts to move minor money disputes out of the state’s small-claims courts.

The proposal says small-claims cases have no right to a jury trial. North Dakota law defines a small-claims case as one where less than $5,000 in damages is at stake. The Legislature is considering whether to raise the threshold to $10,000.

In small-claims court, both sides argue their case to a judge in an informal setting, usually without attorneys. The judge’s decision is final. Rules of evidence and discovery, which allow the two sides to get information from each other, do not apply.

Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, the amendment’s sponsor, said some defendants transfer small claims to district court, where it is costlier for someone to press a claim because it is often necessary to hire an attorney.

“This is a measure … that costs nothing, that may have a downward trend on our civil case load,” Hogue said. “It will force those small cases to stay where they ought to be, which is in small claims court.”

Senators voted 24-21 this week to put the proposed amendment on the ballot. The proposal now moves to the North Dakota House.

Sen. Tom Fiebiger, D-Fargo, opposed it, saying the present small-claims system has “worked pretty well so far.” If the threshold for filing small claims is raised to $10,000, he said, he is skeptical about the wisdom of denying someone a jury trial.

“That seems like a significant amount,” Fiebiger said. “We
may want folks to at least have that option.”

The amendment is SCR4013.

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