Self Help

This information is for general guidance purposes only.  Use and/or reliance upon this information does not constitute or establish an attorney-client relationship. Any use of this information is solely
at your own risk. It is strongly recommended that you seek the professional services of a licensed attorney before acting upon
the information contained herein.


Anyone can sue a person or a business at the district justice level, provided:

a.    it is a civil matter; and,

b.    you wish to recover $12,000 or less.

The $8,000 amount does not include any court costs or interest that may be due. You should note that if you win the suit, you may recover the court costs. While you don’t need an attorney to initiate a suit at the district justice court, it might be advisable to at least consult with one if you are unsure of your case.

Normally, you have two years in which to initiate a lawsuit.

Where to sue . . .

Once you decide to sue someone or a business, you must first decide which district justice will hear the matter. The rules which govern where a suit may be initiated state that, generally, a suit must be filed where the person lives, where the company does business or where your claim began.

If you are unsure as to where you should begin, you may consult with any district justice on where you should file. Keep in mind, though, that generally the district justice and his/her employees are not lawyers and are not allowed by law to give out legal advice.

Starting the process . . .

Your civil suit begins with filling out a form which the district justice will provide to you. It will require:

1.    your name and address;

2.    the name and address of the person or

business you are suing;

3.    the amount of money you are seeking; and,

4.    a brief statement regarding the reason you

are suing.

When you fill out the portion giving your reason for suing, make sure you include enough information to allow the defendant ( the person or business you are suing ) to understand why you are suing.

Letting the other guy know . . .

You’ll need to notify the other person or business that you are suing him. After you have filed the necessary paperwork with the district justice, you will receive a hearing date. Prior to that hearing, you must “serve” the other party with a copy of the compliant. “Service” is a legal requirement that formally notifies the other party of the complaint. “Service” can be accomplished in one of two ways:

1.    certified mail, return receipt; and,

2.    delivered in person by a sheriff or a constable.

Before your “day in court” . . .

Make sure your case is ready. This is done by organizing any papers related to your claim, including receipts, estimates or letters. You might want to make two copies of each document: one for the other party in court and one for the judge.

Also, it’s probably a good idea to gather any witnesses you might have and bring them with you to the hearing.

At your “day in court” . . .

Besides you and any of your witnesses, the courtroom will contain the judge, the opposing party, his/her witnesses and possibly an attorney if the other party brings one.

As the judge enters the courtroom, make sure you stand up. This is a sign of respect for the court. Once he or she is seated, you may be seated. The judge will call the case to order and briefly explain what will happen.

As the “plaintiff,” you will be asked to present your side first. Above all, TELL THE TRUTH! Be as specific and as thorough as you can be when you’re telling your side of the story. If you present a document, make sure you provide the judge and the other party with a copy.

When you’re finished telling your side, the other party will have an opportunity to question you. Don’t be afraid by this. If you think about it enough prior to the hearing date, you probably will be able to anticipate what kinds of questions the other party will be asking and why. As each of your witnesses finishes, the other party will be allowed to ask them questions too. Don’t worry. When the other party tells his/her story, you’ll be able to ask questions too.

Decisions . . . decisions . . .

Once all of the testimony is completed, the district justice may give you a decision or s/he might choose to wait. This is common and should not be questioned. If s/he decides to “think it over,” a decision must be made within five (5) days after the hearing.

If the decision is in your favor, you win! If it is not, you will have thirty (30) days to file an appeal with the Court of Common Pleas (your county court). But remember, just as you have 30 days to appeal, the defendant also has 30 days to appeal the judge’s decision.

If no appeal is filed . . .

After 30 days, go back to the district justice and request a certification of judgment. Generally, the certification of judgment must be filed as a Writ of Execution of Judgment with the county Prothonotary and the county Sheriff. There probably will be a fee for this in both the Prothonotary and Sheriff’s office and differs from county to county. Once the Writ is completed and properly filed with both offices, the county sheriff will take it and attempt to collect what is owed to you from the other party. Keep in mind that any fees for this service are also reimbursable to you. If the person against whom you are trying to collect has no money, the sheriff has the authority to seize and sell some (or all if need be) of the defendant’s property in order to pay you.  Generally, that’s all there is to it.


Of course, every situation has its own specific hazards. For a small one-time fee of $150 payable in advance, Attorney Sheldon would consult with you regarding your complaint paper(s) and provide you with useful commentary on them–as well as your overall case–prior to filing with the district justice. As with all legal matters, no lawyer can guarantee or promise you’ll win your case. If you find a lawyer that gives you that sort of guarantee or promise, I would strongly advise you to find another lawyer.

Simply e-mail Attorney Sheldon at and he will advise on how to  arrange for review of your documentation.

* * NOTE: This is only a general overview of how the process works in Pennsylvania. Most likely, it will be the same or similar to your jurisdiction if you’re outside Pennsylvania. Check with your local district justice to make sure this process applies to your case.

Pennsylvania Attorney 717-657-3464

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