<BR><BR><BR><BR><BR> <BODY BACKGROUND="P10005.jpg"> <p>Only a small fraction of the people who go to small claims court and win ever collect anything Here are some tips to help you get the money that is owed to you. Sadly, there are obstacles.</p> <p>If you are viewing this text, your browser lacks the ability to read frames or iframes. Don't worry; you can still enjoy our site. All the pages can be viewed from the <A href="http://cauc2.net/sitemap.htm" TARGET=_parent >Site Map page</A>. Please come inside!</p> <p>This is also a story about an atrocious roof installed by Eagle Construction. Did the Better Business Bureau, Better Contractor's Bureau, NARI - National Association of the Remodeling Industry, GAF Materials Corporation, or the D&C newspaper do anything to help the consumer? Amy wants to share what she has learned to help other consumers not make the same mistakes she made.</p> <H1>Collecting Judgments</H1> </body>
Collecting Judgments

Judgment Creditor (JC) - party that is owed money -
This can be either a winning claimant or a defendant
successful in pursuing a counterclaim

Judgment Debtor (JD) - party that owes money

Only a small fraction of the people who prevail in court are ever able to collect a dime. "In 2003, the City of Rochester small claims court awarded 1,550 judgments. But as of now, only 350, or about 22 percent have been fully or partially satisfied." New York doesn't have an efficient procedure to help you secure payment of your monetary award, making it near impossible to get your money back. The court simply rules on cases; collections are not the court's responsibility, at present.

Collection is difficult and expensive, and there are no guarantees. Currently, a judgment creditor (you) must first ascertain their opponent's exact legal name and address, and then must locate assets (account numbers) held by the judgment debtor (them). If you can do that, you can seek the assistance of the sheriff or the court's marshal in the county of the JD's residence or place of business / employment to seize assets or garnish wages. Whether it is payroll or a bank account, marshals can take control of it; and seize up to the amount of money that is needed. Of course, there is always the chance that your contractor will just disappear or be 'judgment proof'. Many people, who have judgments against them, are notorious for knowing how to play the system. They live in a cash world and have no detectable assets...without any bank accounts or full-time employer.

Once You've Gone to Court And Won

Surprisingly, there is quite a bit of information in two booklets that you can get from your town, village and / or county clerks' offices. You will be best armed if you obtain both books, as neither booklet offers a complete arsenal.

You don't need to wait any period of time before you begin collection proceedings. Start your collection process quickly, before they have too much time to consider an appeal. Small Claims Guide for Town & Village Courts (20th Edition): "Immediately after obtaining the judgment, the Court should notify the defendant that you were awarded a judgment and that he should pay you without delay." The party who loses the small claims case has thirty days after receipt of the 'Notice of Judgment' to pay the other party.

  1. Verify that the Court mailed the notice, and request that they send you a copy so you can see just what information the debtor received. Of course, if they have not already mailed the notice, ask them to do so.
  2. You should also write a 'Demand of Payment Letter' to the other party, and enclose a copy of your judgment. Use certified or registered mail so you will obtain a return receipt. If your debtor refuses to pick up / accept the certified mailings, your next choice is to resend it using another method that provides confirmation of delivery, but doesn't require a signature.
  3. Wait the 30 days.

Suppose that you are planning to appeal a decision because you feel that your judge's decision does not represent "substantial justice," and it was "clearly erroneous"; and you were awarded only part of what you feel you should've gotten. Go ahead with your attempts (above) to collect the judgment. File your "Notice of Appeal" just before the deadline. Unlike what I was led to believe, you do not have to wait until after the Appeal is settled before you can collect. Fair warning: 'Appeals' can be just-a-waste of your time. The chances that any judge's decision will be altered or overturned are minuscule. However, as improbable as it is, there is a danger that you will lose the appeal, receive a worse judgment, and end up owing the money back to the JD. I don't know; tell him / her to sue you for it! You can always settle-up before any court date. Uh, sorry - got carried away. Please check to find out your responsibilities in such a situation.

My Personal Learning:

Because I was not experienced in collecting judgments, I initially set off in the wrong direction. The only guide I had at the time {A GUIDE TO SMALL CLAIMS COURT, 1996} told me to locate my judgment debtor's assets; and to enlist the services of an Enforcement Officer, providing him / her with the asset information I had discovered. I got NO help from the enforcement officer as to how I was to do this.

When I questioned my Pre-paid Legal service how to do this, they told me:

"The Information Subpoena and Restraining Notice are the Judgment Creditor's best tools for investigating and uncovering specific detailed information about the JD's assets. The Information Subpoena is a legal document that becomes a court order when signed by a judge or stamped by a court clerk. Once served, the Information Subpoena requires the recipient to answer certain specific questions about the JD's assets within seven days. The Information Subpoena can be combined with a Restraining Notice, which is also a court order. The Restraining Notice forbids the recipient from selling or otherwise transferring any of the JD's assets that might be in their possession or under their control."

Later, after I found no banks with any accounts for him, I called a judge from the village court that heard my case. He issued an "Information Subpoena" for my JD. [If a debtor fails to respond to an information subpoena, he / she may be punished for contempt of court.] Within days, I received a certified check for the full amount of my judgment. I guess my debtor chose to pay, rather than disclose all of his assets. He was, however, gambling that I wouldn't report back to the court that I hadn't received an answer to the subpoena; and have him charged with contempt. I could have, except I think that I would have looked foolish since I had received payment; and my charge would have been determined frivolous.

Now, the new version {A Guide to Small Claims in the NYS City, Town and Village Courts, 2005} tells me that I "may ask the court to examine a party, order that party to disclose his or her assets, and restrain that party from disposing of those assets. (See "Disclosure of Assets"). This information may be useful when you seek the assistance of an enforcement officer. Otherwise, you will have to locate the debtor's assets yourself before contacting an enforcement officer."

This knowledge came too late to save my sanity, but maybe it can help you.

Lesson Learned: Ask the court clerk (or the justice if the court has no clerk) to issue an "Information Subpoena" to you so that you can have it served on your JD, or to use the "Examine / Disclose / Restrain" method mentioned above, before trying to do everything yourself, and pulling out all of your hair. Also, you should research the instructions to properly serve subpoenas and other documents in your jurisdiction.

If you haven't been successful with your collection yet, your next step is to initiate a levy on your debtor's bank account by filling out an Execution Against Property with Notice to Garnishee form; and filing it with the sheriff or marshal's office. You should also furnish the sheriff or marshal with all of the bank information obtained with your Information Subpoena, a copy of the judgment, and your debtor's exact name and address.


You can initiate a wage garnishment by filling out a form called an Income Execution, and filing it with the sheriff or marshal's office. You should also furnish the sheriff or marshal with all of the information you obtained about the your debtor's employer, a copy of the judgment, and your debtor's exact name and address. In order for you to garnish your debtor's wages, his / her gross earnings must be above a certain minimum set by federal law.

Important: New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) has established a Small Claims Court Action Center Hotlines across New York State where trained student counselors provide Small Claims Court and consumer counseling to New Yorkers free-of-charge. The Action Centers have provided tens of thousands of New Yorkers with assistance and referrals. Click here for small claims hotline numbers.

New York's Small Claims Courts are the original "People's Court," since 1934 providing an inexpensive, informal forum where New Yorkers can go to resolve typical consumer problems - such as shoddy goods, poor repairs or services, and unreturned deposits - without the assistance or expense of an attorney. More than 60,000 small claims cases are filed each year in New York State.

Unfortunately, the Small Claims Courts in New York are greatly underused. Many people are unaware of the courts' existence; others are hesitant to use the courts because they believe there is no one to explain the process and provide assistance. Court personnel are not required to do outreach or publicity to promote the small claims system. Sadly, under-representation may be greatest for members of New York's low-income and minority communities. Further, the courts do not provide counseling assistance in the various steps of a small claims action. And the successful claimant may come to the realization that "winning isn't everything" when repeated attempts to collect a court ordered money judgment are unsuccessful.

The bulk of the counseling at NYPIRG's Action Centers is performed by college students and interns, supervised by staff attorneys and campus coordinators. Student counselors are trained by NYPIRG attorneys, and have the opportunity to learn about the courts and how our legal system works. Students at the Centers also speak to community groups, and write news releases and public service announcements to promote the use of the Small Claims Courts and our Action Center Hotlines. All services provided free-of-charge. Counselors do not give legal advice or provide courtroom representation.

Additional / Partial Information:

I am including this section just so you may know some terms to inquire about. Information in this section didn't help me; but it may be useful to you.

Again, California leads the way, showing us how it should be done!

In the first paragraph of this topic, I mentioned that New York doesn't have an efficient procedure to help a judgment creditor secure payment of their monetary award. Well, California has a system that I think is brilliant! Maybe our state or federal governments can take a lesson from the Golden State.

California's "Business and Professions Code requires contractors to notify the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) of any unsatisfied 'construction related' civil court judgment within 90 days of the judgment date. The same law applies to arbitration awards unless the arbitration was provided by the CSLB. If the CSLB is notified of the judgment in a timely manner, the contractor is given another 90 days to resolve the judgment. If the judgment is not resolved within that 90 days, the license is suspended until the judgment is resolved. If the contractor fails to notify the CSLB of the judgment within the required 90 days, then the contractor's license is suspended upon notification. Any party to the judgment can notify the CSLB of the judgment."

If a judgment creditor has a judgment or arbitration award and they don't believe the contractor has notified the CSLB, they are advised to send in a legible copy of it, along with a brief description of why this judgment is "construction related."

Whenever CSLB receives notification of some action on the judgment, {after that initial notification} they will send a letter to the contractor with a copy to the judgment creditor. That way both parties are kept informed of the status of the judgment and its effect upon the contractor's license.

There is some Good News.

Many states have begun taking steps to force defendants to pay up. Some, such as Pennsylvania and Colorado, are ratcheting up their own in-house collection efforts. Some are turning to outside collection agencies for help. Arizona, Missouri, and Minnesota use Affiliated Computer Services of Dallas, which duns people by mail and phone and keeps a percentage of whatever it collects. In addition, Arizona feeds information from its court system computers to other state agencies; and they use it to intercept deadbeats' state income tax refunds and prevent them from registering their vehicles until they pay up.

Other states have taken a variety of approaches. Pennsylvania is using a new computer network to help counties customize payment plans, track overdue payments, and generate delinquency letters. Kansas gives victims access to defendants' personal financial information. Florida imposes an income deduction order when restitution is part of the sentence. Tennessee claims a portion of the proceeds from the sale of inmate arts and crafts. Kentucky extends parole until restitution is fully paid. You should check with your state or jurisdiction to see if they offer any reasonable help collecting your judgment.

That's all I can offer you in terms of assistance. I have to reiterate, my comments and advice are not to be considered as legal advice. The purpose of this webpage is to give you a summation of my personal experience and what I think I learned. Look to the linked credible pages, and the guides I mentioned, for reliable advice. Best of luck with your collection!

Binding Arbitration and Right-to-Cure, Is Your State Next? That is a very real threat!