TITLE IV, CHAPTER 4 - SMALL CLAIMS PROCEDURES

Part 1 - General Provisions

4‑4‑101. Purpose.

It is the purpose of this Chapter to promote the disposition of small claims in Tribal Court without the necessity of a formal trial.

4‑4‑102. Application and Parties.

(1) Procedures provided by this Chapter shall be applied by the Tribal Court sitting as the Small Claims Division of the Tribal Court in all actions for money damages, as follows:

(a) when the amount claimed is not less that $50, nor more than $3000, exclusive of costs; and

(b) when the claim arises within the exterior boundaries of the Flathead Reservation; and

(c) when the parties are subject to the jurisdiction of the Tribal Court pursuant to Section 1-2-104 of this Code and applicable federal law.

(2) A plaintiff in a small claims action may be an individual, partnership, corporation, association, firm, government agency or subdivision, guardian, conservator, or personal representative.

(3) No plaintiff may file an assigned claim in the Small Claims Division.

(4) By filing a claim pursuant to these procedures, a plaintiff consents to the jurisdiction of the Tribal Court for the purpose of adjudicating any counterclaim against him or her that the defendant may have. (Rev. 4-15-03)

4‑4‑103. Representation.

(1) A party in a small claims proceeding may not be represented by an attorney or a Tribal Court Advocate unless every party is represented by an attorney or advocate. In the event that all parties are represented, each representative shall file a notice of appearance with the Clerk of Court no later than three (3) Tribal working days prior to the time set for hearing.

(2) An individual may represent himself or herself in a small claims action. A partnership may be represented by a partner or by an employee. Any other kind of organization may be represented by a member or an employee. (Rev. 4-15-03)

 

Part 2 - Procedure Before Trial

4‑4‑201. Commencement of a small claims action and assistance to claimant.

(1) A small claims action is commenced whenever any person appears before the Clerk of Court and executes a sworn small claims complaint in substantially the same form as that set forth in Section 4‑4‑202.

(2) The Clerk of Court shall assist any claimant who requests assistance in preparing his or her complaint. The Clerk of Court shall prepare, in plain language, instructions explaining the procedures for prosecuting and defending a small claim. The Clerk shall give the plaintiff a copy of the instructions when the plaintiff appears to execute his or her complaint, and a copy must be attached to the order of court/notice to defendant.

4‑4‑202. Form of Complaint, Order of Court, and Notice to Defendant.

The sworn complaint, the order of court, and the notice to defendant shall substantially conform to the appropriate sample forms included at the end of this Chapter. (Rev. 4-15-03) (Rev. 3-21-13)

4‑4‑203. Hearing date.

The date for the appearance of the defendant to be set forth in the order shall be determined by the Clerk of Court and may not be more than 30 working days nor less than 15 working days from the date of the order. Service of the order and a copy of the sworn complaint shall be made upon the defendant not less than 7 working days prior to the date set for his or her appearance by the order. If the order is not timely served, the plaintiff may have a new appearance date set by the Clerk and a new order delivered to the process server. If necessary, repeated orders may be issued at any time within one year after the commencement of the action. If no service is accomplished within one year from the date of the complaint, the complaint will be dismissed without prejudice. (Rev. 4-15-03)

4‑4‑204. Service on defendant, return of service, and notification to plaintiff.

(1) The original of the order and notice shall be shown to the defendant and a copy of it together with a copy of the sworn complaint shall be served upon the defendant in the same manner provided for service of process in civil actions generally.

(2) The process server shall, after effective service, remit the original order, with his or her signature and the time of service affixed thereto, to the Clerk of Court. Upon receipt of the returned original order, the Clerk shall mail a copy thereof, first class, postage prepaid, to the plaintiff.

4‑4‑205. Removal from Small Claims Division and effect of failure to remove.

(1) Any action commenced in the small claims division of the Tribal Court may be removed to the trial court of the Tribal Court by a defendant upon the filing of a notice of removal, in substantially the same form as that provided in Section 4‑4‑206, with the Clerk of the Court within 5 working days of the service of the complaint and order, or by a plaintiff within 3 working days of the service of a counterclaim as provided in Section 4‑4‑207.

(2) From the time of the filing of the notice of removal, the small claims division has no further jurisdiction over the claim, and the trial court of the Tribal Court has and exercises the same jurisdiction as though the action had been originally commenced in that court.

(3) Upon the filing of a notice of removal, the Clerk of Court shall mail first class, postage prepaid, a copy of the notice to the other party in the action. The plaintiff is not required to replead unless the court so orders, and no additional fee is required of a plaintiff for the filing of the complaint or of a defendant for the filing of a Counterclaim. The time for the defendant to file an answer to the complaint commences upon the date of the filing of the notice of removal. All laws and rules governing proceedings originally commenced in the trial court of Tribal Court are applicable to removed proceedings.

(4) Failure to request removal within the time provided in subsection (1) constitutes a waiver of the right to trial by Jury and to representation by an attorney or by a Tribal Court Advocate, and the judge shall inform the parties of such fact prior to the hearing. (Rev. 4-15-03)

4‑4‑206. Notice of removal.

A notice of removal shall substantially conform to the appropriate sample form included at the end of this Chapter. (Rev. 4-15-03)

4‑4‑207. Defendant's counterclaim.

(1) The defendant may assert a counterclaim against the plaintiff arising out of the same transaction that is the subject matter of the plaintiff's claim by appearing before the Clerk of Court and executing a sworn small claims counterclaim in substantially the same form as set forth in subsection (3). The defendant shall cause the counterclaim to be served on the plaintiff not less than 3 working days before the date set for the hearing. Service shall be made in the same manner and according to the same terms and conditions in which service of the order of court and notice to defendant is made on the defendant. A defendant may not assert as a counterclaim any claim not arising out of the transaction that is the subject matter of the plaintiff's claim.

(2) A counterclaim or set-off may not exceed $3000.  If a counterclaim or set-off is asserted in excess of $3000, the claim and counterclaim shall be removed to the trial court of the Tribal Court by the filing of a notice of removal by the Clerk of Court, and the action will proceed as provided in Section 4‑4‑205 (2).

(3) A counterclaim filed by a defendant shall substantially conform to the appropriate sample form included at the end of this Chapter. (Rev. 4-15-03)

4‑4‑208. No further pleading.

No form of pleading other than the complaint, the order of the court and notice to defendant, and the counterclaim of the defendant, if there is one, is allowed. (Rev. 4-15-03)

4‑4‑209. Fees. The Clerk of Court shall collect a fee of:

(1) $25 from the plaintiff upon the filing of the sworn complaint; and

(2) $10 from the defendant upon the execution of a sworn counterclaim.

 

Part 3 - Proceedings at Hearing

4‑4‑301. Proceedings to be informal.

The hearing and disposition of small claims actions shall be informal.

4‑4‑302. Witnesses, evidence, and subpoena power.

The plaintiff and the defendant may offer evidence in their behalf by witnesses appearing at such hearing or by written evidence, and the judge may direct the production of evidence as he or she considers appropriate. The small claims division has the subpoena power of Tribal Court. (Rev. 4-15-03)

4‑4‑303. Burden of proof.

A plaintiff has the burden of proving his or her claim by a preponderance of the evidence and a defendant bears the burden of proof of his or her counterclaim by a preponderance of the evidence.

4‑4‑304. Record of Proceedings.

The Clerk of Court shall keep a record of all pleadings, returns of service, and the judgment in a small claims action. All proceedings in Small Claims Court are held before a judge of Tribal Court designated to hear such cases. Proceedings in Small Claims Court are tape recorded and the tape is maintained for a period of 20 days after entry of judgment but the tape will not be archived unless a timely appeal is filed in the manner provided by this Code. Decisions rendered in Small Claims Court may be appealed according to the Rules of Appellate Procedure. (Rev. 4-15-03)

 

Part 4 - Judgment and Appeal

4‑4‑401. Entry of Judgment.

Upon the conclusion of the hearing, the judge shall make his or her findings and enter judgment. The entry of judgment shall be prepared by the Clerk of Court, and a copy of the same shall be mailed, first class postage prepaid, by the Clerk to the parties within 5 days of the conclusion of the hearing. The form of the judgment shall substantially conform to the appropriate sample form included at the end of this Chapter. (Rev. 4-15-03)

4‑4‑402. Default Judgment and dismissal.

(1) A defendant's failure to appear at hearing may result in a default judgment against him or her and in a dismissal with prejudice of any counterclaim he or she may have filed.

(2) A plaintiff's failure to appear at hearing may result in a dismissal of his or her claim and, if a counterclaim has been filed in a default judgment against him or her on the counterclaim.

(3) Non‑appearance by both parties at a hearing will result in dismissal of the action with prejudice. (Rev. 4-15-03)

4‑4‑403. Execution on judgment.

Proceedings to enforce or collect a judgment are governed by the laws relating to execution upon Tribal Court judgments. (Rev. 4-15-03)

4‑4‑404. Costs and interest.

The prevailing party in an action before the small claims division is entitled to costs. If a money judgment is awarded, the party in whose favor the judgment is entered will be entitled to interest on the judgment amount commencing on the date of entry of judgment and continuing until the principal balance and accumulated interest is paid in full, by execution on the judgment or otherwise. Interest will be at the rate agreed to by the parties or 10% per annum on the judgment amount and accumulated balance, whichever is less. (Rev. 4-15-03)

4‑4‑405. Appeal to the Tribal Court of Appeals.

Judgments of the court of the Small Claims Division may be appealed according to the rules and practices of the Tribal Court of Appeals. (Rev. 4-15-03)

4‑4‑406. Attorney's fees upon removal or appeal.

(1) If a either party removes a matter to the trial court under the provisions of Section 4‑4‑205 (1) and (2) but does not prevail in the trial court, the court may grant the other party  reasonable attorney's fees, if any.    

(2) A party may be represented upon appeal by an attorney and the court may grant the prevailing party reasonable attorney's fees in addition to costs of suit.  (Rev. 4-15-03) 

Go to top