Civil Suits

These are basic comparisons between civil and small claim lawsuits. Neither the Clerks nor the Judge can provide you with legal advice. Questions should be directed to an attorney, or you may review the Montana Justice and City Court Rules of Civil Procedure for guidance. The libraries have a copy of the statutes or they can be accessed online.

Civil Suits
  • Claim limit: $12,000
  • Filing fee: $50
  • Service jurisdiction: Defendant can be served anywhere in the state
  • Type of action: Justice Court has jurisdiction, in part, over contract obligations, landlord - tenant issues including non-payment of rent and possession of rental property, collection of money owed, recovery of personal property
  • Filing the complaint: The Complaint can be filed with the Court in person or by mail.
  • Agents, corporations, partnerships: The law requires that these entities file the Complaint through an attorney
  • Attorneys: Optional
  • Service of papers: Plaintiff is responsible for arranging service by the Sheriff's Office or private process server
  • Service costs: Fees associated with service of documents on Defendant are the same in both Courts
  • Procedures: A Defendant has 20 days from the service of a Complaint and Summons to file an Answer (10 business days if the Complaint is for possession of rental property). If the Defendant fails to file an answer, the Plaintiff may file a written request for a default judgment. If the Defendant does file an Answer, a pretrial conference and trial will be set.
  • Trial: Bench or Jury Trial
  • Appeals: Appeals must be filed within 30 days from the date of judgment. Either party dis-satisfied with a judgment may appeal to District Court
  • Filing limitations: None
Small Claims Suits
  • Claim limit: $7000
  • Filing fee: $30
  • Service jurisdiction: Defendant must be served in Ravalli County
  • Type of action: Small Claims is limited to the recovery of money or personal property
  • Pre-Requisite: Before filing a Small Claims suit, a certified letter must be sent to the debtor demanding payment. A copy of the letter must be attached to the Complaint.
  • Filing the complaint: The person filing the suit must personally appear and sign the Complaint before a Court Clerk
  • Agents, corporations, partnerships: An agent may file the Complaint on behalf of a corporation or partnership
  • Attorneys: Not permitted
  • Service of papers: Plaintiff is responsible for arranging service by the Sheriff's Office or private process server
  • Service costs: Fees associated with service of documents on Defendant are the same in both Courts
  • Procedures: A trial date is scheduled when the Complaint is filed. The Defendant must be served at least 5 days prior to the trial. If service is not made within that time, the trial must be re-scheduled, and Plaintiff will again need to arrange service on the Defendant.
  • Trial: Bench Trial Only
  • Appeals: Appeals must be filed within 10 days from the date of judgment, however appeals are limited to questions of law only
  • Filing limitations: 10 cases in a calender year