Small claims court offers a venue for New York residents and businesses to deal with certain legal disputes under a simplified, less formal process than the regular civil court system. A “small claim” under New York law refers to a case where the plaintiff is seeking no more than $5,000 in monetary damages. In fact, a plaintiff can only seek monetary damages in this type of proceeding. A small claims court cannot be used to obtain an injunction, decide matters like divorce, or provide any relief aside from money.
Magistrate Rejects $5,000 Claim Over Lost Wedding Invitations
There are also restrictions on who you can name as a defendant in a small claims lawsuit. For example, last November a recently married couple sued the United States Postal Service in Buffalo small claims court. The couple accused the Postal Service of mishandling their wedding invitations. They demanded $5,000 in damages, which as noted above is the maximum amount permitted for a small claims case in New York.
The Postal Service had this case removed—transferred—to federal court. This is because the Postal Service is an “independent establishment of the executive branch of the Government of the United States.” In layman’s terms, it is a federal agency. And a federal agency cannot be sued in a civil court except under certain specific terms spelled out by Congress.
In a case like this one, those conditions are specified by the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The Postal Service argued the FTCA required the plaintiffs to file an internal administrative claim first before proceeding to federal—not state—court. The plaintiffs apparently never filed such a claim.
But even if they had, the plaintiffs would still not be able to recover damages based on their lost and mangles wedding invitations, according to the federal magistrate judge assigned to this case. The magistrate noted that the FTCA does not permit lawsuits arising from “[a]ny claim arising out of the loss, miscarriage, or negligent transmission of letters or postal matter.” The plaintiffs might have had a claim for breach of contract if they had purchased “additional services, like expedited delivery or postal insurance,” the magistrate said, but simply depositing your wedding invitations in the mail does not qualify. Accordingly, the magistrate recommended dismissing the plaintiff’s lawsuit.
Get Help With Your Small Claims Case
It should be noted that just as with the federal government, you cannot sue the State of New York or its agencies in small claims court either. New York has established a separate Court of Claims for such cases. Any claim against the state, regardless of the dollar amount, must be heard in that court.Many people rush to small claims court thinking they can handle their case without an attorney’s assistance. Yet a qualified New York civil litigation attorney can ensure you are filing your case in the correct court—as well as help ensure the court respects your rights as a litigant. Contact the offices of Nisar & Mason, P.C. if you need immediate assistance from a Long Island small claims attorney.