Filing & Serving a Small Claims Complaint
You can obtain the forms at the Small Claims Division of the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court on the lower level of the Annex Building of the Lake County Courthouse, 18 North County Street, Waukegan, Illinois, between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Fill out an original and three copies of the Small Claims Complaint and a Small Claims Summons (available from the Small Claims Division of the Circuit Clerk’s Office or from the Center for Self-Representation), file them with the clerk, and pay the filing fee. Your Small Claims suit can be e-Filed at Odyssey e-File Illinois or at the Circuit Clerk's Office. The clerk will assign a case number to each Small Claims case. Write down the case number and refer to it in all dealings with the clerk and sheriff.
Small Claims Complaint
A Small Claims Complaint should contain the name (full name of an individual or full business name of a corporation), address and (if known) phone number of both the plaintiff and defendant and:
- The amount claimed (remember, amount cannot be more than the $10,000 limit set by statute). *
- Briefly state the facts which you feel describe why and how the defendant owes you money.
* NOTE: If the complaint is based upon a written document of any kind (for example, a lease, contract or promissory note), a legible copy of that document must be attached to all copies of the complaint, or a sworn statement explaining why are not able to attach a copy.
May I Recover Court Costs from the Person I Sue?
The court may order the party losing the lawsuit to reimburse the winning party for the court costs. This includes the cost of filing suit, service fees and subpoena fees.
Remember that if you file the Small Claims complaint but lose in court, you may be ordered to reimburse the opposing party for their court costs.
If you cannot afford the filing fees, you may ask a Judge to allow you to file your complaint without paying the fee. You begin by filling out a Petition and Order to Sue or Defend as an Indigent Person. You can obtain this form at Illinois Courts or at the Law Library and Center for Self-Representation. After you have completed the form, the clerk will give you further information about an informal hearing on the application. The Judge will decide whether to grant a waiver of the filing fee, service fee, or both the filing and service fees.
If you are sued and want to contest (or dispute) the plaintiff’s claim, you may likewise complete a Petition and Order to Sue or Defend as an Indigent Person and request that a Judge waive the filing fee required to file your Appearance.
Small Claims Summons
Arrange to notify the defendant of the suit with your Small Claims Summons. The court has no power to hear a case until the defendant is served the summons and complaint.
This can be done in one of three ways:
1. Certified mail: If the defendant has a mailing address within the state of Illinois, you may choose to give notice by serving the summons by certified mail, return receipt requested. You should fill out and sign the Proof of Service section, which is found on the reverse side of the Small Claims summons. Only the clerk may mail the summons. If the letter carrier is unable to obtain the necessary signature on the postal receipt (green card), you will have to ask the judge to issue a second (alias) summons. If the judge grants you a fee waiver, it will cover the costs of mailing.
2. Sheriff: If you choose to have the Sheriff serve the summons, place the summons (one original, two copies, each having attached a copy of the complaint) with the Sheriff for hand delivery to the defendant. If the defendant is to be served in Lake County, deliver the summons to the Civil Process Division of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office at 25 South Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, Waukegan, IL. If the judge grants you a fee waiver, the costs of service in Lake County will be waived. If the defendant is to be served somewhere outside Lake County, you must arrange to deliver the summons to the Sheriff of the appropriate county and state. Cost may vary depending on the Sheriff's Office and distance required for service.
3. Special Process Server: Place the summons and copies of the complaint with a licensed/registered private detective for hand delivery to the defendant. The plaintiff must consult with the Small Claims clerk to schedule a Return Date and the trial date. The trial date is automatically the 14th day after the Return Date. The Return Date may be on any weekday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, at either 9:00 a.m. or 1:30 p.m., not less than 14 nor more than 40 days after the issuance date on the summons. If a trial is mistakenly scheduled on a holiday, it will be held on the next following court day.
Service of Summons
Determine whether the Defendant was served before the Return Date on the Summons:
- Certified Mail: Call the Clerk's Office to ask whether the Green Card was returned & indicates that the Defendant received the mail.
- Sheriff or Special Process Server: Contact the Clerk's Office to inquire whether the Sheriff's Office or Special Process Server filed a Proof of Delivery. If the Sheriff or Special Process Server mails the Proof of Delivery to you, file it with the Clerk's Office.
Several days before the summons Return Date, contact the Clerk’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office, or special process server to determine if your complaint and summons were delivered/served on the defendant(s). If they were not served, you will need to request to have a second summons (referred to as an alias summons) issued by the clerk and repeat the service process outlined earlier.
If the complaint and summons were served, you should ask the clerk whether or not the defendant(s) has filed an Appearance, which is a written document filed with the Clerk of Court by the defendant or an attorney representing them, indicating their intent to participate in the case. If the defendant has filed an Appearance, the case is automatically set for trial 14 days after the Return Date.
If the defendant has not filed an Appearance, you may appear in court on the Return Date to see whether the Defendant appears or not. If the Defendant does not appear, you may ask the Judge to enter a Default Judgment in your favor. The Judge may want to hear evidence, so be prepared to explain your side of the case and bring any evidence you would have used during a trial.