How to Navigate the Small Claims Process for Sarasota County
Filing a Small Claims Action
- A small claims case is a legal action filed in county court to settle minor legal disputes among the parties.
- The amount in controversy must not exceed $8,000 excluding interest, costs, and attorney’s fees.
- The Sarasota Clerk of Court’s website has the necessary forms and information to file a small claims case.
The Clerk of Court’s website is easily accessible and has all the necessary information.
The Small Claims filing forms, located on the Clerk's website, are approved under the Florida Small Claims Rules.
A small claims action begins by filing a Statement of Claim with the Sarasota County Clerk’s Office.
A Statement of Claim must have all necessary documentation attached. For example, if the case is a contract dispute, the contract must be attached.
Please see Florida Small Claims Rules
- Filing fees for small claims actions are established in the Florida Statutes and local county ordinances and are subject to change.
- Current Filing Fee Schedule
- The Plaintiff is the person who filed the suit.
- The Defendant is the person or business being sued.
After filing, each Defendant must be given a:
- Summons/Notice to Appear
- Copy of Statement of Claim with supporting documentation attached (mandatory) so the person or business being sued knows what relief the Plaintiff is seeking.
- It is the Plaintiff’s responsibility to arrange for each Defendant to be served.
Service of Process
Additional expenses will be incurred for service of process on the defendants (parties being sued).
Service of process can be made on the defendants by:
- the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office
- certified mail (only to Florida resident defendants)
- a private process server
- Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, all small claims cases will be handled via video conferencing using the Zoom platform.
- The free-to-use Zoom platform also allows individuals to appear via telephone if they do not have camera capabilities.
- No video or audio recording of Zoom conferences is permitted.
- To learn more about Zoom conferencing, visit Zoom.us.
Notice to Appear
- When the case is filed, the Clerk’s Office will prepare a Notice to Appear for the Zoom pretrial conference. The Notice will have the date, time, meeting ID and password.
- DO NOT come to the courthouse at this time.
- All parties must appear via Zoom at the pretrial conference.
- The Defendant (party being sued) must have been served with the Notice to Appear, Statement of Claim, and its supporting documentation.
- If the Defendant fails to appear, the Defendant has given up his/her right to contest the claim. A default judgment will be entered. If the Plaintiff fails to appear, the case could be dismissed.
- If either of the parties lack the ability to appear via Zoom, they must notify the Clerk’s Office in writing within 7 business days prior to the scheduled appearance date. You must include your case number on all correspondence.
- If technological issues block your ability to appear on Zoom by video, voice, or telephone on the assigned date, please contact Court Administration at 941-861-7800.
Zoom Etiquette Rules
- Please practice good video-conferencing habits.
- You must login at least five (5) minutes prior to the scheduled hearing to account for any technical difficulties which may be encountered.
- Keep your microphone muted.
- When entering the Zoom hearing, make sure that your microphone is muted and your correct name shows up at the login.
- Your case will be called by the Director who is the “host” of the video-conference.
- As in a courtroom, multiple cases will be scheduled at the same time on Zoom, so as a participant, please be patient and wait your turn.
Pretrial Conference via Zoom
- The judge will not be at the pretrial conference.
- The Director of the Sarasota County Mediation Program will be handling the pretrial conferences on Zoom.
- If both parties are represented by attorneys, the assigned judge will enter an order waiving the pretrial conference and ordering the parties to mediation.
- No evidence or testimony will be considered at the pretrial conference.
- A future Mediation date and time will be set by the Director.
- Appearance at Mediation is mandatory.
Small Claims Mediations During COVID-19
- All cases will be set for mediation before a trial will be scheduled.
- If both parties are present at the pretrial conference, the Director will set your case for mediation and you will be given the date and time.
- Both sides must appear at the mediation.
- The mediations in small claims cases are free.
- Mediation communications are confidential.
- Mediations will be held via Zoom.
- The mediators are all Florida Supreme Court certified and will facilitate the mediation process.
Mediation Settlement Agreement
- The mediator will facilitate the mediation process.
- If a settlement agreement is reached, it must be signed by both parties. It will then be sent to the assigned Division Judge for acceptance and signature.
- If the Defendant violates the agreement or misses a payment, the Plaintiff can file an affidavit of non-compliance at the Clerk’s Office. A final judgment may be signed by the judge without any further court hearing.
- If the Defendant fails to appear at mediation, a default will be ordered.
- An Affidavit of Non-compliance form will soon be available for download.
If an agreement is reached at mediation, the agreement will be sent to the parties via email to be signed via DocuSign. For more information, go to docusign.com.
- If your mediation reaches an impasse, your case will be set for trial.
- The assigned judge will set the matter for trial. Your trial order will set the date and time and will be sent to both sides.
- Trials may be in the courthouse or on Zoom depending on circumstances at that time.
Small Claims Trial
- Subpoena witnesses for trial at the Clerk’s Office or bring them with you to trial. If a Zoom trial is scheduled, contact the judge’s office for further information.
- Bring all documents and evidence to be introduced in the case unless via Zoom. If a trial is scheduled via Zoom, submit all documents to the Clerk’s Office within 7 business days before the trial date. Documents should be labeled as Trial Evidence and include your Case Number.
- Research Florida Rules of Evidence and how to conduct a trial.
- You may hire an attorney to represent you.
- Be on time and be prepared.
- After the trial, the Court will issue a ruling.
- If the Plaintiff wins, the Court will issue a final judgment awarding money damages.
- The Plaintiff as judgment holder may collect on the judgment. The Court cannot assist the parties.
In conclusion, these new procedures are enacted due to the COVID-19 outbreak and they may be updated at any time. Please continue to revisit our site for current information.