In part 1 of this article about how I sued my neighbor, I described the details of how my young daughter and I arrived home to witness a dog attack of our chickens. I tracked this dog through the snow and had an uncomfortable encounter with this neighbor, to whom I explained the situation and asked for compensation. One of the men there pulled his finger, like a gun, and pointed it at me. Subtle intimidation ensued, but I didn’t back down. The end result was his refusal to pay for the expense of my chicken, so I took him to small claims court. This meant that I had to hire someone to serve him and I had to prepare evidence, as the burden of proof was on me. Now, let me tell you what happened on the day of the court hearing.
My Day in Court
Have I mentioned that I’m Old School? On my day in court, I wore a sports jacket and other clean, ironed clothes and sat waiting. The Bailiff made sure my phone was turned off. Even though the dog owner hadn’t shown up yet I was nervous although well prepared. If he didn’t show up I’d win. At just three minutes to the start of the hearing the man burst through the court door with an alarming familiarity. He must have been wearing his best worn out t-shirt and unwashed jeans. I said, “Hello” to the man. The bailiff told him to turn off his phone and that the judge would be in momentarily. He refused. It was his personal, private property phone and he had a picture of the dog on it. At that moment, the judge entered and we stood.
Burden of Proof on Plaintiff
The judge explained the rules of the court and that the burden of proof was upon me. He asked the purpose of being there that day. I explained, with the help of an outline that was prepared in advance. It described the incidents of that fateful day and was written shortly after it happened so the details were accurate and complete. I couldn’t help but describe in a Detective Joe Friday manner out of long habit. I explained that there was a statement from my daughter, a copy of the police report, printed photos of the victims, a post from Craigslist showing the value of similar birds, and lastly, printed (time/date stamped) game camera photos of the dog during the attack. The dog’s owner was given a chance to review the evidence, which he did dismissively before the bailiff handed it all to the judge. As the judge was viewing the evidence, the man’s phone began to ring and the argument between the bailiff and the man began anew. The judge began asking questions and the bailiff stepped back from the argument. She was not impressed with childish behavior. I answered his questions respectfully. Now the judge was looking at one photo and asked the man to describe his dog, which he did. The man argued with the judge. He claimed his dog is not the one in the photo from the game camera. He told the judge that every dog in the area looks exactly like his.
The judge had had enough and began to make his ruling. He couldn’t finish without the man arguing with him. The ruling was in my favor. The man now had to pay for the birds, court fees, and for serving him the papers. The total he must pay was now twice what I originally asked for to cover the loss of property. The man was outraged. He jumped up yelling at the judge and stormed to the door where he dramatically turned and points a threatening finger at me. “You better stay off my property!” He departed even more dramatically than he entered with the bailiff in hot pursuit. The judge had already left the room. I was alone with the court clerk, who is an older woman with a librarian air about her. She was pleasantly looking at me. “Did that really just happen?”, I asked. “Oh, yes,” she replied. “I’m just going to go now.” She nods with a kindergarten teacher smile and says, “We are all done.”
My head was turning in an involuntary and slight “no” motion as I walked to the exit. My life had become a television show and probably a bad sitcom at that. “You can’t make this stuff up,” I thought as I approached the outside doors. Two women were waiting there for me. One was the bailiff and the other was building security. “It’s okay; they are gone now,” they advised. The bailiff was looking at me. I think she wanted to know if I was a cop or military, but she didn’t ask.
I was happy there was no gun battle over the chickens. It would have been a very different day in court between the judge and me. The media would have convicted me outright. You would have heard about a creepy chicken farmer who guns down poor people desperately surviving on welfare. You would have heard how he used a high-powered, fully automatic, laser chainsaw equipped handgun with grapnel hooks and a high capacity magazine holding bullets to murder people who were just getting their lives turned around after three generations of surviving on government assistance. Furthermore, you might have heard how something, anything, must be done about this exact scenario, because it happens hundreds of times a day across the nation to our exclusive, national shame.
In summary, if you must go to small claims court, make sure it’s the last resort. Remind the judge that you tried every other reasonable approach before taking the police department’s time as well as the court’s time. Explain how you tried to work with the other side.
Write out a statement as soon as things happen. Document the events, and be honest with yourself about the facts. The judge must determine who may be lying or if the parties just see things differently.
Witnesses and Proof
Witnesses are better to have in court than a written statement, so the judge can ask questions. Keep your emotions in check and don’t make the case overly personal. Be respectful to everyone and wear clothes that project respect. Gather information about the other party so you can file your paperwork accurately. Note addresses and names in particular. Research the rules of proof, and provide that proof in a manner acceptable to the court.
Pay attention to the time lines of the court and have your paperwork properly filed on time. The burden is on you, so make sure to follow through. It may take a long while to have your day in court and the other party may drag things out as long as possible to discourage you. Don’t let the “small” in small claims court fool you. It will take time and preparation to make your case.
Also, remember to turn your mobile phone off in court.
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been part one of a two part entry for Round 77 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
- A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
- DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
- A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
- Two cases of meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value), and
- American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.
- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
- A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
- A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
- A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
- A Three-Day Deluxe Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $190 value),
- A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
- RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.
- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
- A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
- Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
- Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
- Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
- Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value).
Round 77 ends on July 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.