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Missoula County Justice Court - Civil Division

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Justice Court’s Civil/Small Claims Office is located on the first floor of the historic side of the Missoula County Courthouse, 200 W. Broadway. Business hours are 8:00 am to 12:00 pm & 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday, excluding holidays.

IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO UNDERSTAND THE PURPOSE, RULES AND ROLE OF THE CIVIL OR SMALL CLAIMS PROCESS. THE JUDGES AND THE CLERKS ARE PROHIBITED BY STATUTE FROM GIVING YOU LEGAL ADVICE OF ANY KIND. THE CLERKS MAY ONLY ASSIST YOU BY PROVIDING YOU WITH THE NECESSARY FORMS AND PROCEDURAL INFORMATION. THE COURT SHALL NOT ACCEPT LIABILITY FOR THE ACTIONS, DECISIONS OR FILINGS MADE BY THE PARTIES IN CIVIL AND SMALL CLAIMS PROCEEDING. IT IS STRONGLY ADVISED THAT YOU SPEAK WITH AN ATTORNEY IF YOU HAVE ANY SPECIFIC QUESTIONS REGARDING YOUR CASE OR ARE UNSURE HOW TO PROCEED.

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Introduction

A Civil Complaint in Justice Court initiates a legal action to recover monetary amounts up to $12,000.00 (not including attorneys’ fees) and/or possession of premises (eviction). Filing fees, service costs, attorney’s fees and damages may be recoverable in a civil suit if listed in the complaint. Although civil cases are sometimes filed by attorneys, members of the public who wish to represent themselves may file cases without attorneys. Any party named on a case as a corporation, LLC, LLP, trust or partnership must file through an attorney. It is strongly recommended that you speak with an attorney if you have any specific questions regarding your case or are unsure how to proceed. Court staff is not permitted to give you legal advice on how to draft your documents or how to proceed with your case. It is the responsibility of the parties to prepare their own documents and to understand the purpose, rules and role of the civil process.

If you choose to represent yourself, you may wish to consult the Montana Justice Court Rules of Civil Procedure. You should also consider seeking legal counsel to be certain that your case is correctly prepared, your complaint is accurately drafted, and it is appropriately filed with the Court. Additionally, you may look into the following resources:

Montana Codes Annotated
Montana Justice and City Court Rules of Civil Procedure
Montana Rules of Civil Procedure
Montana Codes Annotated, Title 70 (Landlord/Tenant)
Montana Law Help
Montana Legal Services
Montana State Law Library
State Bar of Montana
Montana Supreme Court Self-Help Law Program

Common Terms

  • Plaintiff(s): The person(s), company or other entity filing a Complaint against another person(s), company or other entity.
  • Defendant(s): The person(s), company or other entity that the case is filed against.
  • Judgment Debtor(s): The person(s), company or other entity who owes the money as ordered by the Court.
  • Judgment Creditor(s): The person(s), company or other entity who should receive the money as ordered by the Court.
  • Service of Process: The official means by which a Defendant is notified that a lawsuit has been filed against him/her and provided a copy of the complaint and a description of the person’s rights and obligations as a party to the case.

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Civil Filing Fees

Complaint Filing Fee $50.00
Answer Filing Fee (per defendant) $30.00
Civil Judgment Fee $20.00
Civil Appeal Fee
(There are additional types of fees/bonds associated with Civil Appeals in District Court.
$20.00 
Certified Copy of Judgment / Transcript of Certification of Judgment $3.00
Copies $1.00 per copy for first 10 copies; .50 per copy thereafter
Notary
Before a complaint will be filed and an action commenced, the plaintiff must pay the filing fee specified by statute. However, indigent parties may request a waiver of this requirement as set forth in M.C.A. 25-10-404 and if the waiver is granted, may proceed without prepaying the filing fee.
$1.00 per document

Filing fees are due at time of filing. Payment may be made by cash, VISA©, MASTERCARD®, ATM and Debit cards, personal check, money order, or cashier's check. No filing will be accepted without the payment of the appropriate fee or an approved waiver.

If you cannot afford the filing fee, you may prepare an Affidavit of Inability to Pay. Your documents are not considered “filed” until a Judge has granted the fee waiver. Appeal bonds cannot be waived.

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Civil Complaint, Summons and Service

A complaint is the initial pleading in a civil case, in which the plaintiff states the facts that he/she contends entitles them to relief and states specifically what relief is sought. A summons is a process form directing a defendant to appear in court to answer a civil complaint. A summons for possession is specific for eviction complaints. A generic summons is used for everything else. Be sure to complete the correct form. The plaintiff is responsible for proper service of the complaint and summons. The complaint and summons must be personally served on the defendant by a Deputy Sheriff, licensed process server or a disinterested third party. For a list of licensed process servers in Missoula, click here. For information regarding the SERVICE of a complaint, contact the Missoula County Sheriff’s Civil Process Office at (406) 258-4804.

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Civil Answer

READ YOUR SUMMONS TO BE SURE YOUR ANSWER IS FILED TIMELY. THE TIME LIMIT TO FILE AN ANSWER IS DIFFERENT ON A COMPLAINT FOR POSSESSION (EVICTION) THAN IT IS FOR A COMPLAINT FOR MONETARY RELIEF. An answer is the pleading filed in a civil case in response to a complaint. In the answer, the defendant(s) must admit or deny each allegation in the complaint except for those as to which he/she lacks sufficient information to respond. Any matter not denied will be considered admitted. An answer may contain counterclaims (limited to $7,000; not including attorneys’ fees), to which the plaintiff must then file a reply. The answer must be filed with the court and a copy must be provided to the plaintiff. Service is complete upon mailing of the answer.

The defendant’s failure to answer the complaint within the time specified on their summons may result in the plaintiff filing a Motion for Default Judgment. This means the Judge may grant a judgment for the plaintiff based on the claims/allegations in the complaint without considering the defendant’s possible defense(s) or explanation(s).

In a complaint for monetary relief, defendant(s) are required to file their answer(s) with the Justice Court Civil/Small Claims Office and to serve a copy by United States Mail, with first-class postage, to the plaintiff(s) within 20 calendar days (this includes weekends and holidays) of service of the complaint with “day one” being the day after service.

In a complaint for possession of premises (eviction), defendant(s) are required to file their answer(s) with the Justice Court Civil/Small Claims Office and the serve a copy by United States Mail, with first-class postage, to the plaintiff(s) within 10 business days (not including weekends and holidays) of service with “day one” being the day after service. Upon the court’s receipt of an answer to a complaint for possession, the clerk will schedule the case for mediation and bench trial (unless jury trial has been requested). Cases for possession of premises must be heard by the court within 20 days of the filing of an answer.

Counterclaims

A counterclaim is a claim for relief asserted by a defendant against the plaintiff in a civil suit. If a defendant chooses to file a counterclaim it must be filed with their answer. The claim must arise out of the same occurrence as the complaint. The counterclaim must be a concise written statement of the facts constituting the defendant's claim and the type or amount of relief requested. The counterclaim must be filed with the court along with an answer and a copy must be provided to the plaintiff. Service is considered complete upon mailing of answer/counterclaim.

Reply to Counterclaim

In a reply to a counterclaim, the plaintiff must admit or deny each allegation in the counterclaim except for those as to which he/she lacks sufficient information to respond. Also included should be a statement in plain or direct manner of any other facts that constitute a defense to the counterclaim. Any matter not denied will be considered admitted. Plaintiffs are required to file their reply to a counterclaim with the Justice Court Civil/Small Claims Office and to serve a copy by United States Mail, with first-class postage, to the defendant(s) within 20 calendar days (this includes weekends and holidays) of service of the counterclaim with “day one” being the day after service. The plaintiff’s failure to answer the counterclaim within 20 calendar days may result in the defendant filing a Motion for Default Judgment. This means that the judge may grant a judgment for the defendant based on the claims/allegations in the counterclaim without considering the plaintiff’s possible defense(s) or explanations(s)

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Filing Civil Motions in Justice Court

A motion is an application for an order. Individuals can submit a motion to place their case on the calendar, request a continuance, request issuance of subpoenas, dismissals, etc. If you are represented by a private attorney, please contact them regarding your motion. If you are not represented by an attorney, you may wish to consider contacting one for assistance. Parties in civil cases are responsible for preparing their own documents. Your motion must include the case number, the judge’s name and the names of the plaintiff(s) and defendant(s). Court employees are prohibited by statute from providing legal advice or assisting you in completing your motion. For information regarding specific legal issues you should consult an attorney or you may research the matter with the Montana State Law Library.

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Civil Bench Trials

The following information is provided for plaintiff(s) and defendant(s):

The judge will announce the case to the parties and make general comments regarding the procedures to be followed during the course of the trial. Both parties may make an opening statement. This is NOT to be testimony. The opening statement is a brief overview of what each side expects to show by the testimony presented during the bench trial.

The plaintiff will call their first witness to the stand and the judge will swear the witness in. The plaintiff will proceed to question their witness and the defendant may cross-examine the witness regarding their testimony. The plaintiff must then decide to question the witness again or to move on to their next witness. If the plaintiff chooses to seek further testimony from their witness, the defendant will have the opportunity to question the witness again. This procedure will be followed for each of the plaintiff’s witnesses. The plaintiff will rest his/her case after all of their witnesses have testified and all of their evidence is submitted. If the plaintiff has not met the standards of proof and upon motion of the defendant, the judge may dismiss the case at this time.

If the standards of proof are satisfactory, the defendant may begin calling their witnesses to the stand following the same procedure listed above, except the defendant will question his/her witnesses first with the plaintiff having the opportunity to cross-examine. The defendant will rest his/her case after all of their witnesses have testified and their evidence is submitted. The plaintiff may call additional (rebuttal) witnesses. The judge may question any witness throughout the trial.

The plaintiff will make an initial closing statement and the defendant will follow. This statement is not testimony, nor a rehash of the testimony. This statement is simply a conclusion of the testimony and evidence already presented. Since the closing is not testimony, it may be waived without any adverse affect on your case. NOTHING IN THE CLOSING STATEMENTS WILL BE CONSIDERED IN THE COURT’S DECISION.

Physical evidence such as contracts, rental agreements, photos, and other papers must be submitted during the presentation of your side of the case. All documents must have “foundation” before being admitted as evidence by the court. Foundation means that there must be a witness in court who can testify as to the authenticity of a document, i.e., the keeper of the business records, author or co-author of a contract, person who actually took the photos. Statements and letters, even if notarized, are not allowed as evidence.

The judge will make a decision based on the preponderance of the evidence presented at trial.

FAILURE TO APPEAR FOR TRIAL MAY RESULT IN DISMISSAL OF YOUR CLAIM OR JUDGMENT AGAINST YOU.

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Post Judgment

The party awarded the judgment is referred to as the judgment creditor. The party owing the judgment is referred to as the judgment debtor. The prevailing party in a case, or the judgment creditor, is responsible for collecting the awarded judgment; the court will not collect the judgment. There are several options that may be utilized. Judgments entered on or after October 1, 2001 are good for 10 years. Most judgments can gain interest at 10% per annum beginning with the date of the entry of judgment. After the entirety of the judgment is collected a Satisfaction of Judgment must be filed by the judgment creditor with the clerk of the Justice Court. If the person who owes money (the judgment debtor) refuses to pay, the judgment creditor may choose to employ one or more of the following methods to attempt collection of your judgment:

Garnish the Debtor’s Wages

A wage garnishment orders the debtor’s employer to give the creditor part of the debtor’s wages until the debt is paid. Federal and state law places limits upon the amount of earnings subject to garnishment. To garnish wages, the creditor may request that the judge issue a Writ of Execution. The name and address of the debtor’s employer must be included on the form. Interest (if awarded in judgment) must also be correctly calculated. Once the writ is issued, it must be served. The creditor cannot serve the writ of execution themselves. It must be served by the sheriff’s office or a private levying officer. A writ of execution remains in effect for 120 days from the date of receipt by the sheriff or levying officer and may be served multiple times until it expires. If the writ is returned unsatisfied or partially unsatisfied a new writ of execution may be issued for the remaining balance together with costs and interest.

Levy upon the Debtor’s Bank Account

A writ of execution is the instrument used to levy a judgment debtor’s bank account. By placing a levy on a bank account, money will be withdrawn directly from the debtor’s bank account to pay the judgment. The creditor must include the name, address and branch of the bank on the writ of execution. Interest (if awarded in judgment) must also be correctly calculated. Once the writ is issued, it must be served. The writ of execution cannot be served by the creditor. It must be served by the sheriff’s office or a private levying officer. A writ of execution remains in effect for120 days from the date of receipt by the sheriff or levying officer and may be served multiple times until it expires. If the writ is returned unsatisfied or partially unsatisfied a new writ of execution may be issued for the remaining balance together with costs and interest.

File a Certification of Transcript of Judgment with the District Court

Filing a Certification of Transcript of Judgment with the District Court puts a judgment lien on any land, house or other building the debtor owns in the county where the transcript is filed. File the transcript in all counties where the debtor may own property. If the property is sold, the debt will be paid out of the proceeds of the sale. The judgment lien is good for six (6) years. The judgment lien will also put a lien on property the debtor may buy in the future and prevent the debtor from refinancing any property until the debt is paid.

Levy upon the Debtor’s Personal Property

To levy upon the personal property of the judgment debtor, complete a writ of execution and file it with the Justice Court Civil Clerk for issuance. On the writ, the creditor will need to describe the personal property to be levied upon. Once issued, take it to the sheriff or levying officer. Some personal property is exempt from execution, i.e. one motor vehicle not to exceed $1,200.00 and household furnishings not to exceed $4,500.00 in aggregate value, no item to exceed $600.00 in value. There are other exemptions- see M.C.A. Title 25, Chapter 13. If the judgment debtor used the property to secure a loan or to purchase the property, the security lien of the bank or finance company must be paid before any moneys from the execution will be applied to your judgment.

Till Tap

If the debtor is a business with a cash register, the sheriff or levying officer can go to the business and take enough money out of the register to satisfy the judgment and their fees. The creditor will need to know the name and address of the debtor’s business to complete the writ of execution. Once filed and issued, take the writ to the Civil Sheriff or levying officer. If there isn’t enough money in the register to pay the judgment, the sheriff or levying officer can attempt to tap the till again. A fee is assessed for each attempt.

Hold a Debtor’s Hearing

A Debtor’s Hearing requires the debtor to come to court and answer the creditor’s questions about his/her salary, bank accounts, property and anything else that could be used to pay the judgment. This can only be done after at least one attempt has been made to collect the debt with a writ of execution. Complete and file a motion with the court requesting a Debtor’s Hearing. Bank books, paycheck stubs, records, etc. can be subpoenaed. A subpoena duces tecum listing any specific items or records that the creditor would like the debtor to bring to the hearing must be filed by the creditor and signed by the Judge. When the order setting a Debtor’s Hearing and the subpoena duces tecum are signed, they must be taken to the Civil Sheriff or levying officer to be served upon the debtor. If the debtor has been served and fails to appear at the Debtor’s Hearing a warrant may be issued for their arrest for contempt.

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Civil Forms

Forms and instructions are available for download on our Forms page.