How do I know what type of claim to file?
How much can the claim be for?
Do I need an attorney?
How to name a defendant
How to locate a person or business
How to fill out and file a complaint
After the complaint has been filed and served
How the defendant is notified of the suit (service
How to file an application
for waiver of fees
How to File and Defend a Civil Claim in JP Court Booklet
HOW DO I KNOW WHAT TYPE OF CLAIM TO
The Justice of the Peace Court handles four basic types of civil cases
which are described below.
A debt action is a claim for
a sum of money. Examples of debt actions include money claimed on a
loan, money claimed for purchases made, money claimed because work for
which payment has been made was not completed or properly done, money
claimed for unpaid rent, security deposits not returned, etc.
A civil trespass action involves
the wrongful, intentional, or negligent actions of a person that resulted
in damage to another’s property. For example, damages caused by an improper
act of another person may involve an automobile as a result of a traffic
accident, to a home, lawn, bicycle, or to any other personal property.
Information describing the incident, the type and amount of damage,
how the damages were calculated, and how the Defendant’s conduct was
improper must be stated in the complaint filed with the Court or in
a letter attached to the complaint.
Please note that the Justice of the Peace Court cannot hear actions
involving personal injuries, mental anguish, etc.
A replevin action may be filed
by a person to get back an article or item of personal property that
is being withheld from them by another person. A detailed description,
serial number and value of the personal property must be included with
LANDLORD/TENANT (SUMMARY POSSESSION) ACTIONS
This action may be filed by
the landlord for possession of a rented property because of unpaid rent
or abuse and misuse of the rented property. If the landlord is seeking
back rent along with possession of the unit, this claim may be included
in the summary possession action. However, if the landlord is seeking
back rent only and not possession of the unit, a debt action should
be filed. Tenants may also file a landlord/tenant action if they have
been wrongfully kept out of the rented property. However, a claim for
the return of a security deposit only should be filed as a debt action.
Before the action may be filed
by a landlord, notice in writing must be given or sent to the Tenant
by the landlord. This notice must state that the tenant as at least
five days to pay the rent or at least seven days to correct the abuse
or misuse (ten days, if a mobile home) and that if the tenant does not
do so as instructed, a suit for possession may be filed with the Court.
Summary Possession actions may
involve either residential or commercial units, as well as mobile homes.
For more information see the booklet, How to File and Defend a Summary
Possession Action in the State of Delaware and the Landlord-Tenant
Code and/or Mobile Homes Lots and Leases Act, as appropriate.
HOW MUCH CAN THE CLAIM BE FOR?
The Justice of the Peace Court
may not award any amount exceeding $15,000. If your claim exceeds $15,000
you may use the Justice of the Peace Court if you are willing to limit
your relief to $15,000. If you choose to do so, you will lose the right
to the amount of the claim over $15,000.
DO I NEED AN ATTORNEY?
An individual may appear in the
Justice of the Peace Court without an attorney. However, if you are unfamiliar
with the legal issues and procedures in your case, you may want to consider
consulting with a lawyer.
If you are a corporation or other
artificial entity or a public body, you may only appear in a Justice of
the Peace Court without a lawyer if you file a Certificate
of Representation (Civil Form 50) with the Chief Magistrate. and comply
with the other provisions of Supreme Court Rule 57. This Certificate must
be filed prior to filing your complaint or answer. The Certificate of
Representation must be renewed annually. There is a $20.00 annual registration
HOW TO FIND A LAWYER
If you need help in finding a lawyer,
you may wish to contact the Legal Help Link at 302-478-8850.
If you wish to obtain free legal
assistance, when you call the Legal Help Link, you will be asked questions
concerning your income and the type of case in which you are involved
make you eligible for such assistance. No fee generating cases may be
If you are not eligible for free
legal assistance, the Legal Help Link will refer you to the Lawyer Referral
Program. This program will select an attorney, convenient to you, with
whom you can meet to discuss your particular problem. The selected attorney
will consult with you for 30 minutes for a fee of $35. Often, this initial
visit may answer your questions or enable you to solve the problem on
your own, If, however, additional services are needed and you decide to
hire the referred attorney, fees and additional costs would be arranged
between you and the attorney.
The Legal Help Link is a collaborative
effort among the Delaware State Bar Association, Delaware Volunteer Legal
Services, Inc., Widener University School of Law, Community Legal Aid
Society, Inc., and the Legal Services Corporation of Delaware, Inc.
It is very important to name the Defendant correctly
because you will only be able to collect from the party or parties whose
name is exactly the same as the name that appears on your claim. You must
know the full name and correct address of the party being sued and whether
the party is an individual, sole proprietorship, corporation, partnership,
limited liability company, association, estate or trust.
If you are suing an individual, write his or her
first name, middle initial (if known) and last name.
If you are suing a business owned by one person,
you must write both the owner and the company name. You should also name
the owner as the individual to increase your chances of collecting if
you win. Write the letters "dba" which stands for "Doing
Business As" between the name of the owner and the company name,
if the owner is doing business under a fictitious name. For example, you
would write John A. Doe, individual & dba Delaware Donuts.
If you are suing both a husband and wife, write both
their full names. For example, John A. Doe and Mary B. Doe. They will
be served separately.
If you are suing a corporation, you should write
the name of the corporation as, for example:
John’s Donuts, Inc.
If a corporation owns a division or subsidiary,
it should be written as in the following example:
Doe Corporation, doing business as "John’s Donuts"
HOW TO LOCATE A PERSON OR BUSINESS
It is important that you have the correct name and address
of the defendant so that the Court can serve them with notice that they
are being sued. Street addresses are preferable to post office boxes. For a summary possession action, you must have the address of the rental
Locating a Person:
If you can’t find the person you want to sue, you may find the following information helpful in locating them.
If the person has moved, address an envelope to him or her at his or her last known address. Several spaces below your return address, write, "Address Service Requested." If the Post Office has a change of address for the person, the Post Office will take the following steps:
- Month 1 through 12: Piece forwarded, separate notice of new address provided to sender.
- Months 13 through 18: Piece returned with new address attached.
- After month 18: Piece returned with reason for non-delivery attached
If the Post Office does not have a change of address, the mail will be returned with the reason for non-delivery attached.
The County Recorder of Deed’s Office maintains
a listing of property owners by name and lists the location of the property
owned. The Recorder of Deed’s Offices are located as follows:
|New Castle County
| 800 French Street
Wilmington DE 19801
| Kent County Levy Court Administrative Complex
555 Bay Road
Dover DE 19901
| 2 The Circle
Georgetown DE. 19947
If the only information you have concerning the other
party is a telephone number, and the number is one that is listed,
the Cross Directory will provide the address.
The Secretary of State’s Office maintains information
on Delaware corporations and corporations which have qualified to do business
in Delaware. The Secretary of State’s Office may be contacted at 739-3073
Sole Proprietorships and Partnerships
The Prothonotary’s office in each county maintains
a listing of the names and addresses of owners of businesses operating
under a name different from that of the owners.
The address and phone number of the Prothonotary’s office
for each county is listed below:
|New Castle County
| New Castle County Courthouse
500 N. King Street
Wilmington, DE 19801
| Kent Co. Courthouse
38 The Green
Dover DE 19901
| Sussex Co. Courthouse
1 The Circle, Ste 2
Georgetown DE 19947
Please be aware that the court clerks cannot help
you in locating a person or business.
HOW TO FILL OUT AND FILE THE COMPLAINT
replevin actions (return of property) -- sample
form and instructions and/or an interactive interview
To start an action, you must fill out a complaint.
Before filling out your complaint, you should:
- Determine whether the type (see How do I know what
type of claim to file?) and amount (see How much
can the claim be for?)of your claim can be handled in the Justice
of the Peace Court. If so, you should be sure to remember which type
of claim you have as this will be important in filling out the complaint.
- Obtain and use the correct name (see How to name
a defendant) and address of the defendant.
- Determine whether anyone other than the defendant needs to be named
for service (This is necessary if you are suing a corporation, an insurance
company, or the State of Delaware or one of its agencies or officials.)
and read the information on service to determine
whether any special procedures for service are required.
- Obtain a complaint form (Civil Form No.1). The complaint form may be obtained at any Justice
of the Peace Civil Court or may be downloaded. In addition, an Interactive complaint form may be accessed here.
Now you are ready to fill out your complaint. The same form is
used for all types of civil complaints. However, there are specific statutory
requirements as to what must be included for some types of actions. In
addition, in Landlord/tenant (summary possession) actions, there are also
specific notice requirements which must be met by landlords. These notice
requirements and other information relating to summary possession actions
are explained in the booklet "How to File
and Defend a Summary Possession Action in the Justice of the Peace Court".
It is important that you familiarize yourself with the requirements
for the type of action which you are filing. Information on these
requirements and sample complaints which explain and illustrate the information
which should be included are available to help you in filling out your
The following sample complaints are available to assist you in filling out your complaint.
For debt actions (payment of money),
there are two sample forms and/or an easy to complete interactive interview.
trespass actions (damages to property) -- sample
form and instructions and/or an interactive interview
landlord/tenant (summary possession) actions -- sample
form and instructions and/or an interactive interview
If you are filing a landlord/tenant (summary possession) action, you should
be sure to familiarize yourself with the special requirements for landlord/tenant
(summary possession) actions which are explained in the booklet Filing
and Defending a Summary Possession Action in the Justice of the Peace Court
of the State of Delaware and in the Landlord- Tenant Code and/or Mobile
Homes Lots and Leases Act, as appropriate.
After you have completed the complaint, if you are using a complaint form that you obtained online, you should make four copies of the complaint and any attachments. You should retain one copy for your records and take, or mail, the original plus three copies, along with the filing fee to the Court. (If you are using a carbonized copy of the complaint supplied by the Court, you do not need to make any additional copies, other than one for your own records.) If you mail the complaint, you must enclose a check or money order for the filing fee.
If you are filing on behalf of a business and your business files five or more cases a year, you will be required to e-file your pleadings. If you are required to e-file, you must first obtain e-filing training that is offered, free of charge, through the Court. Read more about e-filing and its requirements or view the next training session and sign up for e-filing training.
For summary possession cases, the complaint must be filed in the
court nearest the rental property and in the county in which the property
For all other types of cases, unless otherwise provided by law,
you will not be able to recover your court costs in any suit against a
Delaware resident unless you bring your action in a court in the county
in which the defendant resides.
here for a list of Civil Courts and their addresses.
If you are unable to afford the filing fee, you may fill out a
request to have the fees waived. If you wish to have the fees waived,
you should either ask for an in
forma pauperis application from the Court or you may download the
If you are suing on behalf of a corporation, partnership, or other
artificial entity, or public body and do not plan to use
a lawyer to represent the entity, you should be sure to file a Certificate
of Representation (Civil Form 50).
Once you have filed your complaint with the court,the documents must
be served on the defendant. Please read the section on How
to notify the defendant of the suit (service of process).
AFTER YOUR COMPLAINT HAS BEEN FILED
After your complaint has been filed and served, you will receive
a notice from the Court as to the time and date set for trial (unless
the defendant in a debt or trespass action admits to the amount owed).
If you do not appear at the date and time scheduled for trial a nonsuit
judgment may be entered against you and your case will be dismissed.
If you cannot appear at the date and time set for trial, you should
notify the Court immediately and request a continuance (a rescheduling).
This request should be in writing and should explain why you are unable
to attend at the scheduled time. If you wish, you may fax this request
to the Court instead of mailing or delivering it.
If you have filed a debt action, the defendant may, after receiving
the complaint, demand that you file a bill
of particulars. A bill of particulars is a statement by the Plaintiff
stating with particularity the basis for the claim and how the amount
claimed was determined. It is used in debt actions only.
In completing the bill of particulars, you must include an affidavit
notarized by a Notary Public. (For corporate plaintiffs, the affidavit
must be signed by an officer of the corporation. For partnerships, the
affidavit must be signed by a partner.) You must file the original of
your bill of particulars with the Court and send a copy to the defendant
within 15 days counting the date of mailing as the first day. A statement
as to how service of the copy was made upon the defendant must be included
in the bill of particulars and if the copy was sent by mail, the date
of the mailing and the address to which it was sent must be included.
HOW THE DEFENDANT IS NOTIFIED
OF THE SUIT
(service of process)
After you have filed your complaint with the Court, the Court will
attempt to serve (deliver the documents to) the defendant unless you
tell the Court that you wish to hire a special process server or if you
are suing an out-of-state resident (including
The cost of service by the Court is included in the filing fee. However,
there are additional fees, as well as special procedures involved
when suing an out-of-state resident, an insurance
company, or corporations or limited partnerships.
You should also be aware that special procedures apply if you are serving
the State of Delaware or any of its agencies or officers.
Also, if you choose to use a special
process server, you will have to pay the process server a fee in addition
to your filing fee.
If the Court attempts to serve the complaint (or any other court documents)
on the defendant and is unable to do so, you will receive a Notice
of Failure to Serve Complaint (Civil Form No. 9) which will state the
reason the Court was unable to serve the papers. (When the Court is unable
to serve the papers, this is called a "non est" return of service.)
Once you have additional information as to the location where the
parties may be served, you will need to file an "alias" request
for service. ("Alias is the second attempt of service after the first
attempt was unsuccessful.) There is an additional fee for issuing an alias
summons and you will need a new complaint
form (J.P. Civ. Form No. 1) to begin the action.
Special Procedures apply when suing:
Special Process Servers
FEES (JP Court Civil Rule 77(3)(4))
| Filing Fee for Landlord/Tenant
| Filing Fee for Debt and Trespass Claims where the amount in controversy exceeds $5,000
| Filing Fee for Debt and Trespass Claims where the amount in controversy equals or is between $1,000-$5,000
| Filing Fee for Debt and Trespass Claims where the amount in controversy is less than $1,000
| Filing Fee for Replevin Action
| Alias (Second Attempt at Service)
| Attachment in Lieu of Summons
|Lienholder Without Hearing
|Lienholder with Hearing
|Motion to Vacate a Default/Nonsuit Judgment
|Constable Sale (Vendition Exponas)
|Service of Writ of Summary Possession
|Revival of Judgment (Scire Facias)
|Third Party Action for Landlord/Tenant Claims
|Third Party Action for Debt and Trespass Claims where the amount in controversy exceeds $5,000
|Third Party Action for Debt and Trespass Claims where the amount in controversy equals or is between $1,000-$5,000
|Third Party Action for Debt and Trespass Claims where the amount in controversy is less than $1,000
|Filing Fee for an Abandoned Property Suit
If the Plaintiff (person who files the case) wins
the case, the court may award the court costs (in addition to the principal
claim, interest, and other relief requested as a part of the judgment).
If the Plaintiff files the case outside of the county where the Defendant
(person whom the claim is against) resides, court costs will not be awarded.
HOW TO FILE AN APPLICATION FOR A WAIVER
OF COURT FEES
The application for filing a fee waiver is contained below. You
may either obtain the necessary forms from the Court or you may download them. All applicants must fill in the Application
and Affidavit to Proceed in Forma Pauperis (Civil Form 49). Only
persons who have been told by a Delaware Court that they may not file future
claims without the permission of the court due to having filed frivolous
or malicious litigation, should fill out the second form, the Affidavit
of Good Cause (Civil Form 49A).
The application (and the Affidavit of Good Cause,
if you are required to file it) must be signed in front of a notary
public or a justice of the peace. You should be aware that in signing
the application (and the Affidavit of Good Cause, if necessary), you are
swearing or affirming, under penalty of perjury, that the information
is true and correct. If you wish to sign in front of a notary, and do
not know of one, you may find a list of notaries in the yellow pages of
the telephone book.
The signed and notarized fee waiver documents should
be filed with the Court along with your complaint.
Also included, for your information, are the income
eligibility guidelines which are used by the Court in determining
whether an in forma pauperis application should be granted. When applicants
have both income and assets at or below the guidelines, the Court will
generally approve the application. At income or asset levels above those
shown in the guidelines, the Court will determine whether the applicant
has any unusual necessary expenses which may cause the Court to grant
In addition to looking at the applicant’s
income and asset levels, the Court will review the applicant’s complaint
to determine whether the action is factually frivolous (baseless, or of
no importance), malicious (designed to injure or harass), or legally frivolous
(without legal merit). If the complaint fits within any of these categories,
the Court will deny the request for the fee waiver and will dismiss the