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How to File in Small Claims Court Against a Moving Company

Article posted by on July 01, 2013

By Shojin
Volunteer Contributor

Background
My story
What this guide is NOT
The Sleeping Dragon Awakens
Step 1 – Document every contact
Step 2 – Save every e-mail, contract, bill, receipt, letter, fax, etc.
Step 3 – Organize your timeline
Step 4 – Before you file a damage claim
Step 5 – Months later and the moving company has stopped taking your calls
Step 6 – Small Claims Court
Step 7 – Paperwork
Step 8 – More waiting
Step 9 – Court day arrives
Step 10 – Sister state filings
The Final Chapter is not yet written

How to file in Small Claims Court against a moving company

Background
Like many of you, I found the “it seems too good to be true” price quote for a moving company on the Internet. Of course, I wouldn’t be writing this article if I had remembered the part about “it probably isn’t true.”

Spend 10 minutes in a Google search for “moving horror stories” or “moving scams.” You will find yourself nodding your head in agreement as you read story after story that all seem to follow the same plot.

Moving company quotes unbelievably low price.
Customer signs contract thinking about how to spend the money he has “saved.”
Moving day arrives and “unbelievably low price” transforms into unbelievably high price.
Customer pays new price or sleeps on air mattress until he pays.

Every story also ends with the customer thinking to him/herself “if only I had known this beforehand.”

My Story
The plot of my story follows the same path, except that in addition to the typical price scam, I experienced everything from damaged goods to the movers clogging my toilet – twice!

What this guide is NOT
I did not take the moving company to court for inflating the cost of the move. Since that is basically a contract dispute, it might have required hiring an attorney. I sued because the moving company failed to reimburse me for the damage to my good even after I properly filled out their damage claim forms.

The Sleeping Dragon Awakens
This guide is going to assume you have already been scammed by a moving company, some items are missing/damaged, and that you have been unsuccessful in receiving compensation from the moving company.

Step 1 – Document every contact
Get a notebook and write down the time and date of every contact with the moving company. When you need to show the efforts you made to try to resolve your complaint, you will be able to list dates and times, which carry more weight than “I called them a few times since June.”

Get every person’s name and phone extension. If you cannot get a last name, ask for an employee ID number.

Step 2 – Save every e-mail, contract, bill, receipt, letter, fax, etc.
When it comes time to file a complaint or take the moving company to court, you’ll have the ammunition you need. Also, these documents will give you an accurate record of dates because after a few months, you won’t remember the exact date various events occurred.

Faxing them a damage claim? Save the fax cover sheet. Save the “fax confirmation” print out. Send everything by mail using Delivery Confirmation or another return receipt method. Save the postal tracking number and track the shipment online at www.usps.gov. They store the confirmation for at least 6 months and you can even print out the delivery confirmation or request a Proof of Delivery letter. That will prevent the moving company from claiming “we never got your paperwork.”

In my case, before I left the state, I went to the store where I had bought the bunk bed that the movers broke. Although they didn’t have a copy of my transaction, they did give me a receipt listing the replacement cost of the unit. With this receipt, now I have proof from the store that the bed cost $900, not just my estimation of the cost.

I also went to IKEA and got a copy of the furniture price list. It even had a picture of the unit the movers broke right next to the price.

Recommendation – even if you don’t have the receipt from when you bought the item, get a receipt that shows what the item does cost. Get the receipt from the manufacturer if possible – a print out of the same item on Ebay probably won’t fly.

Step 3 – Organize your timeline
Think of yourself as a detective from your favorite “crime” show. You are now going to recreate the timeline from your first interaction with the moving company, through today.

So your timeline might look something like this:

DATE/TIME POINT OF CONTACT PHONE # ACTION
July 1, 2002 Emily Smith (receptionist) 5551212 Emily provided quote of $1300 over phone and e-mailed inventory form
July 3, 2002 Emily Smith 5551234 (fax) Faxed Emily inventory form
Aug 1, 2002 Ed Brown (driver) none Arrived at origin point 2 hours late. Insisted on $600 to cover packing supplies.

You will notice there are no comments like “Emily is a tramp” or “Movers are *$$holes!” but rather a no-nonsense listing of the facts. This is your chance to play armchair detective / lawyer.

Step 4 – Before you file a damage claim
Most of us might not know something is damaged until we get the boxes unpacked, yet the driver has insisted we sign the bill of lading that everything was delivered intact. So have you just screwed yourself by signing the bill indicating that nothing appeared broken?

Probably not. You typically have at least two months (maybe longer) to file a damage claim and this is always specified in the contract.

Let’s say that upon opening a box the movers packed you find your 1-year-old DVD player is smashed. You don’t have the original receipt, but you know you got the player at Best Buy.

You could visit their website and try to locate your DVD player and print out the current price. If you paid by credit card, you might be able to get a statement from your credit card company. You could even visit the store and ask for a new receipt. In this case, ask for a manager and explain why you need a new receipt — that you are filing a damage claim against your moving company.

Now, take photos of everything that was damaged. Most moving companies will require you to send photos of the broken items – unless they send out an insurance adjuster.

Get at least two sets of prints. One set goes to the moving company. The second set you save for your own records, or for when you file in Small Claims Court.

Once you have photos and an inventory of everything that was damaged, and receipts for everything, you are ready to file your damage claim. Here is what your inventory might look like:

ITEM COST DESCRIPTION OF DAMAGE
Bunk bed $900 Frame split, support leg broken
Receipt from Bunk Bed R Us included
Sony DVD Player Model 1234 $300 DVD tray cracked off and missing. Parts rattle inside unit
Receipt from Best Buy included

Make a copy of everything before you send it to the moving company. Xerox the photos too. Send the damage claim via one of the USPS delivery tracking methods.

Step 5 – Months later and the moving company has stopped taking your calls
You’ve been keeping your logbook of every time you’ve called and/or written the moving company to ask about the status of your damage claim.

By now, you are convinced they recognize your phone number on their Caller ID and each time you call you make less and less progress.

Don’t threaten. Don’t tip your hand. It’s time to take them to court.

Step 6 – Small Claims Court
This is where the Internet will come in very handy. First, some terms you need to become familiar with:

Plaintiff – this is you, the one who was wronged.
Judgment Creditor – this is you too and is how the paperwork will identify you.
Defendant – this is the moving company.
Judgment Debtor – this is the moving company too, again referred to as “debtor” on the paperwork

The dollar amount limit for Small Claims Court varies from state to state. For example, in Rhode Island the limit is $1,500, but in Delaware the limit is $15,000.

In order to file, you need the moving company’s name and address. You can use the resources on www.movingscam.com to find this information.

Key – don’t just file against the moving company. File against the owner as well. You will probably have to pay a bit more in filing fees to file against more than one person / company, but it is worth it.

Finding the forms

This is where you will spend most of your time – trying to find out which court to file in, how to file, what forms to fill out, etc. Typically, for Small Claims Court, you are required to file in the district/county where the defendant is located, or where the dispute occurred. This means that because the dispute most likely occurred at your new house/apartment, you can file where you live.

Once you locate the right courthouse, it’s probably best to visit in person to ensure you get the correct forms and you can ask questions. After your initial visit, follow-on paperwork can be done via postal mail.

Step 7 – Paperwork
Here are some typical forms you will need in order to file in Small Claims Court.

a. Small Claims Court application. Usually a 1-2 page document where you fill out information like your name, address, defendant’s name(s) and address, amount of filing fees and a brief summary of why you think you are owed money.

b. Copies of moving contract. You don’t need to include originals, but organize your papers to make sense.

c. Log of interactions with moving company. Here is where you show that you tried to resolve the dispute before going to court.

d. Copies of damage claim forms with proof that the moving company received them. Remember those fax confirmation pages or delivery confirmation notices? Include them here.

e. Inventory of items damaged with receipts.

f. Xerox copies of the photos of damaged items. Keep the second copy of the photos with you when court day arrives.

All of this should be including in the packet you file. Make a copy of everything.

Example of my summary
[name of moving company] has failed to reimburse me for the damages they caused to my household goods during a relocation move from [state] to [new state]. In accordance with [moving company’s] procedures, on Aug 19, 2002, I submitted a damage claim with photographs of the items damaged. After repeated calls for more than two months to their offices, [moving company] has failed to settle this claim, nor have they provided me with any follow-up information. I am asking for [dollar amount of damaged goods] plus [dollar amount] in court fees for a total of [damages + court fees]

Step 8 – More waiting
It may take a few weeks/months before you are assigned a court date. For example, I filed my paperwork on Nov. 26, 2002. On Dec. 10, I received a letter with an assigned court date of Jan. 21 – about two months from the date I filed.

The letter is a Civil Action Hearing Notice and is addressed to the Defendant, however, you always get a copy.

The letter informs the Defendant:

a. That a complaint has been made against him.
b. Who made the complaint – that’s you.
c. The date, time and place he needs to appear.
d. What happens if the Defendant fails to appear

Step 9 – Court day arrives
Bring all of your paperwork with you. It certainly isn’t a bad idea to rehearse what you are going to say to the judge.

So what happened at my hearing?

The Defendant never showed up – not that I was expecting anyone from a California-based company to fly to Pennsylvania. Nor did he file any Notice of Intent to Defend.

And would you believe that the judge was away on a family emergency on my hearing date? The court clerks kindly explained to me that because no one showed up except me, the judge automatically ruled in my favor! How’s that for swift justice!

A few weeks later, another envelope arrived from the courthouse with the Notice of Judgment/Transcript. This is the “golden ticket” you’ve been waiting for.

The Transcript, which again goes to both the Defendant and to you, basically says:

“This is to notify you that judgment for Plaintiff was entered against [moving company name] in the amount of [insert dollar amount] on Jan. 21, 2003.

The Transcript also says that the Defendant has 30 days to appeal this decision.

Step 10 – Sister state filings
Before your next step, you must wait the mandatory 30 days. I wasn’t sure if this meant 30 business days, or 30 calendar days, so I waited 30 business days just to make sure. Since the judgment date was Jan. 21, I waited until March 6 before filing my next notice.

The moving company I filed against is located in California and the judgment was from Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the California courts cannot enforce a Pennsylvania judgment, so the moving company basically doesn’t have to pay me.

Was all this effort for nothing? Not quite.

All states have something called “sister state” agreements. Any state can be a sister state as long as nothing in its laws prohibits another state from enforcing its judgments. For example, if the debtor (the moving company) now lives or does business in California and has assets there, a creditor (me) can have the judgment granted in another state (Pennsylvania) entered in California.

What’s involved in filing for a sister-state judgment? More paperwork of course.

In California, for example, here is what’s required to file for a sister-state judgment:
Application for Entry of Judgment on Sister State Judgment
Notice of Entry of Judgment on Sister State Judgment
Certified copy of the original Entry of Judgment
Filing fees
Self-addressed stamped envelope

The Application is exactly that – you are asking that the judgment granted in another state be “transformed” into a judgment in a sister state.

Key – You need to file the all of your paperwork in the district where the Defendant does business in. This isn’t always easy, but start with finding out the county the Defendant’s business is located in.

The Notice is what is sent to the Defendant to inform him of the application for sister state judgment. Once again, the debtor has 30 days to present evidence why the judgment should not be granted.

Certified copy – you need to get certified/notarized copies of the original judgment from the courthouse. You will probably receive four identical certified copies – send them all in.

Filing fees – you need to find out what the exact filing fees are. Make sure you explain to the clerk if you have judgments against both the owner and the moving company.

The Final Chapter is not yet written
It is at this point where my story ends. I have just sent off my paperwork to the California courts and now must wait again.

I’ve spent months in research and a little over $200 in filing fees, stamps, etc. and I still haven’t seen a penny of the money owed to me. Has it been worth it?

You bet it has! The feeling that I have the power to do something about the moving company that ripped me off has made this effort worthwhile.

Stay tuned for more updates as they occur.

List of helpful links

How to Sue in Small Claims Court
http://www.peopleslawyer.net/smallclaims/

Index of all states websites
http://www.firstgov.gov/Agencies/State_and_Territories.shtml

HOW CAN I ENFORCE A JUDGMENT AGAINST A JUDGMENT DEBTOR IN ANOTHER STATE?
http://bankruptcy-law.freeadvice.com/collections/enforce_judgment.htm

FindLaw Court Forms
http://forms.lp.findlaw.com/index.html

FindLaw Cases and Codes
http://www.findlaw.com/casecode/index.html
http://www.small-claims-courts.com

Small Claims Court Information and Links (lists dollar limits)
http://law.freeadvice.com/resources/smallclaimscourts.htm

Collecting on a Small Claims Court Judgment
http://www.prairielaw.com/articles/article.asp?channelId=30&subId=125&articleId=1497

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