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pleading, cookies, small claims

Some commentors and pundits have wondered what cause of action Wanita Renea Young used when suing the Durango Cookie Duo in their local small claims court.  (prior post here)  My research suggests that Mrs. Young did not have to state a particular cause of action in Colorado's informal "people's court," where lawyers are not allowed.

Thus the Colorado small claims complaint form merely says:


The Defendant(s) owe(s) me $________________, which includes penalties, plus interest and costs allowed by law, and/or should be ordered to return property, perform a contract or set aside a contract or comply with a restrictive covenant for the following reasons. (If seeking return of property, please describe the property being requested).


[5 lines provided]

Note: The combined value of money, property, specific performance or cost to remedy a covenant violation cannot exceed $7,500.00.

And, the Small Claims Handbook states:

The fifth section asks for a description of the plaintiff’s claim; for example, the amount of money/property you want to recover. You need to explain the basic facts of your case. This does not have to be detailed. For example, “I left my shirt with Jones Company to be cleaned, but they ruined it. It was a brand-new shirt.”   You will have your chance to present more detail at your trial.

The California Complaint form in Small Claims court is similarly simple:

The Plaintiff claims the Defendant owes $______________ (Explain below)
a. Why does the Defendant owe the Plaintiff money? ______________________________
b. When did this happen?
c. How did you calculate the money owed to you?
   __  Check here if you need more space.

I have the New York State Small Claims form in front of me (actual hardcopy), and it says

Amount of Claim $ __________


___ [separate lines for each of the following types of claim: Rent Due, Return of Security Deposit, Auto Accident, Non-Payment for Good Delivered and/or Services Provided, Defective Goods Received or Services Rendered]

____ Other - (Include date of incident and BRIEF description  __________  _____________________________________________________ [3 lines given]

This informal method of pleading makes sense in a court that offers access to non-lawyers.  It becomes the judge's duty to decide whether the facts fit a known cause of action, and whether various types of damages are appropriate.  Therefore, Mrs. Young did not have to name a cause of action, nor be aware of the criteria for non-economic or punitive damages.  The judge would take evidence and decide whether she has proven her case with regard to the various amounts she claims that defendant "owes" to her.

  • By the way, Colorado's small claims court system received the third highest score in the nation in HALT's 2004 Small Claims Report Card.