“I have recently picked up the necessary forms to sue a former roommate in Small Claims Court in Palm Beach County. This former roommate stole a check that she had given me to pay rent and led me to believe that my home had been broken into. I called the police in both the county and the city I live, who consequently took a report. The police suspected that it was inside job but I did not want to accuse my roommate without proof. The police were able to look at the bank records and prove that the check my roommate claims was stolen and cashed was, in fact, never cashed nor a stop payment put on it. I tried to bring this matter up with my roommate, whom I asked to move out shortly after this happened. ( There had been missing things in the past) She refuses to acknowledge anything and ignores the police requests. The police told me this is a civil matter even though she stole from me and filed a false police report. I have two questions. The bank will not release the records to me or the police. How do I get them? When I sue this person, am I able to sue for more than what she owes for the emotional distress and problems she has caused me through her dishonest behavior? Thank you.”
I’m sorry to hear about your situation. To answer your first question: getting bank records can be very difficult for small claims cases. The rules of civil procedure, which include discovery, are more limited in small claims courts than in courts with jurisdiction over suits involving larger sums of money. The typical way to get bank records is either through discovery, or order from the court compelling the bank to produce the required documents. These types of actions are uncommon in small claims cases. Small claims court is designed to provide a quick remedy to small disputes between two parties (such as your own), not to produce a lengthy trial.
As for your second question: the amount of money you can recover will typically be limited to the actual damages you can prove. A small claims court would be unlikely to award you damages for emotional distress in this instance. You may be able to recover court fees, by filing a timely motion with the court. Additionally, you can include any foregone interest you would have reasonably earned on the money since the time it was due.
That said, a judgement awarded in small claims court does not guarantee collection of the judgement. Collection is a completely separate issue. If, during your pre-trial conference, the judge recommends mediation, you should try to work out your problems with your ex-roommate there. During mediation, you may offer your roommate a settlement for a lesser amount than you would otherwise seek in court, which will guarantee you receive some monies for your trouble and allow you to move on with your life.
You can read more about the small claims process in <a href=”http://www.floridabar.org/TFB/TFBResources.nsf/0/5E3D51AF15EE8DCD85256B29004BFA62/$FILE/Small%20Claims.pdf?OpenElement” target=”_blank”>this informational packet provided by the Florida Bar</a>. Additionally, if you have any other questions, you should consider speaking with an experienced attorney in your area. An attorney familiar with the county court you’re filing in can offer you better advice as to your options.