Peace, Wealth, Happiness, and Small Claim Courts: A Case Study

38 Pages Posted: 4 Nov 2007

See all articles by Deborah Zalesne

Deborah Zalesne

CUNY School of Law

Arthur Best

University of Denver Sturm College of Law


This Article presents empirical data on the operation of the small claims court in the city of Denver. The study underlying the article evaluated the court in terms of (1) users' reactions; (2) the correctness of outcomes; (3) the correctness of procedures; and (4) the effective power of the court in terms of enforcement of results.

The study shows that small claims courts may be paradigmatic of governmental responses to social problems. Overall, it is hard to determine whether the individuals they actually do serve are better off for having been able to use their processes.

The study concludes that the rate of victory for plaintiffs who file claims and appear in court is eighty-five percent. Of winning plaintiffs, fifty-five percent never collect any part of their judgments. Overall, among victorious plaintiffs, the judgment amounts collected equal thirty-one percent of the total amounts awarded. Thus, as has been the pattern in other small claims courts studies, the operation of the court must be viewed in the context of overwhelming advantage to plaintiffs at the trial stage and of significant disadvantage to plaintiffs after trial. Accordingly, this Article proposes that we direct more funds to small claims courts to reorganize them so that they might operate more efficiently.

Keywords: Small Claims Court

JEL Classification: K40, K41, K00

Suggested Citation

Zalesne, Deborah and Best, Arthur, Peace, Wealth, Happiness, and Small Claim Courts: A Case Study. Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 21, p. 343, 1994, Available at SSRN:

Deborah Zalesne (Contact Author)

CUNY School of Law ( email )

2 Court Square
Long Island City, NY 11101
United States

Arthur Best

University of Denver Sturm College of Law ( email )

2255 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208
United States

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