Small Claims Mediation

Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution technique offered by the Cleveland Municipal Court for the parties appearing in Small Claims Court. Mediation may take place in cases where the sum of $6,000.00 or less is being sought. Approximately, one-third of all contested small claims cases go to mediation and the majority of them are successfully resolved.

The parties in a small claims case have the choice to mediate their dispute outside of trial.  Mediation is voluntary. Therefore, both parties must agree to mediation. If both parties agree to mediation, the parties will be given an opportunity to jointly sit down with a neutral third party, trained to mediate cases, to amicably resolve the dispute, by identifying the issues in the case and determining whether or not a settlement is possible. Mediation has many advantages including: (1) resolution of the dispute on the court date; (2) negotiating a payment schedule to avoid collection and a judgment on a credit report; (3) a confidential settlement agreement; and (4) an outcome that is satisfactory to both sides. In addition, mediation communications are privileged and not subject to discovery or admissible during trial, with exceptions.  If mediation does not work to the parties’ satisfaction, they still have access to a trial before a magistrate on the same day.

Mediations are conducted during Small Claims Court dockets when mediators are available. Small Claims hearings are generally held Tuesday through Friday at 9:00 AM, 10:00 AM, and 1:30 PM. The hearings are held on the 12th floor of the Justice Center in Courtroom 12 D.

What is the difference between mediation and trial?

Mediation focuses on solving problems, not uncovering who is right or wrong, or imposing legal rules. In mediation, the parties can create their own solution through a neutral mediator and avoid a court-imposed judgment, which may not be satisfactory to one or both of the parties. The parties can fashion the outcome of their case in terms that they believe are the fairest and most sensible. This is a far different approach than the small claims magistrate will take in court. In court, the magistrate reviews the evidence presented to determine who was right and who was wrong, then grants or denies an award based on his/her decision. The mediator does not take sides or make decisions. The mediator's job is to help the parties evaluate their goals and options and find their own mutually-satisfactory solution. 


Parties must come prepared for trial on the day their case is scheduled, even if the party wishes to mediate the case.  Parties should come to court with witnesses who may testify on one’s behalf, receipts, photographs, and/or other documents to support or defend their case. 

Do I need an attorney?

In both small claims trials and mediation, representation by an attorney is permitted, but is not required.

Stages of Mediation

Many people think that mediation is an informal process, in which a friendly mediator chats with the parties until they suddenly drop their hostilities and work together for the common good. In fact, mediation is a multi-stage process designed to get results. It is less formal than a trial or arbitration, but there are distinct stages to the mediation process. Most mediations proceed as follows:

Stage 1: Mediator's Opening Statement. After the parties are seated at a table, the mediator introduces everyone, explains the goals and rules of the mediation, and encourages each side to work cooperatively toward a settlement.

Stage 2: Parties’ Opening Statements. Each party is invited to describe, in his or her own words, what the dispute is about and how he or she has been affected by it, and to present some general ideas about resolving it. While one person is speaking, the other is not allowed to interrupt.

Stage 3: Joint Discussion. The mediator may try to get the parties talking directly about what was said in the opening statements. This is the time to determine what issues need to be addressed.

Stage 4: Private Caucuses. The private caucus is a chance for each party to meet privately with the mediator (usually in a nearby room) to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of his or her position and new ideas for settlement. The mediator may caucus with each side just once, or several times, as needed or a caucus may not be needed.

Stage 5: Joint Negotiation. After caucuses, if conducted, the mediator will bring the parties back together to negotiate directly.

Stage 6: Closure. This is the end of the mediation. If an agreement has been reached, the mediator will put its provisions in writing as the parties listen. The mediator will ask each side to sign the written Mediation Agreement. If the parties want to, they can write up and sign a legally binding contract themselves. If no agreement is reached, the mediator will review whatever progress has been made and advise the parties of their options, such as meeting again to continue to try to negotiate a settlement or going before a magistrate for trial.

It is important to note that neither a judgment pursuant to trial nor a mediation agreement actually guarantees payment.  However, mediation is a voluntary and workable alternative that is most effective when cooperation, creativity, and open communication are practiced.
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