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Small claims court over unpaid invoice


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#1 Frank Hegyi

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 04:28 PM

Hey guys, wondering if anyone has any experience suing a former client over an unpaid invoice? I did a shoot ~6 months ago, and the client has continued to give me a waterfall of excuses over why they haven't paid yet.

 

I told them that if I wasn't paid in the next week, I'd be filling in small claims court. Any advice?


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#2 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 04:45 PM

How much is the invoice? It might be too high depending on the state.


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#3 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 04:48 PM

I can't offer you any legal advice, so take what I'm saying with a grain of salt. I'm not a lawyer or licensed to practice law.

 

What are your odds of winning?

Really, rather to take something to small claims depends a lot of instinct.

 

Does the guy have the money to pay it? If not, small claims cannot get money from where it doesn't exist. If he doesn't have the money to pay it, it'll just be postponed until he does.

 

Do you have a written agreement with him? If not, what proof do you have that you performed the services for him?

 

How much is the invoice? If it's for a tiny amount, it might be more trouble than its worth. If it's for more than usually around $5,000 (state dependent), then you can't sue in small claims court.

 

Basically, the larger the amount and the better the odds of collecting, the more likely I'd be to sue someone for it. If I know he has money or assets and is simply not paying me, you bet your butt I'd be taking him to court. If the guy is broke and living with his mom, I'd probably not bother - as more than likely I'd just be wasting my money to file the case.


Edited by Landon D. Parks, 15 January 2018 - 04:49 PM.

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#4 Frank Hegyi

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 06:05 PM

They owe me a little over $1,000, so enough to sue in my world, but still under the $5,000 limit in MA.

 

As far as proof of work, we didn't have a signed contract before the shoot, but I have an email chain offering me the gig. I have all the call sheets from the week. I have footage from the last day. I have the invoice email chain (which is 30 emails long at this point), where they describe multiple checks being lost in the mail. They've never claimed that they don't owe me the money. So I think I have a sufficient paper trail.

 

I'm not sure if they actually have money to pay. They seemed legit while I was working with them, but there's no way to know what kind of financial health a little indie production company is in. Even if I win and they refuse to pay, I'll hire a collections attorney who will probably take most of the money, but at that point it'll be more about the principal of the thing.

 

Does that make sense?

 

My one big question mark in this: The production company is based in California. I live in Massachusetts. And the shoot was in Rhode Island. So I'm not sure where to file the claim.


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#5 JD Hartman

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 06:54 PM

When you win a judgement, how do you actually collect?


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#6 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 07:02 PM

For just $1000, mentioning a lawsuit may have been a bad move. Now them willingly paying you when they can is probably out the window. You probably should've done the research before letting them know to see if it's actually worth pursuing via court.


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#7 Frank Hegyi

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 07:02 PM

I won in small claims court against a landlord in my younger days. In order to get him to pay I hired a collections attorney who took ~15% or something like that. The attorney figured out where the landlord worked and took a percentage of his paycheck every month. Then I got a series of small checks from the attorney over the next couple years.


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#8 Frank Hegyi

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 07:05 PM

For just $1000, mentioning a lawsuit may have been a bad move. Now them willingly paying you when they can is probably out the window. You probably should've done the research before letting them know to see if it's actually worth pursuing via court.

Yeah, we'll see how it plays out. That might be true.


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#9 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 09:37 PM

Fortunately for us NY'ers we recently got the FIFA law put into place.  It provides an easy way to collect on any invoice that's unpaid.  Best part is that it requires any freelancer to be paid within 30 days of the work performed.  Yup 30 days and you are owed full pay.  Unless you enter into a written contract with different terms the default is 30 days.

 

So there's really no excuse anymore for those ridiculous 90 day windows. 


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#10 Landon D. Parks

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Posted 16 January 2018 - 10:27 AM

People make it out to be harder than it really is to collect a judgement, considering the person has the money or property in place to satisfy it.

 

You don't need a collections company, either.

Step 1 is to win the judgement against them. If you do, a payment plan will be setup by the court. The defendant will pay the court, and the court will pay you.

 

Step 2, if they don't actually pay the court what they agreed upon, is to file a motion to show cause - in which case you'd come back to court, and they'd have to give information about their job and assets to the court. At that point, you could file a request for wage garnishment with the court - which would likely be granted. If they don't have a job but have assets, you can file additional paperwork to cease those assets to sell, and use that money to satisfy the judgement. 

 

Not saying its easy or anything, but if they money or assets are there, actually getting them isn't that difficult. You don't always have to rely on the willful participation of the defendant. If he has the means to pay but refuses, the court will force him to pay it through wage or property garnishment. However, this seems like a lot of work for what will ultimately amount to $1,000 judgement. In my opinion, small claims cases aren't worth it unless your pursuing a large sum of money that makes it worth your while. For $1,000 - I would probably file the case, get the judgement, and then hope they guy pays the court. If he doesn't, it probably isn't worth pursuing beyond that. In many cases, the mere fact that court is now involved with the payment plan is enough to scar the defendant into paying it, unless you're dealing with a company with crafty lawyers. 

 

When I ran a commercial cleaning company, I won around 15 judgments from clients, and only 2 were never paid out (both times because the business filed bankruptcy with no assets). So don't let people tell you it can't happen. It can. That is why the smalls claims system is there in the first place, for disputes like this.


Edited by Landon D. Parks, 16 January 2018 - 10:36 AM.

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#11 Frank Hegyi

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Posted 16 January 2018 - 02:20 PM

Crisis avoided. They paid up this morning. Thanks for all the advice everyone!


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#12 Ken Willinger

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Posted 17 January 2018 - 11:09 AM

Glad you got paid! I was going to suggest what I've done in the past, which is to start with a letter from a lawyer suggesting legal steps will be taken if payment isn't made. Usually a certified letter from a lawyer lights a fire under them.
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#13 Mark Dunn

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Posted 17 January 2018 - 03:15 PM

Crisis avoided. They paid up this morning. Thanks for all the advice everyone!

You've just had the best and cheapest default judgment there is. One you don't have to go to court for, but they thought you might.


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#14 Jeremy Cavanagh

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Posted 17 January 2018 - 05:29 PM

Hmmmmm, I wonder if they were reading this forum......
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#15 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 17 January 2018 - 05:30 PM

If they were reading it then they wouldn't have paid.


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#16 Justin P Levene

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Posted 08 February 2018 - 07:27 AM

If you are UK based, https://www.gov.uk/make-court-claim-for-money. Tick the Statutory Interest box and the date from is the date you issued the invoice, NOT the date you did the job. In the claim just state you did work for £xxx on such a date for the Defendant. Then say when you issued the invoice and for how much.  Then say it hasn't been paid and that you claim £xxx for payment of the invoice.


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#17 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 08 February 2018 - 10:14 AM

There is also the matter of principle.

 

It's not just about getting money out of people, it's about setting a general tone that this stuff will be pursued, that people can't get away with it, than invoices will be enforced. It's hard enough to get paid without this sort of chicanery.


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#18 Darrell Ayer

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Posted 09 April 2018 - 02:20 PM

I went thru something similar.  I created a PDF of a legal form letter from me and they responded the next day and paid what they owed me.

It's nice to get paid for your work tho.

Darrell Ayer


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