This article will provide information on how to bring legal action in the Brazilian small claim courts. We will also give an outline about the definition of small causes according to Brazilian law and describe the steps of the process in the courts.
Small claims, known as pequenas causas in Brazil are the legal suits considered less complex to solve according to the law, involve low-value damage (up to 40 minimum Brazilian salaries or BRL 35 200 as of December 2016) and do not require technical evidence or examinations to be processed. Some examples of small claims would be:
- Conflicts between neighbours, small problems with construction companies and damage to property
- Violations of consumer rights, including defective products, undelivered products, unfair charges, misleading advertising, problems with service providers such as cable TV, telephone, banks, insurance, pension plans, etc
- Small traffic incidents involving collisions, damages to property, moral and material damage etc
- Issues with service providers or products such as hired services not rendered, orders not delivered, defects in the products, etc
- Payment remarks reported by mistakes, improper remarking reporting to credit rating agencies, unfair price increases, moral and material damage etc
- Debt collection, promissory notes, contracts not fulfilled, bounced checks, etc
- Issues with health insurance companies including abusive charges, non-provision of services, etc
- Disagreements between landlords and tenants in general
The Brazilian institution responsible for conducting small claims is the Juizado Especial Cível, Portuguese for Special Civil Court, popularly known as Tribunal de Pequenas Causas or JEC. The Juizado Especial Cível is distributed in offices located in several cities throughout Brazil. In the first instance, the attendance and services provided by JEC are free of charge.
It is important to note that the Juizado Especial Cível is highly sought after by citizens, so the courts are overloaded with cases, which can delay their resolution. Therefore, it is always recommended to try a personal agreement with the other party, before going to the small claim courts.
How to bring claims to the small claim courts
The following claimants are allow to use small claim courts:
- Individuals over 18 years old
- Micro companies
- Civil Society Organisations of Public Interest, known as OSCIPs
- Associations providing credit to micro-entrepreneurs
To initiate the procedure, the claimant must report the case, oral or written, personally in the nearest office of the Special Civil Court.
Your case will then be analysed and prepared for court action. After the claim is registered, the department will schedule a hearing and trial within 15 days.
While filing the claim, it is necessary to present personal documents such as identification card and CPF, and all the documents that characterise any evidence of the damage suffered. Examples of evidence are invoices, letters, photos etc. The larger the amount of documents presented, the better the chances of winning the case. If necessary, the claimants may also call up to three witnesses to testify in their favour.
Foreigners will be required to present their passport or RNE and the documents that prove the reason for the claim. It is not necessary to present a CPF. The Special Civil Courts have no special services for foreigners, so the claims have to be carried out in Portuguese.
For claims involving values up to 20 minimum salaries or BRL 17 600, it is not necessary to hire an attorney. But if one of the parties decide to be represented by an attorney, the others involved are required to do the same. For claims where the value of damage is higher than 20 minimum salaries, it is mandatory to present an attorney for the parties involved.
On the day of the hearing, it is recommended to arrive at least half an hour before the scheduled hearing time, as delays will result in the extinction of the process. It is also advisable to attend the court in formal clothes, avoiding sportswear, slippers etc.
In the first hearing, the mediator will try to manage an agreement between the parties, showing them all the risks and consequences of continuing the process in court. If the agreement is accepted by both parties, then the case is closed. If conciliation fails, the case will be transferred to a judge and will go to trial in another hearing.
During the trial, the judge will check the documentation brought as evidence by the claimant asking for the reasons and arguments for the claim. The judge will also hear the testimonies of the other parties. After that he will utter a sentence at the time.
After the sentence, the parties have up to 10 days to appeal for three judges of the second instance. In the second instance, it is mandatory for both parties to be represented by attorneys. Therefore, in most cases, the parties give up appealing and abide by the judge's decision.
If the second instance's decision is still not satisfactory, the parties can appeal to the Supremo Tribunal Federal, Portuguese for Supreme Court, but only if they demonstrate that a direct violation of the Federal Constitution has occurred. It is not possible to appeal the Supreme Court's decision.
Cases that cannot be processed in the small claim courts
Some causes are not allowed to be presented in the Juizado Especial Cível, even if they fit into the limited value of 40 minimum salaries. This will be the cases regarding:
- Labour lawsuits, including work accidents
- Custody of children
- Non-marital partnerships
- Tax matters