The following information regarding small claims
court is brought to you as a public service by the lawyers of
the State of Oregon. The material presented is general legal
information intended to alert you to possible problems and
What is small claims court?
Sometimes called "the peoples' court," small claims court is for
cases involving claims of less than $5,000. Cases can be decided
quickly and economically in small claims court where hearings are
informal and you do not need a lawyer. In fact, you must have
special permission from the judge to bring a lawyer with you to
small claims court.
What types of cases are heard?
Any case for money or recovery of personal property under $750
must be filed in small claims court. If the amount or value claimed
is between $750 and $5,000, you can choose between small claims and
regular court. Small claims court cannot be used for class action
cases, for cases that include orders for someone to do something or
stop doing something, or for cases in which you are asking for
attorney fees as part of your claim.
How do I file a small claim case?
Before you sue, try to settle your dispute. When you file your
claim with the court, you will be asked to sign a sworn statement
called an affidavit stating that you have made a genuine effort to
collect on the claim. You can try to settle by phone or in writing.
Make sure your offer is simple, clear and unemotional. Remember that
all written communications can be used later in the courtroom if
If you have exhausted all reasonable steps to settle the dispute out
of court, and you know who is the right person to sue and where to
file your suit, it is time to prepare everything you need to bring
to your lawsuit in small claims court. You should collect all the
information that will be needed before you go to the courthouse.
Collect your records, including copies of contracts and agreements.
You will also need the following information: a) your complete name
and address; b) the complete name and address of each person or
business your claim is against; c) the amount you intend to claim in
damages (this amount must be $5,000 or less); d) a simple statement
of your claim, when it started, and any other relevant date; and e)
filing fees. Visit the Small Claims Department at the courthouse.
The court clerk will give you the appropriate forms to file your
claim. However, he or she cannot give you legal advice. You will be
asked to swear under oath that your small claims statement is true.
You will also have to pay the necessary filing fees. If you want a
jury trial you must pay an additional fee. These fees generally must
be paid in cash, money order, or company check. All of these costs
may be added to the amount you recover at trial, if you win.
What will it cost me to file a claim?
Costs vary from county to county. Expect a filing fee to cost
$50-$100, depending on the value of your claim and the court in
which you file. If you are the defendant and want to contest a claim
in small claims court, you will have to pay approximately $40-$60 to
do so. In some places, the filing fee includes the use of mediation
services, another way to try to settle your case before trial.
How will the defendant know I have filed?
The claim and notice of your suit must be served on (delivered
to) the defendant. The court will give you information on how the
notice may be served.
What do I do next?
Call the court clerk after two weeks to find out if and when the
defendant was served. Knowing the exact date of service is important
because in most courts it will be used to calculate the trial date.
Always verify the trial date with the court clerk. Remember this
date and be at the courthouse early-you may need time to park and to
find the room where your case will be heard.
What must the defendant do?
Within 14 days after receiving the notice of a small claim, the
defendant must do one of three things.
1. The defendant can agree the claim is valid and pay the clerk of
the court the amount of the claim, or deliver the property the
plaintiff asked for, plus any filing fees and expenses paid by the
2. The defendant may ask for a hearing and/or assert a counterclaim
against the plaintiff. If the defendant's counterclaim is more than
$5,000 however, the case would then have to be heard in a circuit
court. If the defendant requests a hearing, the clerk will notify
both parties by mail of the time and place set for the hearing.
3. If the amount against the defendant is greater than $750, he or
she may request a jury trial. If the defendant requests a jury
trial, the clerk will notify you by mail as to what you must do
If the defendant does not respond to the claim, you next fill out a
Request for Default Judgment form. Once you submit the form, the
court clerk will enter a judgment against the defendant for the
amount you are asking in your suit plus your court costs. Your claim
will be dismissed in 90 days if the defendant does not appear and
you have not filed the Request for Default Judgment. It is your
responsibility to check with the clerk every two weeks after the
notice is served to see if the other party has filed a response.
What happens in court?
Many judges will first present the opportunity for mediation.
Mediation is a process in which a trained, neutral mediator
facilitates communication between opposing parties in an attempt to
reach agreement. If you do not reach an agreement or do not wish to
mediate, the judge will hear each side. Both the mediation and the
hearing will take place on the same day. You should allow two to
three hours for the entire process. If you have a hearing, you
should bring any witnesses you have. You should also bring any
pictures, diagrams, account books, bills, receipts, contracts,
notes, dishonored checks or any other evidence that will help the
What happens during the hearing?
Usually, the court will go through a docket call. Answer when
your case is called. Most judges will briefly explain the procedure
to be used in your trial. When the trial begins, the judge will ask
you and your witnesses to swear to tell the truth. The judge will
also swear in the defendant. If you are the plaintiff, you will have
the first chance to tell your story. Ask the judge if you may call
on your witnesses, and present any documents or photos. After you
and your witnesses have told the judge your story, the defendant
will have a chance to tell his or her story. After the judge has
heard the facts from both sides, the judge will decide who wins the
case. If the judge wants more time to think about the case, he or
she will tell you when you can expect a decision.
When the judge makes a decision, he or she will fill out a judgment
form identifying the winning party and their award. The losing party
is then expected to pay the sum lost or deliver the necessary
property as directed.
How do I collect my judgment?
It is your responsibility to collect your judgment. The court
cannot do this for you. It is up to you to find out where the
defendant has assets (property) that can be seized to pay your
judgment. If you have received a judgment and the defendant refuses
to pay it, you may be able to have his or her wages or bank account
garnished. The court does not provide garnishment forms. The forms
may be purchased at a store that sells legal forms. You also may put
a lien on the defendant's real property, or have some of his or her
personal property seized or have your personal property recovered by
the sheriff. If you don't know where the defendant banks or where
the property is, you can ask the court to require the defendant to
come to court and answer under oath questions about his or her
What if I lose my case?
If the judge decides against you, you lose the fees you paid to
start the suit. You will also have to pay the defendant the fee he
or she paid the court when the trial was requested and the
prevailing party fee. Of course, if the defendant filed a
counterclaim and wins, he or she may get money from you.