Small Claims Frequently Asked Questions
Small claims court is a simplified civil court for damage claims of $10,000 or less (not including filing fees and costs). The parties may include individuals and/or businesses. The types of claims vary widely, such as disputes involving contracts, property damage, or personal injury. The goal of small claims court is fair and economical resolution of conflict.
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2. Where do I file my claim?
The plaintiff’s claim must be filed in the circuit court of the county in which: (1) the defendant lives, or (2) the claim substantially arose (e.g., where the incident occurred or where the contract was expected to be performed). The U.S. Census website has a county-finder tool to help you determine if an address is in a particular county: http://quickfacts.census.gov/cgi-bin/qfd/lookup.
The Multnomah County Circuit Court is located at: 1021 SW Fourth Ave, Portland, OR 97204
The Washington County Circuit Court is located at: 145 NE Second Ave, Hillsboro, OR 97124
The Clackamas County Circuit Court is located at: 807 Main St, Oregon City, OR 97045
The fee for a plaintiff to file a claim is $50 if the amount claimed is $2,500 or less. If the amount claimed is more than $2,500, the filing fee is $90. (Note that $10,000 is the maximum amount that may be claimed.)
In addition to the filing fee, there is usually a process serving fee of $36.00 (paid to the county sheriff’s office to serve the claim on the defendant). The filing forms also typically cost $1.00 each.
If the defendant wishes to contest the claim, he or she must also pay a fee ranging from $74.50 (to request a hearing with a judge) up to $287.00 (to request a jury trial). If a jury trial is requested, the plaintiff may have to pay an additional fee.
Go to the small claims department at the county circuit court and complete the small claims form. Generally the form requires: (1) a brief description of the claim, (2) the date the claim was owed, (3) the amount of the claim, and (4) the name and address of the defendant).
Bring photo ID to show to the clerk and be prepared to pay the filing fee and serving fee.
The defendant must be served in order for the claim to proceed. Whoever files the small claim must also pay for the defendant to be served.
If the defendant is not served (if the process server is unable to locate the defendant or if the defendant cannot be served via certified mail) then the small claims court will dismiss the claim after 90 days. However, the plaintiff may submit a written request for an extension.
If the defendant is served, then he or she will have 14 days to do one of the following:
(a) Pay the plaintiff’s claim and court costs to settle the case.
(b) Request a hearing (this option requires the defendant to pay a fee). The defendant may also file a counterclaim when requesting a hearing.
(c) Request a jury trial (this option requires the defendant to pay a fee great than the fee for a hearing).
In Multnomah County all parties must appear at a “mediation orientation” but the parties are free to not participate in the mediation. The court will provide a mediator to those who wish to proceed with the mediation. Mediation is mandatory in many other counties.
All parties are strongly encouraged to come to an agreement prior to their court date. Studies show that you are more likely to get paid if you make an agreement in mediation than if you win in court.
Small claims court does not allow attorneys to appear for clients except in extremely limited circumstances where the judge authorizes the attorney to appear.
Even though an attorney may not appear for you at the court hearing, all parties are free to seek legal advice. An attorney may also accompany you to the mediation hearing. If the other party consents, an attorney may be present during the mediation.
You will be given a date and time to appear. Several cases are usually heard on the same date, so you may have to wait your turn in the hearing room on the day of the court hearing. The judge usually calls roll at the beginning of the hearing, and any party not present defaults their case. Except for very unusual circumstances, neither side will be represented by an attorney.
The process is informal. Normal court evidence rules do not apply, so the judge is free to ask questions, talk to witnesses, or inspect documents. Both parties may also subpoena witnesses so long as they pay the witness fee and mileage costs (these expenses may be recovered as part of your judgment if you prevail). The goal of the hearing is fair and economical resolution of the conflict at hand.
Note that each party is generally given at least one opportunity to reschedule a hearing. In order to reschedule the hearing, you must call or write the small claims department in advance of the hearing date.
If you win, you receive a judgment from the court in an amount including your filing and serving fees, as well as a small prevailing party fee.
A judgment from the court does not mean you will automatically receive payment. In order to receive payment, you must collect from the other party. If the party cannot pay, a payment plan may be agreed to. If the party is unwilling to pay, you may seek a writ of garnishment. The court clerk can explain the garnishment process. If garnishment is unsuccessful, you may also file a motion to have the party appear in court to explain their inability to pay.
Note that there are no appeals in small claims cases. The ruling of the court is final.