Small claims court only hears claims for money damages of less than $7,500. Claims for more than $7,500, class actions, or claims for non-monetary relief (an order to do something or to not do something) are barred from small claims court. Oregon Revised Statutes 55.011 to 55.140 set out small claims court procedures.
Advantages of small claims court include lower filing fees, zero attorney fees and a quick judicial process. Disadvantages include being restricted to damages of less than $7,500, not having an attorney to assist you with your case and not being allowed to appeal from a small claims court decision. The Court may allow attorneys to represent persons in small claims court, but I have never seen it happen. An attorney can assist you with completing documents or by providing you with a consultation, however.
Before filing suit in small claims court, you should attempt to resolve the dispute on your own. If such a resolution is not achievable, then filing suit may be your only option. Once you have decided you need to file, you will be required to sign an affidavit stating that you have made “a bona fide effort to collect the claim from the defendant before filing the claim.”
Most counties combine the document initiating a suit (the “complaint”) with the document notifying the defendant of the suit (the “summons”) into a single document (“Claim and Notice of Claim”). You should file suit in the county either where the event at issue took place or where the defendant resides. You will need to obtain the Claim and Notice of Claim form from the small claims department, complete it and file it with the court. As of October 2009, the filing fee for cases from $0 to $1500 is $47.50, and the filing fee for a small claim asking for $1501 to $7500 is $89.50.
You will need to notify the defendant of the suit. This is accomplished by personally serving a copy of the Claim and Notice of Claim form on the defendant using either the County Sheriff to serve it or a private process server.
A defendant in small claims court has 14 days to respond to the plaintiff’s claim. If the amount being sought in the claim is over $750, the defendant may request a jury trial. If the defendant requests a jury trial, the plaintiff has 20 days to file a formal Complaint and the claim will be removed from small claims to Circuit Court.
If the defendant fails to respond to the claim, the plaintiff should obtain and complete a “Request for Default Judgment” form. The court will enter judgment in favor of the plaintiff, awarding the amount sought in the claim, plus costs. If the defendant fails to respond and the plaintiff does not ask for a default judgment within 90 days, the court will dismiss the case.
If a party is awarded damages, it is that party’s responsibility to collect those damages. The court does not do this. There are several ways to collect damages awarded in a case: through liens on property, bank account garnishments or wage garnishments, for example.
If you lose your case, you will have to pay the winning party’s filing fee and service of process costs. If the defendant has filed a counterclaim you could lose that as well. Therefore, it is a good idea to consult with an attorney to have the your claim evaluated prior to filing in small claims court.