Oregon Small Claims Court
The information below is from the Oregon State Bar’s Tel-Law service, a collection of recorded legal information messages prepared by the lawyers of the State of Oregon. In addition to being online, the Tel-Law service is accessible by telephone at 503-620-3000 or toll free in Oregon only, 1-800-452-4776. A touch tone phone allows direct access 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To receive a free Tel-Law brochure listing the subjects available call the Oregon State Bar Order Desk, 503-620-0222, ext. 413
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 solutions.
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 necessary.
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 plaintiff.
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 next.
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 judge.
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 property.
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.
Although Tel-Law information is periodically reviewed, it is important for you to realize that changes may occur in this area of law.
This information is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem, and it is not intended to replace the work of an attorney. If you do not have an attorney, the Oregon State Bar Lawyer Referral Service can help you. Online Lawyer Referral Service information and a fill-in form is available. Or you may contact the service by phone: The number to call from the Portland area is 503-684-3763 or toll-free from anywhere else in Oregon, 1-800-452-7636.