WA Small Claims Explanatory Brochure (PDF)

This brochure is intended to be a general
statement of small claims procedure. For more
detailed information, please consult applicable
provisions of the Revised Code of Washington
(RCW) Chapters 3.66, 4.16, 4.28, 12.40, and
applicable provisions in the Civil Rules for Courts of
Limited Jurisdiction, Rule 5 (CRLJ 5). RCWs and
court rules can be found at libraries and the
following websites: www.leg.wa.gov (for RCWs) and
www.courts.wa.gov (for court rules). Court contact
information can also be found at www.courts.wa.gov.
Who Can Sue And Be Sued?
Any individual, business, partnership, or
corporation (with a couple of exceptions) may bring a
small claims suit for recovery of money only for an
amount up to $5,000. In general, the claim must be filed
in the district court of the county in which the
defendant(s) reside. Exceptions and specific rules can be
found at RCW 3.66.040. The state of Washington may
not be sued in Small Claims Court. Attorneys and
paralegals are excluded from appearing or participating
with the plaintiff or defendant in a small claims suit
unless the judge grants permission.
How Much Does It Cost?
You must pay the court clerk a filing fee at the
time the suit is filed. The filing fee ranges between $14
to $29 depending on whether the county you file the
lawsuit in supports a dispute resolution center. You
may have some additional fees payable to the sheriff or
process server to have the Notice of Small Claims
served on the defendant. As an alternative, you may
serve notice on the defendant by registered or certified,
return receipt mailing. If you win your case, you are
entitled to recover your costs of filing and service fees.
How Do I Get Started?
First you will prepare a Notice of Small Claim
form that is provided by the clerk. You are required to
sign the Notice in the presence of the clerk, unless
otherwise instructed by the court. On the Notice form a
hearing date, trial date, or response date will be entered
by the clerk. It is the plaintiff’s responsibility to
accurately identify the defendant, provide a proper
address and, if possible, provide a phone number.
How Long Do I Have To File My Case?
Time limits range from one (1) to ten (10) years.
See Chapter 4.16 RCW to determine which time limit
applies to your type of case.
Serving The Notice
The clerk will assist you with forms and general
information about the process. The clerk is not allowed
to give legal advice. Service of the claim form can be
accomplished by any of the following:
1. The Sheriff’s Office;
2. A process server;
3. Any person of legal age (18) who is not
connected with the case either as a witness or as
a party; or
4. By mailing the copies to the defendant by
registered or certified mail with a return receipt
The Notice of Small Claim must be served on the
defendant not less than ten (10) days before the first
hearing. A return of service, or mail return receipt
bearing the defendant’s signature, must be filed at or
before the time of the first hearing. You cannot
personally serve the claim. See RCW Chapters 4.28 and
12.40, and CRLJ 5 for more detailed information.
What If We Settle?
In most cases, neither party is one hundred percent
right or wrong. You are encouraged to try to settle your
case before trial. If you settle the dispute before the
hearing, you must inform the court so the hearing can be
canceled and your case dismissed. If the other party
agrees to pay at a later date, you may ask the court for a
continuance. If the other party pays before the
postponed date, ask the court to cancel the hearing. If
you do not receive your money by the time of the
continued hearing, proceed with the case in court. If you
drop the suit, your filing fee and service costs are not
Preparing For The Trial
You can help yourself by being well prepared. To
prepare for the trial, collect all papers, photographs,
receipts, estimates, canceled checks, or other documents
that concern the case. It may be helpful to write down
ahead of time the facts of the case in the order that they
occurred. This will help you to organize your thoughts
and to make a clear presentation of your story to the
It is also a good idea to sit through a small claims
court session before the date of your hearing. This will
give you first-hand information about the way small
claim cases are heard.
What Happens At The Trial?
When you arrive at the court, report to the
courtroom in which your case has been assigned. When
your case is called in the courtroom, come forward to
the counsel table and the judge will swear in all the
parties and witnesses.
Don’t be nervous—remember that a trial in
small claims court is informal. The judge will ask the
plaintiff to give his or her side first, then will ask the
defendant for his or her explanation. Be brief and stick
to the facts. The judge may interrupt you with
questions, which you should answer straight out and to
the best of your knowledge.
Be polite, not just to the judge, but also to your
opponent. Do not interrupt. Whatever happens, keep
your temper. Good manners and even tempers help the
fair, efficient conduct of the trial, and make a good
After both sides have been heard by the judge,
he or she will normally announce the decision right then
and will sign and hand the parties a judgment.
What If My Opponent Does
Not Appear For Trial?
If the defendant fails to appear for trial, the
plaintiff will be granted judgment for the amount of the
claim proven in court, plus costs—provided the plaintiff
can show proof of service. If the plaintiff fails to
appear, the claim is dismissed; however, generally the
court will permit the plaintiff to start over, if good cause
for the non-appearance is shown.
How Do I Collect My Money?
A money judgment in your favor does not
necessarily mean that the money will be paid. The
Small Claims Court does not collect the judgment for
you. If no appeal is taken and the judgment is not paid
within 30 days, or the time set by the court in the
payment plan, you may request (in writing) and upon

payment of a $20 fee, that a transcript of the judgment
be entered into the civil docket of the court. At that
time you may proceed with a method of collection such
as garnishment of wages, bank accounts, and other
monies of the defendant or an execution may be issued
on cars, boats, or other personal property of the
judgment debtor. Remember, the clerks cannot give you
legal advice. You may need the assistance of an
attorney or collection agency at this point. In the
alternative, you may take your transcript of the
judgment and file it in superior court for a fee of $20.
Other fees may be required by the superior court clerk
or county auditor. When this is done, it places a lien
against all real estate in the name of the judgment debtor
that is located in the county.
When the judgment has been paid in full you
must send written notice to the district court that the
judgment has been satisfied.
Can You Appeal A Case If You Lose?
The party who files a claim or counterclaim
cannot appeal unless the amount claimed exceeds
$1,000. No party may appeal a judgment where the
amount claimed is less than $250. If an appeal is taken
to the superior court, the appealing party is required to
follow the procedures set out in Revised Code of
Washington (RCW) 12.36. The following steps must be
taken within 30 days of the entry of judgment:
1. Prepare a written Notice of Appeal and file it
with the district court.
2. Serve a copy of that Notice on the other parties,
and file acknowledgment or affidavit of service in
district court.
3. Pay to the district court a $20 transcript fee.
4. Deposit at the district court the $200 superior
court filing fee either in cash, money order, or
cashier’s check payable to the Clerk of the
Superior Court and pay a $40 appeal preparation
processing fee to the district court.
5. Post a bond in a sum equal to twice the amount
of the judgment and costs, or twice the amount in
controversy, whichever is greater, (cash or
surety) at the district court.
When the appeal and bond are transferred to
superior court, the appellant (person appealing the
decision) may request that the superior court suspend
enforcement of the judgment until after the appeal is
Within 14 days of filing the Notice of Appeal, the
district court clerk will transmit the court record to the
superior court clerk who will assign a new number and
notify the district court. The district court clerk will
advise the appellant of that number, and the appellant
must then contact the superior court for further
Once the judgment has been appealed to the
superior court, then enforcement of any judgments
entered in the case will be handled in superior court in
the same manner as any other superior court judgment.
Prepared by:
Administrative Office of the Courts
PO Box 41170
Olympia, WA 98504-1170
(360) 753-3365
June 2008
An Introduction
In the District Court of the State of
For the County of_______________

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