SMALL CLAIMS COURT INFORMATION:
The small Claims Department of the District Court can be used for the recovery of money only where the amount claimed does not exceed $5000.00.
This brochure is intended to be a general statement of Small Claims procedure. For more detailed information, please consult applicable provisions in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) Chapters 3.66, 4.28, 12.40, and applicable provisions in the Civil Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction, Rule 5 (CRLJ 5). RCW’s and court rules can be found at libraries and the following websites: www.leg.wa.gov (for RCW’s) and www.courts.wa.gov (for court rules). For more information, or if you have other questions about civil court or small claims, please refer to the Washington Courts website.
WHO CAN SUE AND BE SUED?
Any individual, business, partnership or corporation may bring a Small Claims suit, for the recovery of money only. A Small Claims suit must be filed in the county of the defendant’s residence, or in the case of a traffic accident, the county where the accident occurred.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
There is a $29.00 filing fee paid by the plaintiff to the clerk at the time suit is filed. In addition you will have fees payable to the Sheriff or process server to have the Notice of Small Claims served. You will be given a Notice of Small Claims form that you will prepare. On that form an answer 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. The defendant may counterclaim against the plaintiff for any money he believes the plaintiff owes him, but this must be done immediately in writing upon being served the Notice of Small Claims form. Defendant shall pay a $29.00 filing fee to the clerk upon filing a counterclaim.
It is the plaintiff’s responsibility to see that the claim form is served upon the defendant. If suing more than one party, you must tell the Sheriff’s Department and /or process server to have both parties served. You may use any of the following:
- The Sheriff’s Office-Civil Department.
- A process server.
- Any person of legal age (18) who is not connected with the case either as a witness or as a party.
- By mailing a copy to the defendant by certified mail with a “Return Receipt Requested”. With mail service, you must file the postal receipt as well as the green card with the defendant’s signature with the court.
- You cannot personally serve the Notice of Small Claims form.
Notice of Small Claim may be served on the defendant not less than 10 (ten) days before the answer date. It is plaintiff’s responsibility to file proof of service, or mail return-receipt with the court on/or before the time of trial or to request a Judgment.
The defendant must serve a counterclaim on the plaintiff by personal service or by first class regular mail.
The court strongly encourages you to settle this suit through mediation and has arranged for the Neutral Ground Dispute Resolution Center (DRC) to provide this assistance at no cost to either party. Mediation is a free, voluntary and confidential process involving the parties and a professionally trained, neutral mediator. The mediator helps parties work together to create mutually agreeable solutions without offering legal advice or an evaluation of the case. If agreements are made, the mediator will write up the agreement using the parties’ own words, and both will leave the mediation with a contract. Choosing to mediate does not affect your right to a trial if you are unable to reach an agreement with the other party. If one of the parties does not follow the agreement, this document can be presented to the court with the request that it be converted into an enforceable judgment.
To set up a mediation call (509) 607-5409.
In addition to attempting mediation, it is recommended that either the plaintiff or the defendant contact the other party prior to trial to try to settle your differences. If your claim is settled before trial, please notify the court in writing so the case may be dismissed. Please include the case number.
The trial in the Small Claims Court is between the plaintiff and the defendant and no attorneys are allowed to represent either side except in certain cases where advance permission is obtained from the judge. Both parties must prepare their cases and bring those witnesses or other evidence such as documents, receipts, records, photographs, or drawings to court to support their claim or defense. Court procedures when presenting your case apply, even though the hearing is informal, and each side will be limited to the amount of time allowed to present their case.
If the defendant fails to answer or fails to appear for trial, the plaintiff will be granted a default judgment for the amount of the claim proved in court, plus court costs - provided the plaintiff can show proof of service. If 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.
COLLECTION OF JUDGMENT:
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 (thirty) days of the time set by the Court in the payment plan, upon your request and payment of $5.00, you will receive a certified judgment. You may request (in writing) that the certified judgment be entered in the court’s civil docket at the cost of $73.00 which cost shall be added in your judgment against the judgment debtor. At that time you may proceed with any method of collection such as garnishment of wages, bank accounts and other monies of the judgment debtor or an execution may be issued on cars, boats, or other personal property of the judgment debtor. Remember, the clerks CAN NOT give you LEGAL ADVICE. You may wish to consult with an attorney or a collection agency at this point. In the alternative, upon payment of the amount of $20.00, you will receive a transcript of judgment which you can file in the Superior Court for a fee $ 20.00. When this is done, it places a lien against all real estate in the name of the judgment debtor which is located in that county.
No appeal is allowed from a judgment where the amount claimed was less than $250.00. No appeal shall be permitted by the Plaintiff where the amount claimed was less than $1000.00. If an appeal is taken to the Superior Court, the appealing party is required to follow the procedures set out in Limited Jurisdiction Court Civil rule 73. The following steps must be taken WITHIN 30 DAYS of entry of judgment:
- Prepare a written Notice of Appeal.
- Serve a copy of that Notice on the other parties, and file an acknowledgment or Affidavit of Service in the District Court.
- File an original of that Notice of Appeal at District Court.
- Pay to the District Court a $40.00 appeal and transcript fee.
- Deposit at the District Court a $230.00 Superior Court Filing Fee either with money order or cashier’s check payable to the Clerk of the Superior Court.
- Execute and file with District Court a bond with surety approval by the District Court (except in cases where the appellant is a City, County, Town or School District). Such bond must be in the amount of twice the judgment and conditioned that appellant will pay the judgment, including costs as may be ordered on appeal WITHIN 10 DAYS of the date of filing of the Notice of Appeal. The District Court Clerk will file the transcript and all process, exhibits, tapes of recordings, and other papers relating to the case, at the Superior Court who will assign a new number and notify the District Court. The District Court will advise the appellant of that number, and the appellant must then contact the Superior Court for further instructions.
The clerks and other court personnel ARE NOT PERMITTED to give you LEGAL ADVICE as to any aspect of your case. It is against the law do so. They will provide you with the Notice of Small Claims and certain other basic forms, and they will file these for you and set a date for your trial.