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 which is filed by a natural person (defined as a human being), does not exceed $10,000. Any entities that aren’t defined as a human being (e.g. businesses) may only file claims in an amount not to exceed $5,000.
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, where the accident occurred, or where the incident took place.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
There is a $50 filing fee to be paid by the plaintiff to the clerk at the time the suit is filed. In addition, the plaintiff will need to arrange for the defendant(s) to be served. The court clerk will provide the plaintiff with a copy(s) of the appropriate documents to be served upon the defendant(s). It is the plaintiff’s responsibility to accurately identify the defendant(s), provide a proper address, and if possible, provide a phone number. The defendant(s) may counterclaim against the plaintiff for any money they believe the plaintiff owes them, but this must be done immediately in writing upon being served the Notice of Small Claims. Defendant shall pay a $50 filing fee to the clerk upon filing a counterclaim.
It is the plaintiff’s responsibility to see that the Notice of Small Claims is served upon the defendant(s). If suing more than one party, you must inform the process server and/or Sheriff’s Department to be sure to have each party served. You may use any of the following:
- Sheriff’s Civil Department
- A process server
- Any person of legal age (18) who is not connect with the case either as a witness or as a party. The Return of Service will need to be notarized before turning it into the court.
- Mailing a copy to the defendant(s) by certified mail with a “Return Receipt Requested.” You must file the postal receipt, as well as the green card with the defendant(s) signature upon the court.
- You cannot personally serve the Notice of Small Claims upon the defendant(s).
Once the defendant(s) is served the Notice of Small Claims, they will have ten (10) days to file their answer. It is the plaintiff’s responsibility to file proof of service, or mail return-receipt with the court prior to any trials or requesting 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 Neutral Ground Dispute Resolution Center (DRC) to provide this assistance at no cost to either party once the Notice of Small Claims has been filed with the court. Mediation is a free, voluntary and confidential process involving the parties and a professionally trained, neutral mediator. The mediator helps parties work together, by evaluating the case and to create mutually agreeable solutions without offering legal advice. 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, the document can be presented to the court with the request that it be converted into an enforceable judgment.
To set up mediation, please contact:
Dispute Resolution Center
Phone #: (509) 730-1317
In addition to attempting mediation, it is recommended that either the plaintiff or the defendant contact the other party prior to trial to try and settle your differences. If your claim is settled before trial, please notify the court in writing (including the case number) so the case may be dismissed.
After the case has been filed, the court may schedule a pretrial hearing with the parties. The pretrial hearing serves several important purposes: to confirm that both parties intend to proceed and have not chosen to mediate their dispute; to allow the court an opportunity to have a firm understanding of the nature of the dispute and any legal issues that may need to be resolved prior to trial; ensure that both parties understand what is required of them in order to present their claim or any defense; to determine whether each party will call witnesses and introduce exhibits at the trial; and to allow each party the opportunity to have any questions answered regarding how the trial will be conducted.
The trial in the Small Claims Court is between the plaintiff and the defendant(s) and no attorneys are allowed to represent either side, except with the Judge’s permission in advance. Both parties must prepare their cases by bringing witnesses or other evidence such as documents, receipts, records, photographs, or drawings, to the trial date in support of their claim. When presenting your case, keep in mind that certain court procedures do apply even though the hearing is informal, and each side will be given a limited amount of time 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, plus court costs, provided the plaintiff submits 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.
COLLECTION OF JUDGMENT:
A 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. The judgment of the small claims court will be entered into the court’s judgment docket at the same time as the judgment is issued. At that point, garnishment of wages or financial accounts, execution on cars, boats or other personal property, and other process on execution may issue in connection with the judgment. Keep in mind that THE CLERKS CANNOT GIVE YOU LEGAL ADVICE. You may wish to consult with an attorney or collection agency once a judgment is obtained in order to determine the best way to proceed to enforce the judgment. Another alternative to consider is to pay the appropriate filing fee for a transcript of the judgment which can then be filed in the appropriate Superior Court. Once this is done, it results in 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 is less than $250.00. No appeal shall be permitted by the plaintiff where the amount claimed is less than $1,000.00. If an appeal is commenced with the Superior Court, the appealing party is required to follow the procedures which can be found in Rules 72-76 of the Civil Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction.
In connection with any such appeal, the following steps must be taken within thirty (30) days of entry of judgment:
- Prepare a written Notice of Appeal.
- Serve a copy of that Notice upon the other parties and file an acknowledgment or Affidavit of Service in the District Court.
- File the original Notice of Appeal at District Court and pay $40 which is for the appeal and transcript fee.
- Take a money order or cashier’s check for $230.00 to the District Court office and make the check payable to Superior Court, the clerk will then deliver the check/money order to Superior Court for filing.
- 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 which may be ordered on the appeal, within ten (10) days of the date of filing the Notice of Appeal. The District Court Clerk will file the transcript, exhibits, tapes of recordings, and other documents pertaining to the case, as the Superior Court who will then assign a new case 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 with further questions.
The clerks and other court personnel ARE NOT PERMITTED BY LAW TO GIVE YOU LEGAL ADVICE as to any aspect of your case. They will provide you with the Notice of Small Claims and other basic forms and file them as received.
THE CLERKS CANNOT COMPLETE THESE FORMS FOR YOU, and they cannot answer legal questions or give instructions as to the conduct of your case. While an attorney is not permitted to represent you at the trial of a Small Claims action, they may provide you with assistance in preparing your case and/or in collecting any judgment which may be obtained. Depending on your experience and the nature of your case, therefore, it may be advisable to seek the assistance of legal counsel.