WHAT IS SMALL CLAIMS COURT?
Small Claims Court allows a person or business with a legal dispute to sue without hiring an attorney. There are no juries, and lawyers are not allowed to represent either party. The MAXIMUM AMOUNT that one can sue for in Small Claims Court is $5,000.
Small Claims Court only handles claims for money; it cannot help the plaintiff (person suing) regain property, or force the defendant (person or business being sued) to perform any action. For example, it can require an auto repair shop to refund money to you, but cannot force it to make free repairs on your car.
Watch a brief informational video explaining the County's Small Claims Court process & procedures.
WHERE CAN I FILE MY CLAIM?
The plaintiff should file the claim in the county where the defendant lives, or if the defendant is a corporation, where the corporation does business. Contact the district court nearest that location. If the defendant lives or does business in Grays Harbor County, you may file the claim the District Court office in Aberdeen:
District Court, Aberdeen Office:
Pearsall Building,Room 201
2109 Sumner Ave.
Aberdeen, WA 98520
Tel. (360) 532-7061
Fax (360) 532-7704
Effective February 15th, 2003, by order of the district court judge, all small claims cases will be filed and heard in the District Court's Aberdeen office and courtroom.
Small Claim Forms are also available from the court's Montesano Office.
HOW IS A CASE STARTED?
You will need to fill out and file with the court a form called "NOTICE OF SMALL CLAIM" - each court has its own form and will provide as many copies as you need. You should have the defendant's name and address. After the claim is filled out and signed, and after paying a filing fee of $29.00 to the court, you will be given a date and time for the defendant to respond to your claim. Notice of Small Claim
DELIVERING A COPY OF THE CLAIM TO THE DEFENDANT
A COPY OF THE "NOTICE OF SMALL CLAIM" MUST BE DELIVERED (or "served") TO THE DEFENDANT AT LEAST 10 DAYS BEFORE THE RESPONSE DATE. This notice instructs the defendant to appear at court. IT IS THE PLAINTIFF'S RESPONSIBILITY TO SEE THAT THE DEFENDANT RECEIVES THIS NOTICE, HOWEVER, THE PLAINTIFF CANNOT DELIVER THE NOTICE PERSONALLY. One way to deliver the claim is to mail a copy to the defendant by registered or certified mail with restricted delivery and a return receipt requested. With mail service, you must file the postal receipt bearing the defendant's signature with the court on or before the time of the response date. Other methods of service, such as having the sheriff or registered process server make the delivery, carry a larger charge than mail service. If you win the case, these charges can be awarded to you. Be sure to obtain the notarized affidavit of service and file it with the court on or before the time of the trial. You may also have someone over the age of 18 who is not personally involved in the case serve the notice. Be sure it is served properly, and the proper notarized affidavit of service is presented to the court. An "affidavit of service" form is available at the court office.
After receiving notice of the claim, the defendant may file a counterclaim against the plaintiff. For example, an upholstery cleaner ruins your sofa. You refuse to pay the bill and sue in small claims court. The upholstery cleaner could file a counterclaim against you for the cost of the cleaning. If the judge decides in favor of the upholstery cleaner, you could be required to pay for the cleaning, plus court costs.
RESPONSE & MANDATORY- MEDIATION
A pre-trial “Return Day” will be set. The plaintiff and defendant must appear, but other witnesses should not be present. If the defendant does not appear (“defaults) or does not dispute the claim, the judge will take testimony from the plaintiff and grant an appropriate money judgment. If the claim is disputed, the parties will be referred to a mandatory mediation session through the Mediation & Settlement Center for Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties. If the claim is not resolved after mediation, the court will set a trial date and provide notice to each party. If your claim is settled or otherwise resolved before trial, please notify the court in writing. To contact the Mediation & Settlement Center directly, please call (360)532-8950.
WHAT HAPPENS AT TRIAL?
Each person is given a chance to tell his or her side of the story. You should bring any papers which relate to the case (such as receipts, pictures, written contracts or agreements) and you should bring witnesses to support your case. These witnesses must have direct knowledge of the case ("hearsay" - something a witness has only heard from someone else, might not be allowed as evidence of your claim or defense). IT IS A GOOD IDEA TO PREPARE YOUR PRESENTATION BEFORE THE TRIAL. [It should be complete, convincing, short and to the point. Avoid irrelevant information and don't get overly emotional.] The trial is the only opportunity you have to present your case.
If the defendant fails to appear for trial, the Judge will take testimony from the plaintiff and grant an appropriate money judgement, provided the plaintiff has filed proof of service of the notice of claim on the defendant.
JUDGMENT AWARD / PAYMENT PLAN
When a judgment is entered by default, the court cannot award an amount which is greater than the amount originally requested in the Notice of Claim form. If the court orders one party to pay the other, IT IS THE DUTY OF THE LOSING PARTY TO PAY WITHOUT ANY DELAY. A payment plan may be requested by either party. After the winning party is paid the full amount of the judgment, the winning party must notify the court in writing that the judgment was paid in full (or "satisfied").
COLLECTION OF UNPAID JUDGMENTS
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, that the judgment be entered in the civil docket of the court. You may then use the following options (THE COURT DOES NOT COLLECT THE JUDGMENT FOR YOU):
1. Writ of Garnishment: This is an order issued to the losing party's bank or employer, requiring a certain amount of the losing party's money to be given to the winning party. It may be necessary for you to have the help of an attorney to file this writ.
2. Writ of Execution: This is an order to the sheriff to seize certain property of the losing party, sell it and pay you from the proceeds of the sale. It may be necessary for you to have the help of an attorney to file this writ.
3. Collection Agency: The winning party can turn over the judgment to a state licensed collection agency. If the agency collects the judgment, it usually keeps from one-third to one-half of the amount as its fee.
4. Real Estate Lien: Upon payment of $6.00, you can receive a transcript of the judgment that you can file in the superior court for a fee of $15.00. When this is done, it places a lien against all real estate in the name of the losing party that is located in the county.
CAN I APPEAL A CASE IF I LOSE?
No appeal is allowed from a judgment where the amount claimed was less than $250. The party who files a claim or counterclaim cannot appeal unless the amount claimed exceeds $1,000. To file an appeal, the appealing party is required to follow the procedures set out in Chapter 12.36 RCW. The following steps must be taken within 30 days of the entry of the judgment:
1. Prepare a written Notice of Appeal and file the Notice of Appeal in District Court.
2. Serve a copy of that Notice on the other parties, and file an Acknowledgment or Affidavit of Service in District Court.
3. Deposit at the District Court the $200 Superior Court filing fee either in cash, or money order or cashier's check payable to the Clerk of the Superior Court.
4. Post a bond of twice the amount of judgment and costs, or the amount in controversy, if greater.
Within 14 days of the filing the Notice of Appeal, appellant must file a designation of record for appeal with the District Court. The District Court will prepare the record and transfer it to Superior Court when the costs for record preparation are paid. The appellant must then contact Grays Harbor Superior Court for further instructions. The appeal will be held based on the record of the trial held in Small Claims Court.
PLEASE LET US HELP EACH OTHER! IF YOUR ADDRESS CHANGES AT ANY STAGE OF THE PROCEEDINGS, CONTACT THE COURT IMMEDIATELY IN WRITING OR BY TELEPHONE
Going to court can be a stressful experience. We hope this pamphlet will be of help in guiding you through the process and take some of the mystery out of the procedures. We have tried to anticipate and answer your more frequently asked questions. If you have any additional questions, don't hesitate to ask a staff member.