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Oregon Small Claims Courts

Each Justice Court in Oregon contains a small claims department. The small claims court allows litigants to resolve minor civil disputes themselves at a reduced cost. The small claims court may award up to $10,000 in a single case.

The following self-help resources provide more information about Oregon's small claims courts:

This article describes the rules and procedures of Oregon's small claims courts. For more information, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney.

Oregon Small Claims Court Explained

Oregon designed its small claims court to allow people to resolve minor civil disputes without hiring an attorney. The small claims hearing is informal, allowing most people to represent themselves.

The small claims court has limited jurisdiction, meaning it can only hear certain types of claims. In general, the small claims court may only hear claims involving monetary disputes and the return of property. For example, the small claims court has jurisdiction over the following types of cases:

The small claims court cannot hear the following types of cases:

The plaintiff, who is the person or entity filing the lawsuit, cannot recover more than $10,000 in a small claims case. If a claim exceeds $10,000, the small claims court cannot hear the dispute, and the plaintiff must file it in circuit court.

Parties to a small claims case can only hire attorneys to represent them at the small claims hearing if the judge allows them to do so. However, they may contact an attorney for legal advice before the small claims hearing.

Before Filing a Small Claims Case

Before a plaintiff files a claim with the small claims court, they must contact the defendant and ask them to resolve the issue. The plaintiff must make a bona fide effort to resolve the issue before filing a small claims case with the court.

For example, plaintiffs may write a demand letter to the defendant if they believe they owe them money.

If the defendant does not agree to resolve the issue, the plaintiff can bring the letter to the small claims hearing to show they made a good faith effort to resolve the claim.

How To File a Small Claims Case

A plaintiff may file a small claims case following a good faith but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to resolve their legal issue. A plaintiff begins their small claims case by filing a Small Claim and Notice of Small Claim form with the court clerk. The Small Claim and Notice of Small Claim form includes the following information:

  • The names and addresses of all parties involved in the case
  • The amount of the claim ($10,000 or less)
  • A brief description of the events leading to the plaintiff's cause of action
  • The legal basis for the plaintiff's claim

The plaintiff must also complete an affidavit stating they made a good faith effort to resolve the dispute before filing the case.

The court will charge a filing fee when the plaintiff files their case. If you can't afford the filing fee, ask the court clerk for information about fee waivers or deferrals. In most cases, you must pay the fee with cash or a money order.

The court clerk can provide additional information about forms you may need and other court procedures. The court clerk cannot, however, provide you with legal advice.

Where and When To File

The plaintiff must file their small claims case in the correct county. Failing to file their claim in a county with jurisdiction over the defendant may delay their case. In general, the proper venue is the county where:

  • The defendant lives or works
  • In a tort case, where the injury occurred
  • If the case involves a dispute about a service or a purchase, where the defendant performed or should have performed the service, or where you made the purchase
  • If the plaintiff is suing a business, the county where it is located

A person with a civil claim must file it within the claim's statute of limitations. State law sets each claim's statute of limitations, and the time limits vary. FindLaw's article on Oregon's Civil Statute of Limitations Laws provides you with more information.

Serving the Defendant

Once the plaintiff files their claim and pays the filing fee, they must serve all defendants with notice of the lawsuit. This involves sending the Small Claim and Notice of Claim form and other small claims forms to the defendants. The court clerk can provide you with more information about how to serve the defendants and about service fees.

In general, a plaintiff can serve the defendant using the following methods:

  • Contact the sheriff's office and pay them a fee to serve the defendants personally
  • Contact a private process server and pay them a fee to serve the defendants
  • Ask the court to mail the required documents via certified mail with a return receipt requested

Failing to serve all parties in a proper manner will delay your case and prevent the court from hearing your claims.

Once the court receives notice that the plaintiff served the defendant, it will set a small claims hearing on its docket. Consider contacting the court clerk a week or two after you begin the service process to stay updated on a potential hearing date.

Responding to a Small Claims Case

A defendant who receives notice of a small claims lawsuit against them must respond within 14 days. In general, they have four options:

  • If the defendant determines that the plaintiff's claim is valid, they can pay the plaintiff's claim or return the requested property to the court clerk. They may also have to pay the amount of the plaintiff's filing fees and other court costs. The plaintiff must provide the defendant with proof of payment and mail the proof of payment to the court.
  • If the defendant disagrees with the plaintiff's claim, they can request that the court set a hearing on its docket. The court clerk will notify all parties of the time set for the hearing.
  • The defendant may file a counterclaim if they have claims against the defendant. A circuit court must hear the counterclaim if the counterclaim is for more than $10,000.
  • If the plaintiff's claim exceeds $750, the defendant may request a jury trial in the circuit court. Parties may have to attend a mandatory arbitration before the jury trial begins. In addition, a plaintiff must file a formal complaint within 20 days of receiving notice of the request. This may require them to hire an attorney, as the circuit court is more formal than the small claims court.

If the defendant does not respond to the plaintiff's claims within 14 days, the plaintiff may fill out a Request for Default Judgment form. The court granting a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor means they win the case and the defendant will likely have to pay the plaintiff's claimed amount, court costs, and filing fees. The court can also award a prevailing party fee to the plaintiff.

Suppose the defendant does not respond within 14 days, and the plaintiff does not fill out the Request for Default Judgment form. What happens then? The plaintiff's failure to file a Request for Default Judgment form means the court may dismiss the case after 90 days. 

The Oregon State Bar notes that plaintiffs are responsible for checking with the court clerk for the defendant's response every two weeks once the defendant receives proper notice.

Preparing for the Small Claims Hearing

The parties may settle their case at any time before the hearing. If the parties settle, they should inform the court clerk immediately.

If the parties do not settle, they should prepare for the scheduled hearing. This includes gathering evidence they wish to present to the court, such as contracts or photographs. It may also include asking witnesses to testify at the hearing. For example, if someone witnessed the events giving rise to the cause of action, a party may ask them to testify in court.

The judge may require the parties to mediate their dispute on the day of your hearing. Mediation involves a neutral third party who works with the parties to try and reach an amicable solution to their dispute. If the parties do not resolve their dispute, the hearing will proceed.

The Small Claims Hearing

The court may have multiple small claims cases on its docket, so waiting for the court to call your case is a possibility.

The judge will swear in the parties and explain the small court's procedure. The plaintiff presents their side of the case first. This may include an opening statement, presenting evidence, and calling witnesses to testify. If you ask the witnesses questions, the other parties will have an opportunity to cross-examine the witness. Once the plaintiff finishes presenting their arguments, the defendant presents theirs.

At the end of the hearing, the judge will determine who wins and who loses. They may announce their decision at that moment or issue it at a later date. The judge's decision is known as a judgment.

Enforcing a Judgment

If the court issues a money judgment, the party owed money is the judgment creditor. The person or entity that owes money is the judgment debtor. The judgment creditor is responsible for collecting money owed to them.

The parties may communicate about how to effect payment or the return of property. Once the judgment debtor pays the entire judgment or returns all the property, the judgment creditor must file a Satisfaction of Judgment form with the court.

If the judgment debtor cannot or does not pay or return property, the judgment creditor may request the court's help. They have several options to enforce the judgment, including the following:

  • They may request a writ of garnishment. This allows the judgment creditor to garnish the debtor's wages or bank accounts. Typically, a wage garnishment involves the judgment debtor's employer withholding money from their paychecks and giving it to the court. The court then distributes the money to the judgment creditor to satisfy the judgment. The court does not issue writs of garnishment.
  • They may also file a writ of execution with the court. This allows the sheriff's office to seize non-exempt property from the defendant and sell it at a public auction. The judgment creditor may then use the funds from the auction to satisfy the judgment.
  • They may conduct a judgment debtor examination. Once they file it with the court, the court will hold a hearing to analyze the judgment debtor's assets.

For more information, read Oregon's guide on writs of garnishment and other enforcement methods. As another option, consider contacting a civil litigation attorney.

Contact an Attorney

In general, parties to a small claims case in Oregon cannot hire an attorney to represent them at the small claims hearing. They can, however, hire an attorney to help them prepare for a small claims hearing. An experienced civil litigation attorney can provide you with helpful legal advice, such as:

  • How to collect a judgment
  • Defense and litigation strategies for your small claims case
  • Whether you can file your case in the small claims court or if you must file in the circuit court

Consider contacting a civil litigation attorney if you have a civil dispute. Their help could mean the difference between winning or losing your case.

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