Small Claims – General – Washington
Note: This summary is not intended to be an all inclusive discussion of the law and procedures of small claims in Washington, but it does contain basic and other information. This summary only discusses civil claims (property and money claims that may be filed in small claims court). Criminal charges are not discussed.
Definition – Small claims courts, also sometimes called “Peoples Court”, is a court of limited jurisdiction. Limited jurisdiction means only certain matters may be filed and heard by the small claims court. There is also a maximum claim amount limitation. Small claims court offer a quick, informal and inexpensive way of resolving many types of disputes you may have with particular individuals or companies.
Maximum Amount of Claim Small Claims Court may hear in Washington: $5,000.00
Which Court hears small claims in Washington? The small claims court is a division of the Washington District Court. All claims which do not exceed $5,000.00 may be heard here.
Who hears the claims in small claims court? A judge will hear the case in small claims court.
Claims over which the Small Claims Court has Jurisdiction:
The small claims court in Washington may hear any of the following claims if the amount in controversy does not exceed $5,000.00:
1. traffic matters
2. recovery of money
3. The above list is not exhaustive but does contain most of the common claims. These claims MAY NOT be brought in small claims court: libel, slander, professional malpractice, assigned claims, and punitive damages.
Who may file a claim in small claims court? An individual, partnership or corporation (or LLC) may file a claim against another individual(s), partnership or corporation (or LLC) in small claims court if jurisdiction exists to hear the claim and the amount of the claim or property involved does not exceed $5,000.00.
Must you be represented by an attorney? Attorneys are not allowed to participate in the proceedings unless granted permission by the judge.
Things to do before you File a Claim: Get the facts straight so you can complete the forms correctly and answer any questions court personnel may need to know. Be sure to obtain the correct legal name of the defendant, correct address and place/address of employment. If the defendant is a Corporation or Limited Liability Company you would use the legal corporate or LLC name as the defendant. If the defendant is a Corporation or LLC, you may need to contact the secretary of state in your state and obtain the proper name and address to serve with a copy of the suit. This person is called a registered agent and is designated by the corporation to receive process or summons when the corporation is sued. Be sure to also contact the small claims court to determine the filing fee for filing the claim.
How to File the Claim: The plaintiff must prepare a Notice of Small Claim. The plaintiff must also sign the form in the presence of the court clerk.
Who serves the Defendant with summons or process and how is the defendant served: The clerk will assist the plaintiff in serving the notice. Service of the claim may be made by using the following methods: the sheriff’s office, a process server, any person over the age of 18 and not a party to the action, or by mailing copies to the defendant by registered or certified mail.
Return of Summons: The sheriff, constable, or other process server shall, after effecting service, must endorse that fact on a copy of the summons and return it to the court clerk who will make the appropriate entry on the docket sheet of the action.
Removal to another Court: Pursuant to the Washington Revised Code Section 4.14.010
Whenever the removal of such action to superior court is required in order to acquire jurisdiction over a third party defendant, who is or may be liable to the defendant for all or part of the judgment and resides outside the county wherein the action was commenced, any civil action which could have been brought in superior court may, if commenced in district court, be removed by the defendant or defendants to the superior court for the county where such action is pending if the district court determines that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a third party may be liable to the plaintiff and issues an order so stating. Whenever a separate or independent claim or cause of action which would be removable if sued upon alone is joined with one or more otherwise nonremovable claims or causes of action, the entire case may be removed and the superior court may determine all issues therein, or, in its discretion, may remand all matters not otherwise within its original jurisdiction.
How are hearing scheduled? The clerk of the court will provide you with the procedure to set the case for trial or hearing at the time you file your claim.
Subpoena of Witnesses: If witnesses are required but unwilling to voluntarily attend unless they are subpoenaed, you may obtain a subpoena issued by the court clerk for service on the witness. The subpoena is an order for the witness to appear at the hearing and testify. Some employers may require that an employee be subpoenaed in order to be excused from work.
Trial Procedures: The trial procedure is generally informal than other courts although the formality will vary from county to county and judge to judge. The case will usually be called in open court and you will respond that you are present and ready to proceed.You will then be advised when to present your claim. Be prepared to present your claim in your own words. Be prepared to question witnesses if witnesses are needed.
What happens if the defendant does not appear at trial? Usually, if the defendant does not appear at trial, a default judgment will be entered in your favor for the amount of the claim or other relief.
Judgment: If the defendant fails to appear, or if the court rules for you after the hearing, a judgment will be entered by the court for the amount of the claim, or other relief sought.
Appeal: 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 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 $6 transcript fee.
4.Deposit at the district court the $110 superior court filing fee either in cash, money order, or cashier’s check payable to the Clerk of the Superior Court. There may be additional fees that you will need to pay as set forth by local court rule.
You are also required to 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 bond is filed in the district court, the appellant (person appealing the decision) may request that the district court suspend enforcement of the judgment until after the appeal is heard. Within 14 days of filing the Notice of Appeal, the district court clerk will file the court record at the superior court 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 instructions.
Collection of Judgment: Collection of the judgment may be obtained by garnishment of wages, bank accounts, or other property belonging to the losing party.
Are Motions allowed? Motions are allowed by the parties on a limited basis.
Continuances: Either party may be granted a continuance for good cause shown.
Out-of-Court Settlement: In most cases, neither party is one hundred percent right nor 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 returned.
When Payment is Received: When the judgment has been satisfied, the receiving party must send written notice to the court that the judgment has been satisfied.
Cross-Claims, Counterclaims, and Third-Party Claims: If the defendant wishes to file a counterclaim, the court clerk can provide the proper forms.
What happens if a defendant has filed bankruptcy? If the plaintiff has filed a claim against the defendant and the plaintiff is aware that the claim is listed as a debt in a bankruptcy proceeding, federal law prohibits the plaintiff from pursuing the claim in small claims court.
Common Forms used in Small Claims Court:
Return of Summons
Abstract of Judgment
Revised Code of Washington State:
RCW 12.40.010. Department authorized–Jurisdictional amount
In every district court there shall be created and organized by the court a department to be known as the “small claims department of the district court”. The small claims department shall have jurisdiction, but not exclusive, in cases for the recovery of money only if the amount claimed does not exceed five thousand dollars.
RCW 12.40.027. Removal to superior court–Restrictions–Simultaneous maintenance of claims–Joinder of claims on appeal
RCW 4.14.010 regarding removal of actions to superior court shall not apply to cases originally filed in small claims court, or transferred to the small claims court pursuant to RCW 12.40.025. No defendant or third party defendant may remove a small claims case from small claims court as a matter of right by merely filing a claim or counterclaim or other request for relief that is beyond the jurisdiction of the small claims court. Claims, counterclaims, or other requests for relief filed by a defendant or third party defendant in excess of the jurisdiction of small claims court may be maintained simultaneously in superior court as a separate action brought by such defendant or third party defendant. Such a superior court action does not affect the jurisdiction of the small claims court to hear the original small claims case. The decision of the small claims court shall have no preclusive effect on a superior court action brought pursuant to this section. If the small claims case is appealed, it shall be automatically joined with any superior court case filed pursuant to this section, and the procedures set forth in RCW 12.36.055 shall not apply.
Nothing in this section may be construed to limit the small claims court from transferring a small claims case to district court or superior court after notice and hearing.
This summary contains some of the provisions from the Revised Code of Washington State but does not include a comprehensive discussion of all statutes.