WHAT IS A SMALL CLAIM?

Any individual may bring a small claim to recover money up to $10,000; businesses, partnerships, or corporations (with a few exceptions) may bring a small claim for no more than $5,000.  Small claims must be filed in the county of the defendant’s residence, or in the case of a traffic collision, the county where the collision occurred. Exceptions and specific rules can be found in RCW 3.66.020 and RCW 3.66.040.

                                            Find out more information about Small Claims at Washington Law Help

HOW LONG DO I HAVE TO FILE?

Time limits for filing a claim range from one to ten years from the time the event occurred, depending on the type of case. To determine which time limit applies, review RCW Chapter 4.16.


HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

A $50 filing fee.  In addition, there may be more fees if you decide to have your claim served by a process server or law enforcement. Service is explained in the next section.  If you win, you are entitled to recoup your filing fees and service costs.


HOW DO I GET STARTED?

  1. Fill out and file a notice of claim. The clerk can provide you with a notice of claim form.  A notice of claim may be submitted in person, by email at GHDC2@graysharbor.us, or by mail and sent to 2109 Sumner Avenue, Room 201, Aberdeen, Washington 98520. If you submit your claim by email, it will not be considered filed until the court receives your filing fee or the judge has signed an order waiving the fee.  It is your responsibility to accurately identify the respondent, describe the claim, and provide the respondent’s proper mailing address and phone number. The notice of claim form includes a return hearing date and a case number.  All copies of the claim form will be returned to you for service.
  2. Provide a declaration that the defendant is not active military. You must provide a declaration affirming that the defendant is not active military. If the defendant is active military, you must follow additional steps outlined by federal law. Find out more information at Service Members Civil Relief Act, Defense Finance and Accounting Service, or consult with an attorney.
  3. Have the notice of claim served. The plaintiff is responsible for arranging service of the claim form on the defendant. The notice of claim must be served on the defendant at least ten days before the return hearing date. A return of service or a mail return receipt with the defendant’s signature must be filed at or before the pretrial. The plaintiff cannot personally serve the claim. Service of the claim form can be accomplished by:
    • Local law enforcement;
    • A process server;
    • Any person 18 years or older and who is not a witness in or a party to the case; or
    • By mailing a copy by registered or certified mail with a return receipt.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

  1. A return hearing: The parties must attend the return hearing listed on the notice of claim form in District Court #2.  After the hearing, the parties will contact a representative from the Dispute Resolution Center across the hall from the courtroom and provide them with contact information so that they can arrange a date and time for mediation. 
  1. Mediation. Mediation is mandatory.  Once the case has been mediated, the Dispute Resolution Center will notify the court, and the case will be set for the next appropriate hearing. A trial date will only be scheduled if both sides attend the mediation and are unsuccessful in reaching a resolution.  Learn more about mediation here.

WHAT IF I CAN'T OR DON'T APPEAR?

  • Ask the court for a continuance of the return hearing. Local court rules require that requests for continuances by either party must be done in writing (email or mail), in advance of the hearing, provided to the other party, and submitted for the judge to review.
  • If the respondent fails to appear for the return hearing or mediation, the plaintiff may request a default judgment. Before that happens, the plaintiff must provide:
    1. Proof of proper service of the notice of small claim;
    2. A factual basis to support the claim (usually documents and/or testimony), and
    3. Proof of compliance with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
  • If the plaintiff fails to appear for the return hearing or mediation, the respondent may request that the small claim be dismissed, and a default judgment entered on any counterclaims.

WHAT HAPPENS AT TRIAL?
A trial in small claims court is informal. Neither side is allowed to be represented by an attorney, legal professional or other person. The plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that judgment should be awarded. The judge will ask the plaintiff to give his or her side first, then will ask the defendant for his or her explanation. Be brief and stick to the facts. The judge may interrupt you with questions, which you should answer to the best of your knowledge. Be polite, do not interrupt---not just the judge, but also to the opposing party. After the judge hears both sides, she will announce the decision and sign a judgment. However, she may take the decision under advisement, depending on the circumstances, and notify you in writing of her decision.

Each person is given a chance to tell their side of the story. You should bring any papers which relate to the case (such as receipts, pictures, written contracts or agreements) and any witnesses to support your case. Your 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).


HOW DO I PREPARE FOR TRIAL?
You can help yourself by being well-prepared and organized. It is a good idea to watch a small claims trial, read this, or watch this video. Most small claim trials take less than 30 minutes.  Start by collecting all papers, photographs, receipts, estimates, canceled checks, or other relevant documents. Write down the facts of the case in the order that they occurred. This will help you organize your thoughts and make a clear presentation of your story to the judge.

On your trial date, bring three identical sets of any papers that you plan to present. The sets must be copied on only one side of the page.  We strongly suggest that you submit no more than 20 exhibits. If you want the judge to consider any images, you must print them. The judge will not consider images stored on a device. If you want the judge to watch a video, you must provide a device in court to display the video and submit a copy that can be kept as part of the court record. If you want the judge to consider any images, you must print them.  If you have exhibits, please arrive well in advance of the time set for your trial so that the clerk can make sure your paperwork is organized and properly mark it for your trial. 


WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A JUDGMENT IS ENTERED?

A judgment is a judicial determination of how much money is owed to the prevailing (winning) party.  The amount in the judgment must be paid to the prevailing party within 30 days.  Once a judgment is entered, the prevailing party can request a certified transcript of the case from the clerk.  If the judgment has not been paid in 30 days. the prevailing party may start the process of garnishing wages, bank accounts, and other monies that belong to the judgment debtor or issue an execution or lien on a vehicle or other personal property.  More information about garnishing wages can be found in RCW 6.27, for liens in RCW 4.56.190 and .200, or here.  The court does not collect the judgment.  Once the prevailing party has paid the judgment in full, the prevailing party must file a satisfaction of judgment with the court.  


WHAT IF I DISAGREE WITH THE JUDGE'S DECISION?

Small claims decisions in many cases can be appealed to Superior Court.  Appeals must be made within 30 days of the entry of the judgment.  The party who files a claim or counterclaim cannot appeal unless the amount claimed is over $1,000, and neither party may appeal a judgment where the amount claimed is under $250. The respondent may file an appeal of a judgment against them if it is for an amount over $250. The forms for appeal are located here.  To appeal, the appealing party must:

  1. Prepare a written Notice of Appeal and file it with Grays Harbor County District Court 2. Forms are available from the clerk;
  2. Pay a $40 record preparation fee to Grays Harbor District Court 2;
  3. Pay the superior court filing fee of $230 to the Grays Harbor District Court 2 (cash, cashier’s check, or money order) made out to the Grays Harbor County Superior Court Clerk;
  4. Serve a copy of the Notice of Appeal on all parties; and
  5. File a bond or execution for approval with Grays Harbor County District Court 2 made payable to the Grays Harbor County Superior Court Clerk for twice the amount of the judgment and costs or twice the amount in controversy, whichever is greater.

WHAT IF I NEED MORE HELP?

The clerk cannot provide legal advice, however, if you have additional questions about the process, need a form, an interpreter, or other accommodation, please contact the clerk at (360) 532-7061 or GHDC2@graysharbor.us.