The Small Claims Court is a department of the District Court authorized under Chapter 12.40 RCW and is available for the recovery of money only where the claim does not exceed $10,000. It has jurisdiction only when the defendant is a resident of the county, except that claims arising out of automobile accidents may be brought in the county where the accident occurred no matter where the defendant lives in the state. (See abbreviated rules for non-state residents and corporations). Small Claims Court may NOT be used to recover personal property or require a defendant to perform contracts, except where the contract requires the payment of money only.
The person who brings the claim is called the "plaintiff". The person who is sued is called the "defendant". A small claims action is between plaintiff and defendant, who may consist of multiple parties. No attorney is allowed to participate in any manner without court consent.
Filing a Claim
The form to start a small claims action is provided by the court and must be signed by the real claimant (not someone on behalf of the plaintiff). Court clerks may assist you in the procedures required but are not qualified and are forbidden by law from giving legal advice. They also are instructed not to attempt to predict how the court might rule in your case. Please do not ask them for such advice. The claim must state in brief and concise form:
- The nature of or basis of the claim;
- The amount claimed;
- When the claim accrued (came into existence)
It is not enough merely to state that the defendant "owes money". Some sample basis of claim descriptions are attached to this information.
It is the responsibility of the plaintiff to identify the defendant accurately. The defendant must be either a person, or statutory entity. Many businesses are operated under assumed names and are not incorporated. The plaintiff must determine who the person or persons are who own a non-corporate business and sue the person or persons, not the business.
It is the responsibility of the plaintiff to furnish an accurate address for the defendant.
The plaintiff must pay a $50 filing fee when the claim is filed.
After the claim is filed, the clerk will fill in the date for first appearance of the defendant, and will give two copies of the claim and notice to the plaintiff, one for the plaintiff's records, and the other to be served upon the defendant. In the case of multiple defendants, additional copies for service on the additional defendants will be provided.
Service of the Claim and Notice
The plaintiff may not serve the notice and claim upon the defendant. The claim and notice may be served either:
- by the county sheriff;
- by a process server;
- by a person over the age of 18 years not connected with the claim or related to you;
- by registered or certified mail if a return receipt with the signature of the party being served is filed with the court.
Collection of the Judgement
The small claims court does not collect the judgment for you. If you are awarded a judgment and the defendant does not pay the judgment within thirty days, or such a greater time as is set by the court, your case may be transferred to Superior Court. Remember, the clerks cannot advise you how to execute upon the judgment. The District Court does not furnish any forms for that purpose.
You may also obtain a transcript of the District Court Judgment from the clerk and file it with the Superior Court clerk, which may result in a lien upon any real estate owned by the defendant.
Appeals From Small Claims Court Judgements
A plaintiff cannot appeal from the judgment of the small claims court judge where the amount requested was less than $1,000. Neither party may appeal from the judgment if the claim was for less than $250. Any appeal must be perfected within 30 days after judgment is rendered or decision made.
Abbreviated Venue Rules
The complete regulations for the correct county in which to file a civil action can be found in the Revised Code of Washington. What is set forth here is an abbreviated list of the more common types of venue requirements. An action may be filed:
- In the county in which a defendant resides, for damages or money claims.
- For automobile accident cases, either in the county in which the defendant resides, or the county where the accident happened.
- As to a non-resident of the State of Washington, either in the county where the defendant can be served or where the subject matter of the action arose.
Examples of Basis of Claim Allegations
- Defendant fails to pay agreed rent for use of plaintiff's property.
- Defendant damaged plaintiff's property while it was rented to defendant.
- Defendant moved out of plaintiff's property and left it in a dirty condition.
- Defendant failed to return a damage or security deposit to plaintiff.
B. Damage Action
- Defendant negligently (or intentionally) damaged plaintiff's car, boat, house, other?.
C. Breach of Contract
- Defendant failed to deliver goods or services (detail) after plaintiff paid for them.
- Defendant failed to deliver goods or services (detail) after promising to do so.
- Defendant delivered and was paid for goods or services (detail) which were defective as follows: (detail)
- Defendant failed to pay in full for goods or services (detail) delivered by plaintiff at defendant's request.
- Defendant delivered check to plaintiff for money owed plaintiff, which check was dishonored (not paid) when presented (cashed).
- Defendant failed to pay back money plaintiff loaned defendant.
- Defendant unlawfully took or kept property belonging to plaintiff (detail) with a fair market value of $ _______.