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How to File and Respond to a Small Claims Case

 

The Filing Process

The party filing the claim is the plaintiff; the party being sued is the defendant.  To initiate (start) a case, the plaintiff must fill out the Claim and Notice of Claim form and pay the required filing fee. The claim may be filed for any amount or property value of $10,000 or less, and the claim form must be signed in front of the court clerk or a notary public.  Forms are available for a small fee at the cashier windows on the 2nd floor of the Lane County Circuit Courthouse, 125 E. 8 th Avenue, Eugene, OR 97401.

To file a small claims case in Lane County Circuit Court, one of the following requirements must be met:     1) the defendant must reside in Lane County, or 2) the wrongful act charged must have occurred in Lane County, or 3) when the claim is based on a contract, the defendant must have contracted to perform an obligation under the contract in Lane County.

When filing a small claims case, it is important that all the parties (plaintiff and defendant) are identified correctly and that all names are spelled correctly.

At the time of filing, the plaintiff will be required to pay a filing fee.

 

Service

The plaintiff must notify the defendant that a case has been filed.  This is known as service. There are four ways the defendant can be served after the claim is filed:

a) Take a copy of the claim to the Sheriff's Office and to have a  Sheriff's deputy serve the defendant. The Sheriff's Office charges a service fee of $36.
b) Hire a private process server. Service fees vary. You may look up a private process server in the Yellow Pages under ``Process Servers."
c) Have any competent person 18 years or older who is a resident of Oregon and who is neither a party to the action (plaintiff or defendant), nor an officer, director, employee of, or attorney for any party in the action serve the papers and file the proof of service with the court.
d) Send the service papers via certified mail, specify ``Deliver to Addressee Only," return receipt requested. Check with post office for cost. Proof of service by certified mail needs to be filed in court by filing the proof of service including the original green card containing the defendant's own legible signature. If certified mail is not successful in getting the Notice of Claim to defendant, then service must be made by methods a, b, or c. 

 

The Defendant's Response

The defendant must respond to the plaintiff's claim within 14 calendar days after being served with a copy of the claim.  When the defendant is served, they will receive the Claim and Notice of Claim and the Notice of Defendant's Election.  The defendant must complete and file the Notice of Defendant's Election with the court.  On this form, the defendant chooses one of four options: 1) admits the claim and pays the amount of the claim; 2) denies the claim and demands a hearing; 3) denies the claim, demands a hearing and files a counterclaim, or 4) denies the claim and demands a jury trial. There are various filing fees associated with choices 2, 3 and 4.  If the defendant does not file the Notice of Defendant's Election, the plaintiff may apply for a Default Judgment.

 

The Default Process

The plaintiff  in a small claims case may file a request for default judgment if the defendant has not filed a response within 14 days from the date the claim was served on the defendant. The Request for Judgment form is provided in the court's small claim packet and is also available from the civil cashier at the courthouse.  The request must be notarized. A clerk of the court can notarize the plaintiff's signature on the form if identification is provided.  The request will be reviewed and a judgment will be entered by the clerk. Notice of the entry of the judgment in the register is sent to the parties that have appeared.

Once a money judgment is entered the judgment creditor can proceed with collection.  The court cannot help with collection of a debt.  The creditor and/or debtor  may want to contact an attorney or collection agency for assistance.   Please refer to Post Judgment Process under Civil & Landlord-Tenant for information on garnishments. Judgment information is public record and is available to credit reporting agencies and title companies. 

Money judgments for $3,000 or more are docketed in the judgment docket.  Docketing creates a lien on real property in the county where it is docketed.  A creditor may create a lien on real property in the county where the judgment is entered if the amount is less than $3,000 by requesting the clerk to transcribe the money judgment from small claims to circuit court.  There is a court fee for the transcription of judgments. 

When a judgment has been paid a creditor must file a document called a Satisfaction with the court.  Please refer to Post Judgment Process under Civil & Landlord-Tenant for information on satisfactions.