So, you’ve been served and find yourself as a Defendant to a Small Claims lawsuit.  What now?  This article will provide you with basic information about Oregon’s small claims courts and your options in responding to the claim.

What is Small Claims Court?

Small Claims Court is a simplified venue for resolution of civil cases in which the amount of money or value of property in dispute is $10,000 or less.  Ordinary court rules regarding evidence do not apply, there is no jury, and attorneys are not allowed to appear on behalf of parties (without making a special request called a motion).  Small Claims Court is intended to resolve these cases quickly, maximizing efficient use of limited court resources while minimizing expense to the parties.

What qualifies as a ‘small claim?’

In Oregon, claims for less than $750 must be filed in Small Claims Court.  Claims of more than $10,000 must be filed in Circuit Court.  So, claims between $750 and $10,000 can be filed in either Small Claims or Circuit Court.

Who are the parties in Small Claims Court?

The party that files the small claim is the Plaintiff; the party against whom the claim is filed is the Defendant.  Even if the Defendant files a counterclaim against the Plaintiff, he is still the Defendant in the suit.  This is the same as in Circuit Court.

I am a Small Claims Defendant.  What are my options?

When you find yourself being sued in Small Claims Court in Oregon, you generally have 3 options available to you:

  1. Ignore it and hope it goes away – This is not recommended.  Just like in Circuit Court, a Defendant that declines to defend a small claim can lose by default and a ‘default judgment’ will be entered in the court record.  A default judgment, like most other judgments, automatically attaches as a lien against all personal and real property the losing Defendant owns in the county in which the claim was made.  The winning Plaintiff can then record the judgment in other counties and even other states to attach to other property there, as well, and begin post-judgment enforcement actions like wage and/or bank garnishment, judgment debtor examination, etc.
  2. Pay the claim – If you pay Plaintiff the amount of the claim and provide proof of payment to the Court with your response form (see Multnomah County’s Defendant’s Response form and instructions here), the case will be closed and no judgment entered.
  3. Deny the claim and request a hearing or trial – If you dispute the claim you can request an opportunity to defend yourself against it.  If the claim is less than $750, the Court will schedule a hearing before a judge, who will decide the claim.  If the claim is for $750 or more, you can demand that the Plaintiff re-file the case in Circuit Court and the case be heard and decided by a jury.  You can also file a counterclaim against the Plaintiff for any money or property the Plaintiff owes you, arising from the same issue as the Plaintiff’s claim, and if your counterclaim is for $750 or more you can request a Circuit Court jury trial even if the Plaintiff’s original claim is less than $750.

An attorney can explain the differences between Small Claims and Circuit Court to you and more fully discuss your options in responding to a small claim.

For more information about Oregon Small Claims Court for Plaintiffs and Defendants, visit the Oregon State Bar’s public information page here.

For informational purposes only and not to be relied upon as legal advice or for the formation of an attorney-client relationship.

  • Brook D. Wood