WHAT IS SMALL CLAIMS COURT?
The Small Claims Procedure Act was set up to allow people to bring claims before a judge quickly. No formal “pleadings” are required in small claims except those needed to state the claim or counterclaim. Court clerks have and can help you with the required forms.
Small Claims Court is for cases involving amounts up to $10,000. Like “People’s Court,” you do not have to have an attorney. Small Claims Court can be less expensive than other courts, and the steps you have to take are less complicated.
The law limits the types of cases you can file in Small Claims Court. In general, Small Claims Courts are for cases about accidents, contracts, unpaid bills, and landlord and tenant problems. Small Claims Courts cannot hear the following types of cases:
- Libel and slander;
- Probate matters, such as will disputes, guardianships, and adoptions;
- Divorce and other family matters.
DEFAULT JUDGMENT - IF YOU ARE SUED IN SMALL CLAIMS AND DO NOT GO TO COURT
If you do not go to the court hearing, the judge can enter a judgment against you for money or property.
The judge can add court costs to the amount of the judgment against you.
If the person suing you has a lawyer, you may also have to pay attorney fees. Attorney fees can be from 10% to up to 25% of the amount of the judgment.
HOW TO FILE A LAWSUIT OR “CASE” IN SMALL CLAIMS COURT
- Complete an “affidavit.” This form is available in the Court Clerk’s office. In the form, you must list your name and address, the name and address of the person or company you are suing, the reason you are suing, and the amount you are suing for. The Court Clerk will set a date and time for the hearing, usually within 10 to 30 days.
- You must pay a filing fee. The Court Clerk in the county you will file the lawsuit will tell you the cost of filing fees. If you cannot afford the costs, ask the Court Clerk about how to use a “Pauper’s Affidavit.” Find the Court Clerk in each county at this web site: OSCN.net
- Click on “Courts” on the top navigation bar.
- You must have copies of the Small Claims affidavit delivered to the person you are suing; this is called “service.” Service may be by certified mail, sheriff, or private process server. The cost of service depends on the method you use. You must serve the person at least 7 days before the hearing. If you do not complete service within 180 days, the court will dismiss your case, and you may have to pay another filing fee and start all over.
- You need to be aware that the person you sue can also file a claim against you; this is called a “counterclaim.” A counterclaim must be filed at least 72 hours before the hearing, and you must be personally served with court papers before the hearing.
CAUTION - If you have been sued for an eviction, you CANNOT file a counterclaim.
Counterclaims in Small Claims Court can only be filed:
- When someone sues you for money (not an eviction) or property in Small Claims Court.
The court clerk can help you fill out and file the counterclaim form. You must:
- You must file the counterclaim; and,
- pay a fee, at least 72 hours before the hearing.
- The other person must be served with the court papers.
HOW DO I KNOW WHO TO “SERVE” WITH COURT PAPERS?
Whom you serve depends on whether you are suing a business or person.
- If you sue a person, you must have the papers delivered directly to the person, or to someone who lives at his or her home who is at least 15 years old.
- If you sue a business that is not a corporation, you must serve the individual who owns the business. For example, if you file suit against a tree service run by John Doe, you would sue “John Doe d/b/a (doing business as) Joe’s Tree Service.” You have the papers delivered to John Doe or someone at least 15 who lives at his home.
- If you sue a corporation, you list the corporation as the defendant (“Joe’s Tree Service, Inc.”). The most common way to serve a corporation is by sending the papers by certified mail to the company’s “registered service agent.” You can find out the name and address of the corporation’s agent by contacting the office of the Oklahoma Secretary of State at 405-522-4563.
There is a $5 charge.
You may also search the Oklahoma Secretary of States website for a Registered Business/Business Entity Search online.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN AT COURT?
Before the Hearing
- You can ask for a jury trial if the claim or counterclaim is for $1,500 or more.
- You must file a written request with the Court Clerk at least 2 business days before the hearing, and pay a fee.
At the Hearing
- Unless you ask for a jury in advance, a judge will hear the case.
- You tell the judge your side of the story
- The other party will tell his side
- You must tell the judge why the other person owes you money and how much money you want ‘awarded’ to you.
- Both sides can present proof and bring witnesses to support their claims.
- The judge or jury then decides who wins.
- If you win, the other person will be required to pay your filing fees and service costs, plus the amount the judge awards you.
- If both parties are in court and there is hearing or you settle and the judge enters judgment, the judge may also enter an “Order to Pay.” This is like an assets hearing held right at the time of trial.
After the Hearing
- The amount the judge awards you (or the other person if you lose) is a “judgment.”
- It must be filed with the Court Clerk.
- A file-stamped copy must be sent to all other parties who were at the hearing.
- If you are not paid, you may “execute” on the person or business’s property, have a “garnishment” issued against the person's assets or wages.