Small Claims Court
Authored By: Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc.
What Is Small Claims Court?
Small Claims Court is for cases involving amounts up to $7,500. On November 1, 2017, the court's jurisdictional limit increases 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:
1. Libel and slander;
2. Probate matters, such as will disputes, guardianships, and adoptions;
3. Divorce and other family matters.
How to file a lawsuit or “case” in Small Claims Court
1. 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.
2. 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:
Click on “Courts” on the top navigation bar.
3. You must have copies of the Small Claims case 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. If you use certified mail to serve the person, be sure to check the box on the green postal card to allow ONLY the person you are trying to serve sign for the envelope. The post office will send you the green card back. Be sure to bring the green card to court with you to prove that you properly served the other party.
4. You need to be aware that the person you sue can also file his own claim against you; this is called a “counterclaim.” The “defendant” must file court papers at least 72 hours before the hearing, and you must get a copy of the papers before the hearing.
How do I know who to “serve?”
Whom you serve depends on whether you are suing a business or person.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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 Business Entities Records online at http://www.sos.state.ok.us (Sooner Access.)
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 the judge holds a hearing or the case is settled 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.”
- The judgement must be filed with the Court Clerk.
- A file-stamped copy of the judgment must be sent to all other parties who were at the hearing or who made an entry of appearance at the court 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.