You've been preparing for your small claims case for a while now. You've arranged for witnesses to be at trial and you have all the receipts and other documents ready. It's getting close to the time for the judge of the Oklahoma small claims court to make a decision.
Now's a good time to get an idea of what happens after the small claims trial is over. What can you do if you win? What if you lose? Whether you're the plaintiff (the person who filed the suit) or the defendant (the person who's being sued), you should know about some of your options.
It's the beginning of the end of the case when the judge makes a decision in the case, that is, who won. The decision is called a judgment. The judge can announce the judgment:
- Immediately at the end of the case, and either give each party a copy of the judgment before they leave the courthouse or send it to them in the mail
- After taking some time to think about the case and all of the evidence. This is called taking the case "under consideration." The judge will then mail a copy of the decision to each party
Technically, the lawsuit's over when the judgment is made and "entered" into the court records. After all, the judgment says who won and lost: You're either entitled to get paid by the other party or you're not. In reality, however, the case may not be over; you may have some work left to do, depending on whether everyone agrees with the judge's decision and if the winning party gets paid.
Not Happy about the Judgment?
Win or lose, you may have some options if you don't like the way the case turned out:
This is when you ask a higher court to look at the case because you think the judge made a mistake. Appeals from the small claims courts are heard by the Supreme Court of Oklahoma. The plaintiff, the defendant or both may appeal the small claims court's judgment.
You have to file an appeal within 30 days after the judgment was entered into the records of the small claims court, which is usually the same day as the judgment was made or announced. You file an appeal by completing a Petition of Error with the Clerk of the Supreme Court. You can hand-deliver the Petition, or you can mail it by certified mail. You have to pay a filing fee; ask the Clerk about the current fee amount.
The appeal will take place usually within 30 days after the Petition is filed. The Supreme Court looks at the record of the small claims trial, that is, it looks only at the evidence and testimony that was given at the trial. So, you generally can't present new evidence or testimony on appeal.
An appeal can be a complex matter. It's a lot more formal than the small claims trial, and more complicated court rules are used. It's a good idea to talk to an attorney if you're thinking about filing an appeal.
Relief from Judgment
The plaintiff or the defendant can file a motion for relief from judgment or "motion for relief," which essentially asks the court for a new trial. This is commonly used when the defendant wants the judge to void or "vacate" a default judgment - a judgment for the plaintiff that was entered because the defendant didn't show up for trial. Another common example is when a plaintiff's case was dismissed ("thrown out" or ended) because he didn't show up for trial. In the motion he asks the judge to vacate the dismissal so that he can continue the case against defendant.
To be successful on this type of motion, you need to "show cause," that is, have a good reason that justifies a new trial. Some examples of good cause include:
- Showing that you were unable to attend the first trial because of an emergency, such as illness
- You've discovered new evidence that wasn't available when the first trial took place
- You actually paid the plaintiff's claim or damages before the trial, or the plaintiff released you from liability on the claim
This motion is also used if there's a minor clerical error or mistake in the judgment. For example, if at the end of the case the judge announced that the defendant owed you $5,500, but the written judgment lists the amount as $550, you can file a motion to have the error corrected.
If you're the plaintiff and you win the case, and the judge orders the defendant to pay all or some of your claim, or to return your personal property, you need to begin collection efforts if the defendant doesn't pay or return the property. This may include having to appear at one or more hearings and possibly even taking some of the defendant's property and belongings. This can be a long and complicated process that may require the help of an attorney.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I have a small claims judgment, but I wasn't awarded the entire amount I claimed. If I want to challenge the amount of the judgment, what are my chances for winning on appeal?
- How much will you charge to represent me on an appeal? Do I have to be in court if I hire you?
- How long will it take the Supreme Court to decide my appeal?