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 (or "justice of the peace") of the Oregon small claims court (or "people's 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.
After the judge has seen all of the evidence, heard from all of the witnesses, and has listened to both sides of the story, she'll make a decision in the case, that is, decide 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 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
The judgment will state how much, if anything, you won, or how much the defendant won, if he filed a counterclaim, where he claimed that you owed him money. Or, if the suit was over personal property that belonged to you but was being held by the defendant, the judgment will order the defendant to return the property to you. The judgment will also tell the losing party how long she has to pay the other party or to return the property.
Also, losing party will have to pay the winning party's court costs or filing fees. If you're the plaintiff and you lose, you'll also have to pay the defendant's fee that was paid when she demanded a hearing. Finally, the losing party will have to pay a "prevailing party" award to the winning party, which is in addition to the amount of the judgment and that party's filing fees.
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, either about the facts of the case or in applying the law to the case.
In Oregon, there are some restrictions on who can file an appeal and when. If you're the plaintiff and you win, or if you're the defendant and you win on a counterclaim, you can't appeal from the judgment that was entered for you. For example, if you win and the defendant is ordered to pay you, and the defendant didn't file or lost on a counterclaim, you can't appeal. So, if you think the judge should have awarded you more money, for instance, you can't appeal and the judge's decision is final.
You have to file an appeal within 10 days after the judgment is entered into the court records. The appeal will be heard by the circuit court for the county where the small claims case was tried. You have to file a "Notice of Appeal" and pay a filing fee and other fees. The justice or circuit court clerk can give you the required forms and tell you the current fee amounts.
An appeal can be complicated. It's a lot more formal than the small claims trial, and more complex court rules apply. It's a good idea to talk to an attorney if you're thinking about appealing.
Dismissal and Default
If your claim (or counterclaim) was dismissed (thrown out) because you didn't show up for trial, or if the other party got a "default judgment" because you didn't show up for trial, you may be allowed to re-file your claim after filing a "Motion to Set Aside" the judgment or dismissal. It has to be filed within 10 days after the dismissal or default judgment. And, you have to show a good reason why you didn't appear at trial, such as illness or you weren't served with a copy of the claim. If the judge grants your motion, a new trial will be scheduled.
If you're the plaintiff and you win the case (or the defendant and you win on your counterclaim), and the judge orders the defendant to pay all or some of your claim, you need to begin collection efforts if the defendant doesn't pay you as ordered in the judgment. 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 only have one day left to file an appeal. Can I get an extension?
- How much will you charge to represent me on an appeal from small claims judgment? Should I even appeal?
- Can I file a counterclaim against the plaintiff when I appeal judgment that was entered against me in small claims court?