How to Go To Small Claims Court in Oklahoma
Small claims court is a quick, inexpensive procedure, that you can use if you need to sue someone for an amount that is less than $10,000. In small claims court, you generally don’t need a lawyer. Small claims court was created so that people could recover small amounts of money without a lawyer, and without having to go through the more difficult process of civil court.
Can you file your case in small claims court?
You may file a case in small claims court if:
You are suing to recover an amount of money that is less than $10,000
You are suing to recover property worth less than $10,000
You are suing to recover money and property, and the total value of the money and property is less than $10,000
If you are suing to recover personal property, this is called replevin. For more information about replevin, see my earlier post “Recovering personal items”
However, even if you are claiming money or property worth less than $10,000, you may not go to small claims court if:
You are suing for libel or slander;
You are suing a city, county or state agency, or employee of a city, county or state agency, if the claim alleges matters arising from incarceration, probation, parole or community supervision;
You are incarcerated in any jail or prison in Oklahoma; or
You are a collection agency, a collection agent, or the assignee of a claim (except, a health care provider may bring a small claims lawsuit if the health care provider was the assignee of benefits under an accident and health insurance policy, trust, plan, or contract)
How to file a small claims case
Go to the court clerk, and ask for a small claims affidavit. Fill out the affidavit, and give it back to the clerk for the clerk to file. The clerk is then required to give you a hearing date that is at least ten days, but less than sixty days, after the clerk files the affidavit. The clerk will then mail a copy of the affidavit, by certified mail, to the Defendant’s address. If the affidavit is returned undelivered, the clerk will give the affidavit to the sheriff to personally serve on the Defendant.
What the Defendant may do
After the Defendant receives a copy of the affidavit, the Defendant has the following rights:
The Defendant may file a counterclaim against you, and ask the Court to order you to pay him money. The Defendant must file a counterclaim at least 72 hours before the hearing.
The Defendant may ask the Court to transfer the case out of small claims court, and into district court. The Defendant must file this request at least 48 hours before the hearing. If you have sued for an amount less than $7,500, the court may choose, in its discretion, whether to transfer the case. If you have sued for an amount greater than $7,500, the court must transfer the case. Also, if the Defendant has filed a counterclaim greater than $10,000, the court must transfer the case.
What to do at the hearing
At the hearing, both you and the Defendant will have the right to present evidence to the judge. You may call witnesses. In general, you don’t need a lawyer for small claims court, because small claims court is simple enough to be understood by a non-lawyer. However, you will be allowed to be represented by a lawyer if you choose. You won’t be allowed to have a non-lawyer represent you. However, a corporation, who is suing in small claims court, may have a corporate officer or regular full-time employee, who is not a lawyer, represent the corporation in small claims court.
Both you and the Defendant, have the following rights at the hearing:
You, or the Defendant, have the right to ask for a court reporter to record the hearing stenographically. If either of you request a court reporter, you must notify the court clerk at least two days before trial.
If the claim is for more than $1,500, either you, or the Defendant, have the right to a jury trial. The court must then impanel a jury. If either of you request a jury trial, you must notify the court clerk at least two days before trial.
Tips for the small claims hearing:
Always tell the truth. If a judge believes you are lying, you could go to jail for perjury.
Be polite. If you act too aggressively, this will turn a judge off.
You are not a lawyer. Do not attempt to use “legalese.” Do not try to behave like lawyers you may have seen on television or movie legal dramas (which are almost always unrealistic depictions of the ways lawyers actually behave)
After all evidence is submitted, the judge (or jury, if there is one) will rule as to who must pay, and how much. If either party is represented by an attorney, the judge may also award attorney’s fees. If the judge or jury orders either party to pay, the judge may set up a payment plan.
After judgment is entered
After judgment is entered, the losing party may appeal the case to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The party appealing must commence the appeal within thirty days after the written order is filed. The rules for appealing a small claims action, are the same as the rules for appealing any other civil suit. Click here to read about how the Oklahoma appeals process works.
What is the party who is order to pay, doesn’t pay?
If the judge has ordered the payment of money, and the person ordered to pay doesn’t pay, then, the other party may ask for an asset hearing. If you want to ask for an asset hearing, for back to the court clerk, and ask for an asset hearing form. Fill out this form and give the form to the court clerk. The judge will then set a date for the judgment debtor to appear at the asset hearing. If the judgment debtor does not appear, the judge may issue a bench warrant for his arrest; if he is arrested, he may be required to post a cash bond; the court clerk will then pay this cash to you, to satisfy the judgment. If the judgment debtor appears at the asset hearing, the judgment debtor will be required to give information as to what assets he has. Then, the judge may allow you to garnish the debtor’s wages or his bank account, or may allow you to recover personal property that the debtor has, to pay off the judgment.
If your action was an action in replevin, and the judge has ordered delivery of property, the judge will give the order to the sheriff, and the sheriff may personally seize the debtor’s property and give the property to you.
If the debtor files for bankruptcy after judgment, the bankruptcy filing will stay any collection process in small claims court. You will then have to litigate the case in the bankruptcy court to determine what, if anything, you may collect from the debtor. Bankruptcy courts are federal courts, and small claims court is state court. So, if you litigate the case in bankruptcy court, you will be in a different court than small claims court.