This guide briefly discusses how to file suit in Small Claims Court. Visit either of the following web sites for definitions of the terms used here:
Any individual, business, partnership, or corporation (with a couple of exceptions) may bring a small claims suit for recovery of money only for an amount up to $5,000. Small Claims Court is intended to be court without lawyers and the process is started by filing a Notice of Small Claim in the appropriate court. For King County, you can find court locations and forms on the King County District Court’s website. The King County Bar Association has published a small claims court guide that contains information on methods of collection and links to court forms.
If you win your small claims case, you may be awarded a monetary judgment by the court. Generally, a defendant/debtor must pay the judgment within 30 days or within the amount of time mandated by the court. If a judgment debtor does not pay, the court cannot collect the debt for you. However, you can pursue collection on your own.
What if the defendant fails to pay?
Before any attempting to collect the debt, the judgment must be certified by the court. This is done by filing a “Notice of Non-payment and Request for Transfer” form with the district court clerk’s office. After you submit the form, the judgment will be entered on the district court’s judgment docket and you may seek to collect the judgment by garnishment, execution or other sanctioned process.
Here are three collection methods you can pursue with assistance from the court:
Garnishment – A writ of garnishment is a court order directing a third party, for example, an employer, to withhold a portion of the debtor’s paycheck and direct those funds to the creditor. RCW Chapter 6.27 governs garnishment.
Execution – A writ of execution is a court order authorizing the sheriff to seize certain property belonging to the debtor and sell it with the proceeds being paid to the creditor. RCW Chapter 6.17 governs execution.
Judicial Lien – A lien is a legal right that a creditor has in a debtor’s real property. While a creditor generally does not take possession of the debtor’s property, the lien can remain in place, for the life of the judgment, until the debt is satisfied. RCW §§ 4.56.190 - 210 address judgment liens.
Forms and Instructions Online
The King County Small Claims Court website explains what to do when a small claims debtor does not pay within 30 days of the judgment.
Washington Law Help also has published a guide on small claims court cases that includes information on collection of judgments.
Washington Lawyers Practice Manual, Volume III, Chapter 7 – Collecting Claims and Enforcing Judgments (KF 300.W27 1986 v.3 REF)