This is a summary of the difference between small claims court and district court.
- Jurisdiction: Small claims court is designed to handle smaller disputes involving limited amounts of money and limited civil claims. The maximum allowed in Oklahoma’s small claims court is $10,000.00 [in 2023] exclusive of attorney fees and other court costs. Thus, even if you prove at trial that your damages are more ($25,000.00 for example) the most that the Court could award would be $10,000.00. District Court, on the other hand, has no jurisdictional limit on the amount of money that can be awarded. Also, criminal cases are filed in District Court (or in Municipal Court) whereas small claims court is only for civil cases.
- Complexity: Small claims court cases are generally less formal and have simplified procedures, making it easier for individuals to represent themselves with the need for an attorney. District court cases can be much more complex, have very detailed procedures, and normally require legal representation due to their formal processes and rules of evidence. Although the rules of evidence are the same for both courts, they are not strictly enforced in small claims court. They are strictly enforced in District court cases. Small claims court has its own rules of procedure where District Court follows the Rules of Civil Procedure which are much more complex. There are basically no discovery procedures in small claims court whereas there are extensive discovery procedures in District Court.
- Monetary Limit: As mentioned above, small claims court has a monetary limit on the amount that can be claimed. That is not so for District Court.
- Time and Cost: Small claims court cases are generally resolved much, much more quickly than District court cases. Some small claims cases can go to trial before a defendant is even required to file an answer in District court. In addition, the filing fees for small claims court are less than District court cases.
- Significant other limitations: The Small Claims Procedure Act contains many additional limitations on cases filed in small claims court. There are limitations on who can file cases (for example collection agencies can’t file cases in small claims court) as well as limitations on who can be sued in small claims court (for example, you can’t file a small claims court case against a city or county if the claim alleges matters arising from incarceration, probation, parole, or community supervision).
Small claims court is somewhat like “the People’s Court” as seen on television. It is more informal, less costly, faster, and intended to resolve civil disputes involving $10,000.00 or less. District court cases cost more, take much longer, formal and can involve small amounts of money all the up to millions of dollars. Finally, any case that can be filed in small claims court, can be filed in District court, but only cases that qualify for small claims court can be filed there.
It is essential to check the specific laws pertaining to small claims cases to see if your case qualifies. The Small Claims Procedure Act is found at title 12, section 1751 et seq.