The 'Lost Law': You Can Appeal Small Claims For $100

A few years ago I found an obscure Washington law that, at least on paper, says you can appeal a Small Claims ruling by posting a bond of $100. I just uploaded a new page about this ‘lost law’ here. But the courts never actually use this rule. Instead, they follow a different Washington law that says you have to post a bond for twice the amount you sued for.

Now, from one point of view, there could hardly be anything more dry than a conflict between two rules about the size of the bond you have to post for an appeal.

But actually I think this goes to the heart of the problem with the small claims courts’ handling of cases where members of the public have to appear and make a legal argument (i.e. anti-spam and anti-telemarketing cases). When judges disagree with each other, they never tire of saying (to you, the plaintiff – not to each other!) that you should “go look in the law library” or “do legal research.” But in truth there are some rules on the books that are not actually followed, and (far more often) many rules that are followed that are not written anywhere. I’m not just talking about matters of opinion such as whether a subject line is “misleading”; I’m talking about fundamental rules of procedure, like the size of the bond required to appeal. (Then again, at least this rule is ignored consistently! It’s worse when you have the “unwritten rules” which are not even consistent between different judges, such as whether you can sue an out-of-state defendant in small claims, or whether you can sue in small claims if you haven’t actually lost money, or whether you can sue the same party more than once.)

In fact, if you look at the law quoted here, it’s clear that it was probably by accident that they granted the right to appeal from Small Claims by posting a $100 bond; they probably meant for the law to say something slightly different. But nevertheless, what the law says on paper is that you can do it.

I showed this to a Washington lawyer who replied curtly, “I see your position, agree, and know that it’s not the first time the rules contradict themselves, or are otherwise nonsensical.”

[Bennett Haselton]

[tags]lost law, small claims, peacefire.org, Bennet Haselton[/tags]

Article Written by

  • http://www.chrisbrunner.com/ Chris Brunner

    If laws didn’t contradict eachother, judges would have to actually issue rulings based on the law instead of their opinions, instead of just pretending they’re issuing rulings based on the law. Surely you can appreciate how horrible that would be for all of us.