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The law governing Oregon circuit court mandatory arbitration programs (as described below) can be found in ORS 36.400 to 36.425, UTCR Chapter 13 and the supplementary local rules of the circuit court where the case is filed.

In Oregon, circuit courts have mandatory arbitration programs for two types of cases:

  • civil cases where the only relief claimed is for the recovery of money or damages of less than $50,000 (not including attorney fees, costs and disbursements and interest on judgment); and
  • domestic relations suits in which the only contested issue is the division or disposition of property between the parties.
  • Note: small claims cases are not eligible for arbitration unless the case has been transferred to circuit court and fits within one of the categories above.

Arbitration is conducted by a lawyer who has been approved by the court to conduct arbitration. The arbitrator must be an active member and in good standing with the Oregon State Bar, who has been admitted to any Bar for at least five years, or who is a retired or senior judge. It is a less formal proceeding than a court trial, and is often conducted in a lawyer's office or conference room. Even though the proceeding may not be held at the courthouse, it is still considered a public proceeding. The arbitrator listens to the evidence presented by both sides, applies the relevant law to the facts, and issues an "arbitration award" or a decision about whether the claim has been established and whether any money, damages or property is awarded. The process is generally quicker than going to court and having a trial in front of a judge or jury.

A case may be removed from arbitration if:

  • A judge finds that good cause exists to exempt or remove the case from arbitration.
  • The parties agree to participate in the circuit court's civil mediation program (if one is established).

The parties pay the arbitrator's fee. The arbitrator's fee is set by local rule or order. Information about this is available from your local court.

For a party who has difficulty paying the fee, they may request a waiver or deferral of the fee from the court. Court forms are available to make this request on the Fee Deferral and Waiver page​.

A party may appeal the arbitrator's award to the circuit court within 20 days of when the award was filed with the clerk of the court under ORS 36.425(1) and ORS 36.425(2). The case will be referred to the court for a new ("de novo") trial. The arbitration award is sealed until the end of the trial, and then attorney fees, costs and disbursements are awarded according to whether the party who appealed did better at trial than arbitration.

If a party doesn't appeal the arbitration award, a judgment based on the arbitrator's decision is entered and can not be appealed further.