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California Small Claims Court - General Information

What Is Small Claims Court. Small claims court is a special court where disputes are resolved quickly and inexpensively. The rules are simple and informal. The person who sues is called the plaintiff. The person who is sued is called the defendant.

Any mentally competent person can sue in small claims court who is:

If you are not mentally competent or under 18 years old (and not emancipated), a judge must appoint an adult called a guardian ad litem litem to represent you in small claims court.

How much money can I ask for? You cannot ask for more than $5,000 in a claim. You can file as many claims as you want for up to $2,500 each. But you can only file 2 claims a year that ask for more than $2,500.

You can only sue a guarantor for up to $4,000 ($2,500 if they don't charge for the guarantee). A "guarantor" is a person who promises to be responsible for what another person owes.

When is it too late to file a claim? It's not easy to figure out if it's too late to file. If you're not sure, file your case and let the judge decide. Here are some tips:

  • If you are suing because you got hurt, you can file a claim for up to two years after you were hurt.
  • If you are suing because a spoken agreement was broken, you have 2 years to file after the agreement was broken.
  • If you are suing because a written agreement was broken, you have 4 years to file after the agreement was broken.
  • If you are suing because your property was damaged, you have 3 years to file after your property was damaged.
  • If you are suing because of fraud, you have 3 years to file after you find out about the fraud. Fraud is when you lose money because someone lied to you or tricked you on purpose.
  • If you are suing a government or public agency, you have 6 months to file a claim with that agency. They have 45 days in which to make a decision. If no decision is made with 45 days then it is deemed denied. If they reject your claim, you have 6 months to file a claim with a small claims court. Click here to learn more about suing a government agency.

Filing Fees. The filing fee is $22 for the first 12 claims you file in a year. After that, it is $66. These fees are the same for every county in the state.

No Lawyers Allowed In Court. A llawyer can't represent you in court. But you can talk to a lawyer before or after court.

Will I Personally Have To Go To Court. If you're suing someone, you must go to court. You can't send anyone else (even a lawyer) to represent you in court.

But there are some exceptions. For example: You may not have to go to court if: (1) you are serving on active duty in the armed forces, (2) you were assigned to your duty station after your claim arose, and (3) your assignment is for more than six months.

For more information about exceptions, read Civil Procedure Code section 116.540. Also, check out: Authorization to Appear on Behalf of Party (Small Claims) (form SC-109)

Who goes to court when a business is sued? If you are the only owner of a business, you must go to court unless the claim can be proved by evidence of a business account in which case a regular employee with knowledge of that account may represent you. If you have a partner, one of you must go. If the business is a corporation, an employee, officer, or director must go to court. That person can't be hired just to represent the corporation.

How long do I have to wait to go to court? If you and the person you are suing live in the same county, you will go to court no more than 40 days after you file your claim. If the defendant does not live in the county, in which the lawsuit was filed, you may have to wait up to 70 days after you file.

What Happens At The Court Hearing? The judge will listen to both sides of the story. To help tell your side, bring evidence like:

  • Witnesses
  • Photos
  • Bills
  • Receipts
  • Contracts
  • Other relevant documents that support your side

The judge may make a decision at your hearing, or mail it to you later. Instead of a judge, you may have a commissioner or temporary judge at your hearing. They are both just like judges. A temporary judge (called a "judge pro tem" or "judge pro tempore") is a lawyer who hears and decides cases. If you don't want a temporary judge, you can ask the court to have a judge hear your case. You may have to come back another day.

Getting Ready For Court:

What will happen when I get to court? When the judge calls your name, go to the front of the room. The judge may ask you to try to settle your case before the hearing takes place. The plaintiff will present their case first.

How long will my hearing last? Small claims cases vary but usually only last 10 to15 minutes. So be prepared to tell your story.

How can I get ready for court? Plan what you are going to say. Decide what your main points are and bring proof. Try to think of what the other person might say and how you will answer. You can also talk to a small claims legal advisor or a lawyer before court.

How do I tell my story? Be quick and to the point, and stay calm. It is your job to PROVE your case. Here are some tips:

  • The first thing you need to say is why you are there.
  • Tell the judge how you were affected by what the other person did, and why it is their fault.
  • Also explain why it is not your fault.
  • Say what happened, in the order it happened.
  • Group facts together. For example: "From April to August, I took the car in 10 times and he didn't fix the brakes."

What kind of proof should I bring? Bring any papers that support your story. This is called "evidence." Evidence can be:

  • Contracts
  • Estimates (bring at least 2)
  • Bills
  • Photographs
  • Diagrams that show how an accident happened
  • Police reports

If you need papers that someone else has, you can fill out a subpoena form (form SC-107) and request these documents.

Witnesses: Bring witnesses who saw what happened or who are experts on that subject. For example, a neighbor who saw the accident or a mechanic who looked at your car.

Don't bring people unless you know they will support you. Witnesses who are not friends or relatives may be more effective in proving your case. But sometimes the only witnesses are your friends and relatives. They should testify and present themselves in a professional manner and be objective and not emotional.

Things For The Plaintiff To Do After The Hearing . If the other person owes you money, try to get them to pay you. Once they've paid, file a form called Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment (form EJ-100).

If you owe money, pay the court or the other person. If you don't pay, you must mail a form (Judgment Debtor's Statement of Assets (form SC-133)) to the plaintiff within 30 days. After you pay, make sure the other person files a form called Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment (form EJ-100). If the plaintiff doesn't file this form, you may ask the court clerk to enter a "satisfaction of judgment" if you can prove you paid the full amount of the judgment with the interest and costs.

If, after you request in writing that the plaintiff file the Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment (form EJ-100), and he fails/refuses to comply within 14 days, you may sue the plaintiff for $50 plus any actual damages incurred (Code of Civil Procedure, section 116.850).

As the plaintiff, you can't appeal the judge's decision on your claim. Only the person or business you sued can appeal the decision.

You can appeal if the other person or business sued you (called "countersuing") and you lost. Click here to learn how to appeal.
Click here to get more information from the Department of Consumer Affairs' Web site.

Things For The Defendant To Do After The Hearing. If you didn't go to the hearing for a good reason, you can ask the court to cancel your judgment (called a "default judgment") and get a new hearing. You'll need to file a form called Notice of Motion to Vacate Judgment and Declaration (Small Claims) (form SC-135).

Click here to learn more about canceling your default judgment and getting a new hearing.

If you went to the hearing and lost, you may ask for a new hearing. You'll need to file a Notice of Appeal (Small Claims) (form SC-140).

Click here to learn more about appealing your judgment.

If you owe money, pay the court or the other person. If you don't pay, you must mail a form called Judgment Debtor's Statement of Assets (Small Claims) (form SC-133) to the plaintiff within 30 days. After you pay, make sure the other person files a form called Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment (form EJ-100).If the plaintiff doesn't file this form, you may ask the court clerk to enter a "satisfaction of judgment" if you can prove you paid the full amount of the judgment with the interest and costs.

If, after you request in writing that the plaintiff file the Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment (form EJ-100), and he fails/refuses to comply within 14 days, you may sue the plaintiff for $50 plus any actual damages incurred (Code of Civil Procedure, section 116.850).

If the other person owes you money, try to get them to pay you. Once they've paid, file a form called Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment (form EJ-100).

Can I appeal the judge's decision? You can't appeal if you were the one who filed the claim. If someone else files a claim against you and you lose, you can appeal.

How do I file an appeal? If you were at the hearing, you must file a form called "Notice of Appeal." You have 30 days to do this after the date the clerk mails the Notice of Entry of Judgment. The current cost to file a Notice of Appeal is $93.

What happens if someone else appeals? You'll have a new hearing. You'll have to bring your evidence and tell your side of the story again. This time, you can bring a lawyer to represent you.

Forms For Use In Small Claims Court:
Description Form
Abstract of Judgment (Civil) EJ-001
Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment EJ-100
Application and Order for Appearance and Examination (Attachment-Enforcement of Judgment) AT-138, EJ-125
Application and Order for Appointment of Guardian Ad Litem-Civil 982(a)(27)
Application and Order to Produce Statement of Assets and to Appear for Examination (Small Claims) SC-134
Application for and Renewal of Judgment EJ-190
Application for Earnings Withholding Order (Wage Garnishment) 982.5(1)
Attorney-Client Fee Dispute --(Attachment to Plaintiff's Claim) (Small Claims) SC-101
Attorney-Client Fee Dispute (Attachment to Notice of Entry of Judgment) SC-132
Authorization to Appear on Behalf of Party (Small Claims) SC-109
Claim of Exemption (Wage Garnishment) 982.5(5)
Claim of Exemption (Enforcement of Judgment) EJ-160
Declaration

Attached Declaration

These two forms are printed on opposite sides of the same sheet of paper.

 

MC-030

MC-031

 

 

Defendant's Claim and Order to Plaintiff (Small Claims) SC-120
Fictitious Business Name Declaration (Small Claims) SC-103
Financial Statement (Wage Garnishment - Enforcement of Judgment) 982.5(5.5)
Information for the Plaintiff (Small Claims) SC-150
Information Sheet on Waiver of Court Fees and Costs (In Forma Pauperis) 982(a)(17)(A)
Judgment Debtor's Statement of Assets (Small Claims) SC-133
Memorandum of Costs After Judgment, Acknowledgment of Credit, and Declaration of Accrued Interest MC-012
Notice of Appeal (Small Claims) SC-140
Notice of Entry of Dismissal and Proof of Service 982(a)(5.1)
Notice of Entry of Judgment (Small Claims) SC-130
Notice of Hearing on Claim of Exemption (Enforcement of Judgment) 982.5(8)
Notice of Motion and Declaration (Small Claims) SC-105
Notice of Motion to Vacate Judgment and Declaration (Small Claims) SC-135
Notice of Opposition to Claim of Exemption (Enforcement of Judgment) EJ-170
Notice of Opposition to Claim of Exemption (Wage Garnishment) 982.5(7)
Notice of Renewal of Judgment EJ-195
Notice to Consumer or Employee and Objection (Code Civ. Proc., §§ 1985.3, 1985.6) 982(a)(15.5)
Order on Application for Waiver of Court Fees and Costs (In Forma Pauperis) 982(a)(18)
Proof of Service-Small Claims SC-104
Request for Dismissal 982(a)(5)
Request to Correct or Vacate Judgment (Small Claims) SC-108
Request to Pay Judgment in Installments (Small Claims) SC-106
Request to Pay Judgment to Court (Small Claims) SC-145
Small Claims Subpoena for Personal Appearance and Production of Documents at Trial or Hearing and Declaration SC-107
Writ of Execution EJ-130
Application for Waiver of Court Fees and Costs 982(a)(17)
 
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