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How to take someone to small claims court in California

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In California, small claims court provides a straightforward and accessible avenue for resolving disputes involving relatively modest amounts of money. Whether you’re seeking repayment for a loan, compensation for damaged property, a contractual dispute, or reimbursement for services rendered, small claims court offers a cost-effective means of seeking justice. Small claims are a more affordable and efficient process for those who face moderate legal issues. The filing fee for a small claims case is between $30 – $100, and if you can’t afford these fees, you can ask the court for a fee waiver (Form FW-001-INFO).


Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to navigate the process

Understand the jurisdictional limit

In California, the maximum amount you can sue for in small claims court is $12,500 for individuals. For corporations, the limit is $6,250. Cases exceeding these limits must be filed in a higher court. However, starting November 1, 2021, you can sue or be sued for COVID-19 rental debt in small claims. If you are suing a tenant for COVID-19 rental debt, you can sue for more than $12,500.

Determine the defendant’s location

Before filing a claim, ensure that the person or entity you’re suing resides or does business in the county where you plan to file the case. This ensures that the court has jurisdiction over the matter. If you no longer live in California, you need to make sure the person or entity you are suing either 1) lives in California 2) does business in California or 3) the incident itself occurred in California.

Attempt to resolve the dispute amicably

Consider sending a demand letter to the defendant outlining your claim and requesting payment or a resolution. Sometimes, a simple letter can prompt the other party to settle the matter without the need for legal action. However, if you’ve sent several demand letters and received no response, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer to write a stronger Attorney Demand Letter or proceed directly to small claims court.

Gather evidence

Collect any relevant documentation, such as contracts, receipts, invoices, photographs, or correspondence, that support your claim. Evidence is crucial in proving your case in court. He said she said stories will frustrate the judge, and at the end of the day, if you are the plaintiff, you bear the burden of proof in court. You must prepare sufficient evidence to support your claim. Consider using form declarations (MC-030) for your witnesses who are willing to write a statement of facts that are favorable to your claim. Arrange photographs and written documents in chronological order. If necessary, you could also subpoena documents from Defendants or third parties by filing an SC-107 form.


How to take someone to small claims court in California


Complete the required forms

Obtain the necessary forms from the small claims court clerk’s office or website. In California, this typically includes the Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court (Form SC-100). Fill out the form accurately, providing details about your claim and the amount you seek.

File the claim

Submit the completed forms to the small claims court clerk’s office in the county where the defendant resides or where the incident occurred. Be prepared to pay a filing fee, which varies depending on the amount of your claim. For starters, you will need to complete SC-100, which is a form that lays out the issue at hand and what you are claiming for damages against the defendant. The court now allows for e-filing; this online service utilizes third-party vendors to serve the defendants notice that they are being sued.

Serve the defendant

Once the claim is filed, the defendant must be served with a copy of the plaintiff’s claim, along with a summons to appear in court. This can be done by mail, through a process server, or by other methods permitted by California law. If you are struggling to locate the defendant, feel free to hire a private investigator to locate their place of work and residence. If that is outside your budget, you may use other online skip-tracing tools to locate the whereabouts of your defendant.

Prepare for the hearing

Both parties will receive a notice informing them of the date, time, and location of the small claims court hearing. Organize your evidence, witnesses (if any), and any other relevant materials to present your case effectively.

Attend the hearing

On the scheduled hearing date, appear in court at the designated time. Be punctual and dress appropriately. Present your case to the judge, explaining the facts, presenting evidence, and stating the relief you seek.

Mediation or settlement conference (if applicable)

Some small claims courts in California offer mediation or settlement conferences as an alternative dispute resolution method. This involves a neutral third party facilitating negotiations between the parties to reach a settlement agreement. Most insurance claims and product defect claims, have their clients sign the terms of services which essentially mandates that all legal disputes go through arbitrations or mediations.

Receive the judgment

After hearing both sides of the case, the judge will render a decision either immediately or within a specified timeframe. If the judgment is in your favor, you’ll receive a court order outlining the terms of the judgment. However, please keep in mind that the court is only responsible for issuing a ruling and not monitoring the judgment collection. In other words, if you are awarded damages, it is incumbent on you as the winning party to enforce the judgment onto the defendant.

Enforce the judgment (if necessary)

If the defendant fails to comply with the court’s judgment, you may need to take further steps to enforce it. This could involve garnishing wages, placing liens on property, or other legal remedies available under California law.

By following these steps and being prepared, you can effectively navigate the process of taking someone to small claims court in California. Remember to conduct thorough research, gather evidence, and present your case confidently to increase your chances of a favorable outcome. Small claims court empowers individuals to seek justice and resolve disputes in a timely and efficient manner.