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Small Claims [image]

In Small Claims court, disputes are settled in a fair, quick and inexpensive manner. You may ask a lawyer for advice before you go to court; however, you may not have a lawyer represent you in court. The rules are fairly simple and the hearing is informal.

  • The party filing the claim is the plaintiff.
  • The person being sued is the defendant.

If you are the defendant and are filing a Claim of Defendant, you will remain the defendant and the plaintiff will remain the plaintiff.

If you choose Small Claims court to resolve a dispute and you are the plaintiff, you give up the right to have another court review the Small Claims judge's decision. In other words, the plaintiff has no right of appeal. So if you should lose, that's probably the end of the case. However, the person or entity you sue (defendant) may appeal the judge's ruling. When such an appeal is filed, the entire case will be heard again.

If you are the plaintiff and a Claim of Defendant is filed (the defendant sues you on the same case) and you have a judgment against you, you may file an appeal on that decision.

Small Claims Advisor

The Self-Help Center has all of the small claim forms and is able to assist you with filling out the forms.

Filing Your Claim

Go to the court closest to you and obtain a small claims packet for filing your case.

Monetary Limits

The Small Claims court has a monetary limit, called a jurisdictional limit, on the amount of money damages that a person can claim. The most you can ask for is $5,000; however, you are limited to filing no more than two claims anywhere in the State of California for over $2,500 in one calendar year. You may file an unlimited amount of claims for $2,500 or less.

Role of the Court Clerk

The Small Claims court clerks can answer many kinds of questions and provide the forms you need; however, they are prohibited by law to give legal advice. The Small Claims Advisory Clinic provides legal advice free of charge to both the plaintiff and the defendant. See the other helpful web sites listed below for information on filing a claim

Web Site to Help You File a Claim

The California Courts’ web site [http://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-smallclaims.htm] has a section full of information needed to go through the process of a small claims suit, including an overview, forms, rules, tips, and much more.

What to Expect in Court

  • Come to court organized and prepared.
  • Arrive promptly at your assigned court time; if you arrive late, your case may be heard without you.
  • Bring enough photocopies of all your evidence for each party and the judge.
  • Any copies submitted to the judge the day of trial may not be returned to you.
  • Bring all your witnesses.
  • If both parties are present, meaning both the plaintiff and the defendant, you will be asked to go into the hallway to exchange and review any documents that will be submitted to the judge as evidence. This must be done prior to the case being heard.
  • Have all your documents ready and in chronological order when your case is called.
  • There will be several other cases assigned to the same time as yours so you may have to wait to have your case heard.
  • You may be asked to sign a stipulation allowing a pro-tem judge (temporary judge) to hear your case. If you do not wish to have a temporary judge hear your case, your case may be continued to a date when there is a commissioner or judge of the Superior Court to hear your case.
  • You may decline a temporary judge when you file your claim and avoid a continuance to another date.
  • When your case is called, you will stand at a podium in front of the superior court judge or a pro-tem judge. You will be asked to present your evidence and give your testimony. Always address the judge and not the other party.
  • Usually, the plaintiff will give his/her testimony first and then the defendant.
  • The judge will probably ask questions to further his/her understanding of the case.
  • If you are the only party to appear at the trial and you are the plaintiff, you still must prove your case. Do not expect to "automatically" win your case if the other party does not appear.
  • The proceedings will not be recorded by a court reporter or by any other type of recording.
  • If you are not fluent in the English language, you must bring an interpreter with you. Small Claims courts do not provide interpreters.
  • The judge will usually not tell you the decision in court. The decision (judgment) will be mailed to you.

If You Are The Defendant

If you have been named as a defendant in a Small Claims action and have received an order to appear at a Small Claims hearing, this means that you are being sued. If you don't know why you are being sued, contact the plaintiff immediately for an explanation.

Never ignore an order to appear in court even if you think the case is wrong, unfair, or has no basis. If you do not appear in court at the proper time and date, the court may still hear and decide the case without you and you may lose the suit by default.

If you believe the plaintiff has caused you injury or owes you money for any reason, you can file a claim against the plaintiff in the same Small Claims court action. If your case is related to the subject of the plaintiff's case, it may be helpful and convenient to resolve it at the same hearing by filing a Defendant's Claim and Order to Plaintiff.

If judgment has been entered against you and the appeal time has lapsed, your money or property and maybe a portion of your earnings can then be taken legally by the judgment creditor to pay the judgment against you. A Small Claims judgment is public record. Small Claims court does not report to any credit reporting agency; however, these agencies come to the court often and place the judgment on the losing party's credit record even after the judgment is paid.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How much can I sue for in Small Claims court?

Q: May I sue for the recovery of property?

  • A: Small claims are for the recovery of money only.

Q: How do I file a claim?

  • A: You may either come directly to the clerk’s office to fill out the appropriate paperwork or have the paperwork mailed to you by sending in your request along with a self-addressed stamped envelope.

Q: How old do I have to be to file a claim:

  • A: You must be at least 18 years of age to file a claim. If you are not yet 18, you may ask the court to appoint a guardian.

Q: How much does it cost to file a claim?

Q: Do my forms have to be typed?

  • A: No.The court will accept legible hand written forms.

Q: May I fax my small claims documents?

  • A: Current legislation does not allow for fax filings in small claims.

Q: Is this the proper court to hear my case?

  • A: The plaintiff must file their claim in the proper court and geographical location. This rule is called venue. Below are possible reasons for filing a claim in this court:


    A defendant lives in this judicial district or a defendant corporation or unincorporated association has its principal place of business in this judicial district.


    A person was injured or personal property was damaged in this judicial district.


    A defendant signed or entered into a contract in this judicial district, a defendant lived in this judicial district when the contract was entered into, a contract or obligation was to be performed in this judicial district, or, if the defendant was a corporation, the contract was breached in this judicial district.

Q: How do I go about serving the defendant(s) with their notice of the claim?

  • A: The defendant must be served with a copy of the claim 10 days prior to the hearing date if they live in the county and 15 days prior if they live outside the county. The types of service are:
  • Certified Mail - Service by certified mail must be done by the clerk's office. There is a fee per defendant being served. You will need to check with the court prior to the hearing to see if the receipt for certified mail was returned to the court.
  • Service by law officer - You may have the Sheriff serve the defendant for a fee
  • Personal service or process server - Anyone over 18 years of age, not a party to the case, may serve the defendant. The person serving must complete and sign a proof of service form showing when the defendant was served. This form must be filed with the court 5 days prior to the hearing date.
  • Click Here For A Printable Civil Filing and Appearance Fees List

Q: May I be represented by an attorney at the trial?

  • A: No, neither side may be represent by an attorney at trial. However, attorneys may represent either side if an appeal is filed or in connection with the enforcement of a judgment.

Q: May I get a continuance on my court date?

  • A: In order to request a continuance you must write a letter to the court indicating why the continuance is being requested and include a processing fee. You are also required to mail a copy of the letter to the other parties on the case. If the request is received by the court within 5 days of the court date the request will be attached to the court case to be considered by the judge at the time of trial. If the request is received more than 5 days prior to the court date you will be notified of the judge's decision by mail.
  • Click Here For A Printable Civil Filing and Appearance Fees List

Q: Has the certified mail been returned as served on my case?

  • A: Each case is handled on an individual basis. You will need to contact the clerk's office within 5 days prior to the court date to verify whether or not the defendant(s) was served in your case

Q: My case has settled but there is still a court date scheduled, what do I do?

  • A: The plaintiff must file a request for dismissal with the court. If the claim was satisfied with payment by check, the plaintiff may want to wait until the check has cleared the bank before filing the dismissal.

Q: My case was taken under submission. Has a ruling been entered?

  • A: The judge has up to 90 days to make a ruling on a case that has been taken under submission. Notice of the ruling will be mailed to you when a decision has been made.

Q: I won my case, how do I collect the judgment?

  • A: You must pursue the collection of the judgment. The court offers forms that you may fill out for enforcement of a judgment. If you do not have information regarding the judgment debtor’s income or property, you may make the debtor come to court to answer questions. This is done by filing an Order of Examination. There is a filing fee. Once you have the financial information needed, you may file a "Writ of Execution". There is a fee for issuance of a Writ of Execution. A Writ of Execution is a court paper, which tells a law officer to take property of the judgment debtor to pay your claim. The kinds of property an officer may be able to take: wages, bank accounts, automobiles, and business property or rental income. The Sheriff will charge a fee to execute the writ. If the debtor owns property you may want to record an abstract to place a lien so that you will be able to be paid if the property is purchased, sold or financed. There is a issuance fee. The abstract is recorded with the County Recorder in the county where the property is located. The Recorder will charge a fee to have the abstract recorded.
  • Click Here For A Printable Civil Filing and Appearance Fees List

Q: I won my small claims case and the judgment debtor has paid me in full. Is there anyone I should notify?

  • A: After full payment of the judgment is made, the judgment creditor must immediately file with the court an acknowledgment of satisfaction of the judgment. The judgment creditor may be liable for damages if satisfaction of judgment is not filed with the court in a timely manner.

Q: I failed to appear at my small claims trial and now there is a judgment against me. Is there anything I can do?

  • A: You may ask the court to vacate the judgment. To make this request you must file a motion to vacate the judgment within 30 days after the date the Notice of Entry of Judgment was mailed to you. If your request is denied, you then have 10 days from the date the notice of denial was mailed to file an appeal.