How to Sue in California Small Claims

How to Sue in California Small Claims

Camila Lopez
Camila Lopez
 | 
Small claims courts were created so you could resolve your dispute quickly, affordably, and conveniently. In California, the small claims limit is $10,000 if you are suing as an individual or sole proprietor and $5,000 if you are suing as a corporation or LLC. In this article, we will cover the basics of how to sue in a California small claims court.
 
Prepare Your Lawsuit
 
The first step to suing someone in small claims is to prepare your small claims lawsuit. In California, the courts have created forms to assist you. The “Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court” (Form SC-100) is the main lawsuit form. This form will ask you how much you are suing for, why you are suing for that amount, and how did you calculate the amount you are suing for. You don’t have to be extremely detailed with your responses as you will have an opportunity to elaborate on your responses during the small claims hearing. You do want to write enough so that the judge has an understanding of your lawsuit before the hearing date.
 
If you are a corporation, LLC, or partnership you will also want to prepare an Authorization to Appear form (Form SC-109). This form notifies the court who will represent the legal entity at the small claims hearing.
 
If you are doing business using a name other than your legal name (also known as a dba, trade name, or fictitious business name), you will also want to make sure your dba is registered in the county where your business is based out of and prepare the Fictitious Business Name form (Form SC-103).
 
Here are common mistakes people make when filing their small claims lawsuit:
?     Not paying the sufficient fee to file the lawsuit.
?     Making the check out to the wrong court.
?     Not filing the lawsuit in the correct court.
?     Not signing or dating all the required forms.
?     Not including sufficient copies of the required forms.
 
File Your Lawsuit
Each California county has a different procedure for filing your small claims lawsuit so make sure you contact the court to learn what options you have. Most courts have the following options to file your small claims lawsuit: in person, by mail, by fax, or electronically.
 
Serve your lawsuit & file the proof of service
 
After you file your lawsuit, you have to serve the lawsuit you filed. “Serving” means to notify the person or business you have sued about the lawsuit. Only a neutral 3rd party can serve your small claims lawsuit. In general, you should serve your lawsuit at least 30 days before your hearing date to comply with any deadlines. After your lawsuit is filed, have the server complete the Proof of Service form (Form SC-104) and file it with the court.
 
Prepare for your hearing date
 
It is very important you are prepared for your small claims hearing as you will only have one opportunity to tell the judge why you should win. As the person suing, the plaintiff, you don’t have the right to appeal in small claims. You want to make sure you have printed and organized all the relevant evidence in your lawsuit such as contracts, pictures, conversations, etc.
 
Many small claims hearings are now taking place virtually. If you have not received a notice from the court, make sure to call the court and ask if your hearing will be at the courthouse or over Zoom. If your small claims hearing is taking place virtually, you may be required to send your evidence in advance to the court or the person you sued.
 
Seek Legal Advice
 
While attorneys are not allowed to represent you at the initial small claims hearing, you can consult with an attorney before your small claims hearing. An attorney would be able to review the evidence you have and let you know of any weaknesses in your legal arguments. If you need assistance researching the law surrounding your lawsuit, an attorney would be able to do that research for you.
 

This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.
 
Camila Lopez is the co-founder and CEO of People Clerk, a public benefit corporation helping people with small claims lawsuits.
www.peopleclerk.com 
Camila Lopez

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