04 Aug 2020

Small Claims Court California

What is the maximum amount I can sue for in California?

The California small claims court limit is $7,500 for an individual and $5000 for a corporation. This means that the maximum you can sue for in Calfornia are these limits and if your dispute exceeds these amounts you cannot sue in small claims or will need to lower your claim or file in a higher court.

*Special Notes: A plaintiff may not file a claim over $2500 more than twice a year and the plaintiff must be an individual (limit local public entity or for businesses is $5000)

What is the California small claims court statute of limitations?

The California small claims court statute of limitations depends on each claim. If you have a written contract you have 4 years to make a claim. If your claim involves property damage you have 3 years, and if the claim is oral or dealing with personal injury the statute of limitations in California is 2 years.

Where do I file my small claims case?

You need to file your small claims complaint where the defendant resides or in contract disputes, in the locale where the contract was signed. The appropriate courthouse may NOT be where you live.

How do I know if I should sue in California small claims court?

The first thing you need to ask yourself is “do I have case?” Before you file a claim you should consider the following:

  1. Is the amount of the claim worth your time to pursue?
  2. Does the person you have a claim against having any possible claim against you?
  3. Does the person you have a claim against have the ability to pay if you win?
  4. Do you feel you have the ability to prosecute the claim without the help of an attorney?
  5. Can your evidence convince a judge that you are in the right? In other words, are you making it easy for them, is it a clear cut case? Can you find any state statute, law, or code violation to validate your case? If so, point this out!

What kind of cases can I sue for in California small claims court?

These types of cases are generally heard in Small Claims courts:

  • Unpaid debts
  • Breach of a verbal or written contract
  • Back rent
  • Return of security deposit
  • Broken or damaged property
  • A doctor or hospital bills
  • Other issues valued at $5000 or less (check your state below as this varies state to state)

Can I sue on behalf of someone else?

In most states an individual who represents a party to a small claims court action must complete and sign an “Authorization to Appear on Behalf of Party”- a form typically provided by the clerk of the small claims court or often found on their website. The representative must state that he/she is authorized to represent the party, and he/she must describe the basis for authorization (usually a letter from the represented party will suffice.)

What is the demand letter?

Before you file a small claims complaint with the court you are required to send a demand letter to the defendant. The defendant is the person you believe owes you money. A demand letter simply spells out that the defendant owes you money and you are requesting they pay the outstanding debt to you within 30 days. You can also fulfill the demand requirement by requesting via phone, email, or in person. By fulfilling this requirement in writing you are also able to show this request was made when compiling your evidence for court.

What do I do once I file a complaint?

Once you file a complaint you need to wait for the defendant to be served and for the paperwork to be filed with the courts. The time for you to get a court date can vary from court to court as it depends on how backed up they are. Typically this can be a 2-month process.

What happens if the defendant does not show?

can If the defendant does not show up the court can decide the case without them there. It is also possible for the other side to lose the case by default and a default judgment can be issued against them.

What happens if I win?

If you win you are entitled to the amount granted by the judge. The defendant does have 30 days to file an appeal. If there is no appeal, the losing party may voluntarily pay. It may become necessary to get the court to award judgment, garnish wages, or other necessary means.

What happens if I lose?

If you lose you may have to pay the other sides costs and expenses (not including lawyers fees.)

How long does it take to learn if I win or lose?

The decision by the judge or arbitrator can vary from court to court. In some instances, you may get your decision by the end of the hearing. Often you will get your decision sent to you by mail.

How do I present evidence in a small claims case?

Presenting evidence is very important in proving your case to the judge or arbitrator. You want to make your case as simple as possible and clear that you are in the right. Speaking as little as possible is generally preferred. Make sure you have you any documents, contracts, emails, pictures and any other necessary evidence to back up your case.

Is an attorney allowed in small claims court?

No attorney is not allowed in small claims court with you. The only was an attorney is allowed is if you are an attorney and you are representing yourself.

Simple things the Plaintiff needs to know!

  1. You are the Plaintiff, the person you are suing is the defendant!
  2. Keep copies of all your forms for court.
  3. Make sure you have all the dates of when the incident occurred. If you don’t have the date, give a period of time.
  4. How did you calculate what you believe is owed to you? Be specific!
  5. Make sure you send a demand letter first. Click here if you need help with this!
  6. You must file in the right jurisdiction! This is either where the defendant lives or does business, the plaintiff’s property was damaged or where you were injured, or where the contract (written or spoken) was made, signed, performed, or broken by the defendant or where the defendant lived or did business when the defendant made the contract.

Simple things the Defendant needs to know!

  1. You don’t need to file any papers for court unless the jurisdiction is incorrect. If you think the court is wrong you can send a letter to the court before the trial date asking the court to dismiss the claim.
  2. If you lose the case you can appeal it for a fee.
  3. You CAN settle the case before the trial. For information on settling your case click here.
  4. Try and win your case! Bring any information such as witnesses, receipts, and any evidence to prove your case.
  5. You can sue the person suing you but look closely at the filing deadlines!
  6. Be careful of defaulting! If you don’t settle and do not go to trial the judge may just award the plaintiff what they are requesting plus court costs. If this happens the plaintiff can legally take your money, wages, and property to pay the judgment!

Tips!

What if I need more time?

You can change the trial date if:

  1. You cannot go to court on the scheduled date (you will have to pay a fee to postpone the trial) or
  2. You did not get served at least 15 days before trial (or 20 days if you live outside the country) or
  3. You need more time to get an interpreter. One postponement is allowed, and you will not have to pay a fee to delay the trial.
01 Jul 2020

Filing Fees, Court Papers, and Court Dates

Filing Fees, Court Papers, and Court Dates

How Much Does It Cost?

Fees for filing a case in small claims court are very moderate—usually not much more than $75. In some states, people with very low incomes can ask to have court filing fees waived. Normally, a defendant doesn’t have to pay anything unless the defendant files a claim against the plaintiff (often called a counterclaim). There is usually an additional fee for serving papers on the opposing party, unless you are in a state that allows personal service to be carried out by a nonprofessional process server and you have a friend who will do it for you without charge. Most states allow service by certified or registered mail, which doesn’t cost much. In a few situations, you may have to hire a professional process server. How much this costs will depend partly on how hard it is to find the person you need to serve. You can get your filing fees and service costs added to the court judgment if you win.

Filing Your Lawsuit

Now let’s look at how you obtain and fill out the papers you need to start your lawsuit. To get started, check your state’s small claims court information website. You should be able to get the information and forms you need to begin your lawsuit online, including a formal demand letter. If you get the forms from your state’s website, you will also need to check whether the county or court where you plan to file has additional forms or requirements for filing a small claims court action (some do). You can also visit or call the small claims court where you plan to file your lawsuit.

To start your case, you will have to file a complaint or claim. This form is often called a plaintiff’s statement, general claim, or plaintiff’s claim. Most states have forms and free self-help information on their small claims court website. You can also get the forms from the court where you will be filing your lawsuit. If you do it this way, you will likely receive a package with all the forms you need and instructions for filling out the forms and filing your papers.

In most cases, you will need to provide the following information to

complete your complaint or claim:

• your full name, address, and telephone number

• the correct name and address of the person or persons you are suing (including whether this is an individual, partnership, sole proprietor, limited liability company, or corporation)

• the amount of your claim

• the reason the defendant owes you money, and

• whether you have any other claims against that person or other small claims cases.

Other information may be required as well. Follow the instructions on your forms and if you still have questions, ask your local small claims court clerk for help. In most states, small claims clerks are required to help people fill out these forms.

You will need to check the rules of the court where you are filing your case and follow those procedures for filing your papers and paying your filing fee. In most jurisdictions, you can file your papers in person or by mail. You’ll need to file the original signed document and required number of copies with the court. Some courts allow electronic filing (eFiling) for small claims cases, either by the plaintiff directly or through an approved online service provider; eFiling is becoming more widely used for small claims and is even required in some jurisdictions. Be sure to check and follow the rules for the court where you plan to file your case.

You will also need to pay the court a filing fee. If you can’t afford the fee, you may be able to have it waived. Check with your local court for rules on waiving this fee.

In most small claims courts, you don’t need to provide written evidence until you get to court. Some small claims courts, however—such as those in Washington, DC—require that certain types of evidence (such as copies of unpaid bills, contracts, or other documents on which the claim is based) be provided at the time you file your first papers.

Whether or not your state’s rules require written documentation of certain types of claims, it is wise to spend a little time thinking about how you will prove your case. You should read ahead and figure out exactly what proof you will need and how you will present it before you file your first court papers. Being right is one thing—proving it is another.

The Defendant’s Forms

In most states, a defendant doesn’t have to file any papers to defend a case in small claims court unless the defendant wants the case transferred to formal court. However, in a few states, a defendant must respond in writing. (See the appendix for your state’s rules.) In the majority of states, defendants simply show up for the hearing on the date and at the time indicated on the papers served on them, ready to tell their side of the story. (If you need to get the hearing delayed, see “Your Court Date,” below.) It is proper, and advisable, for a defendant to call or write the plaintiff and see whether a fair settlement can be reached without going to court, or to propose mediation.

Sometimes a party you planned to sue sues you first (for example, over a traffic accident where you each believe the other is at fault). As long as your grievance stems from the same incident, you can file a defendant’s claim (sometimes called a counterclaim) for up to the small claims court maximum and have it heard by a judge at the same time that the plaintiff’s claim against you is considered. However, if you believe that the plaintiff owes you money as the result of a different injury or breach of contract, you may have to file your own separate case.

In all states you must file any defendant’s claim (counterclaim) in writing within a certain time period after being served with the plaintiff’s claim (usually ten to 30 days). When you file a defendant’s claim, you become a plaintiff as far as this claim is concerned. In those states where only the defendant can appeal, this means that if you lose your defendant’s claim, you can’t appeal that part of the case. Of course, even in these states, if you lose on the original plaintiff’s claim, you can normally appeal that portion of the judgment. Appeal rules vary from state to state and can be complicated. 

In most states, if a defendant’s claim is for more than the small claims maximum, the case will be transferred to a formal court. Some states allow transfers only at the discretion of a judge, who may inquire whether the defendant’s claim is made in good faith. A defendant who does not want to cope with the procedures of formal court may be wise to scale down the claim to fit under the small claims limit. 

20 Nov 2018

Guide on how to file a Small Claim and win

Guide on how to file a Small Claim and win

If you are thinking of the low hassle way of taking up legal action of small sums between $5,000 and $10,000 against an individual or a firm, the small claims court is the way to go. This threshold varies by state. But you have to be careful and be confident you have a case before going to the small claims court. The essence of a small claims court is to make it easy for everyone and to avoid expensive and lengthy lawsuits. On the day of the hearing, all you have to do is go to the court with your evidence. This doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to a lawyer but some states demands that you come alone. The small claims court is a cost-effective and easy process.

If you are stuck with a builder who messed up your bathroom, or you bought something, and the shop refuses to make a refund, here’s a guide to help you on how to leverage the small claims court.

File a Complaint

You will have to file a complaint with your county. Speak to the clerk of your county’s court, many courts have documents where you fill out the information regarding your specific case – most times, a summons for the other party and a complaint which is you. Usually, you will have to pay for the filing of your case. The firm or individual being sued must receive a copy of the lawsuit in other to defend themselves.

Preparing your case

It doesn’t matter whether you are the plaintiff or defendant in a small claims court, it is important that you show up in court so that your side of the case can be heard. If you are absent, it is most likely that the judge will not rule in your favor. Ensure to come with supporting documents and witnesses on the case. This can determine the success or failure of the lawsuit

How to comport yourself and dress in court

When going to a court, you must recognize that how you dress and your behavior in general can affect your lawsuit. Be respectful. If you do not agree with the judge or the other party, do not interrupt them. Be audible when answering questions – don’t shake or nod your head. If you are getting angry or irritated at the way the process is going, pause for a moment and take a deep breath. Lastly, dress correctly – no shorts, t-shirt or sneakers.

Collecting your money after winning

Losing in a small claims court is not the end of the road, you can file an appeal if you are the defendant, but if you are the plaintiff, the case is simply over. But before you do this, you must have fresh evidence or new information that backups your appeal that the judge ruled the case in error. With this, you can find yourself winning the case. When you do, you need to collect the money from the other party who will definitely not want to pay you. You can ask for a lien or garnishment against the other party’s property. This, you have to do yourself, but the court can assist by giving you an order of authorization for this collection.

Brace Yourself

When someone takes you to court or vice versa, there are expectations of how you hope the process turns out. In a court case, there’s no such thing as a good case because anything can happen. The small claims court is not designed to punish people or prove points. It is basically about who owes what and to whom? Be realistic with your expectations and brace yourself for anything. It will help you manage your emotions during the process.

Small claims court is a good and cost-effective way of resolving other suits or small collections without necessarily needing an attorney. They are a great place to seek legal solutions to problems.

07 Aug 2018

Suing in California Small Claims Court

Suing in California Small Claims Court

What is Small Claims?

Small claims court is a useful and widely used legal tool by individuals, small companies and even corporations that need to resolve their disputes quickly and inexpensively, without the need to hire an attorney.

They are not very formal proceedings, both parties in litigation present their evidence and arguments directly to the judge. The judge then renders a verdict after hearing both sides of the case.

What Kinds of Cases Can I Bring in Small Claims Court?

Small claims courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, you can only bring some specific types of cases, for example:

  • Civil cases that don’t involve more than $10,000.
  • Contract disputes
  • Personal injury claims
  • Cases involving damages to your personal property

Keep in mind that small claim courts are not the right place to argue with your ex-spouse regarding child support, visitation, spousal support or probate cases.

Can I Hire a Lawyer?

Many states do not allow parties to be represented by lawyers in small claims court however you are allowed and we encourage you to talk with an attorney relating the type of case you are going to be bringing to court, that way you are well prepared to handle the case. Here at The Active Legal we can help you prepare, file and prepare your small claims case.

What Happens When I File My Lawsuit?

When you file your small claims lawsuit, the court will notify the opposing party by issuing a summons to appear in court. You will then have to attend court to prove your case. Many states, such as California, provide mediators to help the parties make one last effort at resolving their disputes before taking the case to the judge.

What Should I Bring to Court?

When your court date arrives, you should bring with you anything that will help prove your case or defend against the claims of the opposing party. This could include copies of contracts you signed with the opposing party, receipts for disputed purchases, or photos of injuries or damage caused by the opposing party. You should also bring with you any witnesses whom you wish to testify on your behalf. If a witness refuses to attend, you should speak to the court clerk about issuing a subpoena to require the witness to attend.

What if the Other Party Doesn’t Show?

If a party does not appear on the court date, the court most likely will enter a default judgment against the absent party. The party that did show can then have that judgment enforced in court. In rare cases, the court may postpone the case if the other party was absent due to an actual emergency, such as a medical emergency or a car accident, but the judge usually has total discretion over whether to do so.

Can I Appeal a Small Claims Judgment?

Most states have some way to appeal a small claim’s verdict, but the process and the parties’ rights to an appeal vary from state to state. Many states put strict time limits on filing appeals, and some states allow small claims cases to be appealed to different courts, such as the superior or district court for the jurisdiction. Litigants wishing to appeal a small claims case should consult their state’s laws to determine what rights they have to an appeal if any.

Statutes of Limitation

In many states, the time limit on filing, otherwise known as the statute of limitations, will depend on the type of claim. In California, for example, you have 4 years to make a claim on a written contract, and 3 years to file for property damage. The statute of limitations on oral contracts and personal injury is a little shorter, you only have time within 2 years.