Small Claims Process
Understanding the Small Claim forms and process
It is the responsibility of the Plaintiff(s) and Defendant(s) to read & understand the information provided in the small claims form packet. The court clerk cannot advise the parties.
Consult the Small Claims Advisor for assistance in completing the Small Claims form or for questions regarding the Small Claims process.
Parties not comfortable with the English language can ask the clerk if the court has a court-approved interpreter available in their native language and how to request one. If a court-approved interpreter is not available, it is the parties' responsibility to provide their own interpreter and one for each witness called to testify at the court trial. Interpreters must be of adult age and not a party named in the claim.
The Court does not generally provide Interpreters
Monetary Claim Limits for Small Claims Court
The Small Claims court has a monetary claim limit for money damages. The maximum amount an individual including "natural persons" and sole proprietorships can claim is $10,000.00; however, there are some exceptions to this limit. Corporations, partnerships, public entities, and other businesses are limited to $5,000.00.
Consult the Small Claims Advisor for more information regarding claim limits.
The Limit on Number of Claims filed in a Calendar Year
All claims filed are limited to no more than two that exceed $2,500.00 filed anywhere in the State of California in one calendar year, unless filed by a public entity. There is no limit for the number of Claims filed for $2,500.00 or less in one calendar year; however see the local fee schedule for fees on more than 12 claims filed in one calendar year.
Review the Court's Fee Schedule for the most current fee information.
Parties may consult an attorney before or after the court trial, but an attorney may not represent a party in court, unless the matter is being heard on appeal (a Trial De Novo).
Who Must Appear in Court
An individual suing someone or being sued must personally appear in Small Claims Court. Generally, a party may not be represented by anyone else; however, there are some exceptions to the appearance requirement:
- If the Defendant is the owner of real property in California and lives out of state, the owner can be represented in court by one other person, provided they are not an attorney, or the owner can submit written declarations instead of appearing in person.
- A member of the armed forces, on active duty and assigned outside the state after his or her claim arose, need not appear if the active duty assignment is longer than six months.
Plaintiffs and Defendant business entities:
- In cases where a claim can be proved or disputed by evidence of a business record, and there is no other issue, the business may authorize an employee who is qualified to testify about the business record to appear on behalf of the business.
- If the business entity subject to a dispute is a sole proprietorship the, owner must appear in court. If a business entity is a partnership, one of the partners must appear in court.
- If the business is a corporation, the person appearing in court must be an active employee, officer, or director of that corporation. The representative cannot be employed, appointed or elected just for the purpose of representing the corporation in court.
Jurisdiction is the authority given by law to a court to try cases and rule on legal matters within a particular geographic area and/or over certain types of legal cases. Small Claims actions may involve claims regarding personal injury, property damage, contract disputes, landlord/tenant issues, and claims against governmental agencies.
Note that a Plaintiff with a claim against a governmental agency must first file that claim with the governmental agency (this is called an administrative claim) and that claim must be denied prior to filing a small claim action.
The Small Claims Court has no jurisdiction to make Child Support Orders, hear Workers' Compensation claims, Unlawful Detainer actions, or Labor Board disputes. Consult the Small Claims Advisor for more information regarding the limits on jurisdiction.
Statute of Limitations
The Statute of Limitations is the deadline for filing a lawsuit. The deadline for filing a California Small Claims action depends on the type of claim.
Consult the Small Claims Advisor for more information regarding statute of limitations.
- The defendant lives or does business (if the defendant is a business or organization); or
- The dispute arose, for example, where the contract was signed or where the accident occurred.
Consult the Small Claims Advisor for more information regarding venue or if there is a belief the party filing the claim has filed it in the wrong venue.
A party who disagrees with the court's decision/judgment on the other parties' claim, may appeal the decision/judgment. Parties may not appeal the decision/judgment on their own claim
If either party appeals, there will be a new trial on all the original claims.
Parties who appeared at the trial and want to appeal must begin the appeal process by filing a form called a Notice of Appeal and paying the required fees within 30 days of the date the Notice of Entry of Judgment was mailed by the court.
The court will set a new trial date and mail the Notice of Appeal. The Court will schedule the trial and send all parties the Notice of Trial De Novo with the date time and location of the new trial
For more information see the How to Appeal a Judgement topic on the Small Claims FAQ page.