Small claims court California 2023-05-09
Understanding Small Claims Court in California: What You Need to Know Before Filing

Small claims court is the court that handles civil disputes between private parties. Generally, small claims cases involve disputes of no more than $5,000 (for corporations, governmental bodies, etc) or $10,000 (for private individuals). Before you go to small claims court in California, you may need to make sure you understand the details of the California small claims court process, including what cases can be heard there and how to ensure that you can maximize whatever benefits you recover. 

The Jurisdiction of Small Claims Court

Small claims courts in California have limited jurisdiction, which means that they can only hear specific types of claims. This means they may hear a variety of cases, including bad debts or any case involving monetary repayment. 

Can you sue for emotional distress in small claims court in California?

In some situations, you may have the right to file a claim for emotional distress in small claims court. You may also have the right to include compensation for emotional distress as part of a greater claim. 

The difference between small claims court and other courts

Small claims courts have several key differences from other courts in California:

  • It has a lower jurisdictional limit. For higher-value claims, you will need to step out of small claims court. 
  • Generally, attorneys do not go to small claims court with you.
  • Small claims courts do not have an appeals process.

Civil claims, on the other hand, may have both attorneys and appeals, and they may allow for higher-value claims. You may need to consult with an attorney to get a better idea of the best place to file your claim and how to manage it as effectively as possible.

How Do I Prepare for Small Claims Court in California?

There are a number of essential details that go into preparing for small claims court in California. 

1. Gather evidence to support your case.

Before you can file a claim, you will need to put together the evidence necessary to establish that someone else owes you money or restitution due to their past actions. 

2. Identify the proper defendant to name in your case.

Make sure you know who you need to sue and why. 

3. Understand the statute of limitations for your case.

The statute of limitations on small claims cases in California will depend on what type of claim you intend to file. In the case of oral contract or personal injury, you may have up to two years from the date of the incident. In the case of property damage or fraud, you may have up to three years.

How much does it cost to go to small claims court in California?

The fee for filing a small claims case depends on how much you intend to ask for. 

  • $30 for a claim of $1,500 or less
  • $50 for a claim between $1,500 and $5,000
  • $75 for a claim of more than $5,000

California may also increase the fees if a plaintiff has filed more than 12 small claims cases within the last year.

How long does it take to file a small claims suit in California?

Generally, you will have a court date within 1-2 months of filling out small claims paperwork.

What Forms Do I Need to File a Small Claims Case in California?

You will need:

  • Form SC-100, the Plaintiff’s Claim and ORDER to Go to Small Claims Court
  • Any local forms related to the claim. Make sure you check with your local jurisdiction or let SueYa do the research for you so that you do not miss any vital forms!

Make sure to fill out all forms completely, including any information relevant to the claim. 

Going to Small Claims Court in California

Ready to go to small claims court in California?

Preparing for the Court Date

Fill out all the forms, pay the fee to the clerk, and file your forms. Next, serve the forms. You may need to ensure that forms are provided to the defendant so they are aware of the upcoming court date and can respond appropriately. Get a Proof of Service Form and have it filled out so you can clearly establish that you have done your part. Then:

  • Gather any needed evidence.
  • Ask for court services, like an interpreter or disability accommodations, if needed.
  • Plan how you will present your case.
  • Arrange for childcare and time off work, if needed.

What to Expect During the Hearing

Your case will be called, and you will proceed to the front of the courtroom. Bring all of your paperwork with you. Then, tell the judge your side of the dispute. Take just a few minutes to explain the details of your case. The other side will have the chance to present their side, and the judge will ask questions. The judge will then make a decision. 

How to Present Your Case Effectively

To present your case effectively, make sure that you:

  • Share all the pertinent details.
  • Speak quickly. You may only have 10-15 minutes to make your case. 
  • Show respect to the judge and to the other party while in the courtroom. 

After the Hearing

After the hearing, make sure you understand the judgment and what it means. Ask questions if you need the judge to clarify anything. If you have concerns about enforcement, get in touch with SueYa to get more help with your case. At SueYa, we can make your small claims court case easier and help it proceed more smoothly. Contact us to learn more about the support and services we can provide.