Where a Small Claims Case Can Be Started

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Each county in California has a small claims court. The person or business starting the lawsuit needs to figure out which county's small claims court is the right court for their claim, then file their claim there. The rules which say where a case can be filed are called “rules of venue.” Opens new window

NOTE:  If a claim is filed in the wrong court, the court will dismiss the claim (unless all defendants personally appear at the hearing and agree that the claim may be heard then and there.)

Usually, the claim is filed in the court where the defendant lives or does business.

But there may be more than one “right” location, and so the person starting the claim may choose the court most convenient to him or her.  For example, the claim may be filed:

  • Where the damage or accident happened,
  • Where the contract was signed by the person, business or government agency being sued.
  • Where the person, business or government agency agreed to carry out the contract.
  • If the defendant is a corporation, where the contract was made, or
  • There are special rules for consumers:
  1. who bought personal, family or household goods or services, or borrowed money to pay for them;
  2. who are making (or who made) payments on goods, services or loans (like a credit card) to a store, credit card company, etc. (called “retail installment contracts”); or
  3. who bought a vehicle that needed to be financed.

Consumers may choose to file:

  1. Where they live now,
  2. Where they lived when the contract was made,
  3. Where they signed the contract, or
  4. Where the vehicle is permanently kept.

For more help in deciding where to file a case, you can contact the Small Claims Legal Advisor Opens new window in your county.

If the person or business you want to sue lives or does business outside of California, please go to two Frequently Asked Questions:

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