How a Small Claims Case Works

en español>

Show Me | Tell Me Opens new window

In California, using a small claims court to resolve disputes about money involves several steps. This section is designed to help the people or businesses involved to pay attention to the process and do what is required of them by law.

Overview of how small claims cases usually work: 

  1. The person, business or government agency that wants to sue another person, business or government agency in small claims court (the plaintiff) fills out the Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court (Form SC-100). (Other forms may be needed as well.) 
  2. The plaintiff files the required forms with the court and pays the court filing fees. (An individual may have their fees excused based on income – forms are needed for this.) 
  3. The plaintiff asks a person who is 18 or over and not part of the court case to deliver (serve) Opens new window a copy of the filed court forms to the defendant. This may be done in several ways. 
  4. The person who served the court forms completes a form that says he or she served the forms to the defendant in the proper way and on time. He or she gives the completed form to the plaintiff. 
  5. The plaintiff files the “proof of service” Opens new window form with the court. 
  6. The defendant reviews the forms served and prepares for the hearing. The defendant DOES NOT have to file any forms with the court.

    HOWEVER, if the defendant also has a claim against the person who filed the lawsuit (the plaintiff), he or she may file this claim in the same lawsuit.  This helps to resolve all of the disagreements between the parties at the same time in front of the same judge.
  7. Normally, a hearing will be held and a judge will listen to both sides of the story and receive the evidence presented by both sides.
  8. The court's decision is usually mailed to both sides after the trial. The decision will be on a form called the Notice of Entry Judgment (Form SC-130).

For special information on what the plaintiff and defendant must do at the start of a court case:

Did this information help you?  Tell us what you think.