Before Suing a Government Agency

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Before you can file a claim in court against a government agency, you have to follow that agency’s claim procedures. (This is called 'exhausting administrative remedies.')   

How can I present my claim to the government agency?

Get an official claim form from the agency:
  • If your claim is against your county government, get the forms from the county clerk.
  • If your claim is against the city government, get the forms from the city clerk.
  • If your claim is against the State of California, contact State Board of Control. Click here for information about filing a claim against the State of California. Opens new window
  • If your claim is against another agency, get the forms from that agency.
When do I have to file with the agency?
  • If you or your personal property [not real estate] was damaged, you have 6 months to file.
  • If your claim is about damage to your real property, you have 1 year to file from the date you knew or should have known about the problem.
  • If your claim is about a contract, you have 1 year to file after the contract was broken.
The agency will tell you if your claim is approved or denied. If you hear nothing it is considered denied after 45 days.

IF the agency denies your claim, you can sue in small claims court.

  • If you receive a written rejection of your claim by the governmental agency, you have 6 months from the date the notice was personally delivered or deposited in the mail to file the claim. 
  • If you don't get a rejection letter, you have 2 years to file from the day the incident occurred.

What happens after I file in small claims court?
Everything is the same as any other small claims court case.  Name the government agency as the defendant.

NOTE:  You cannot sue a federal government agency in small claims court.
These cases must be filed in a Limited Civil Court or a Federal District Court.




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