Can I Only Sue for Money in Small Claims Court?

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The small claims court usually only settles disputes about money.  Generally, it cannot order the other side to do something - or stop doing something.

If you do not want money, but only want the trees trimmed, or to have the dog stop barking, or to have the car you loaned someone returned, then probably small claims court is not for you. It might be better for you to sue in the court of limited jurisdiction (or the court of unlimited jurisdiction if the property you want returned is worth more than $25,000).  Or, you might try mediation.Opens new window

However, the small claims court does have the power to give a conditional judgment. (See California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 116.610) Opens new window

In a conditional judgment the court can order someone to do or stop doing something by a certain time or pay a specific amount of money -- without a further act by the court.

You can ask for a conditional judgment on your Plaintiff’s Claim and ORDER to Go to Small Claims Court (Form SC-100): 

In question number 3a – “Why does the Defendant owe the Plaintiff money?” -- put the words ‘I want a conditional judgment.” (after you put in why the defendant owes you money).

TIP:  You might also remind the court at the beginning of the hearing that you are asking the court for conditional judgment, if you win the case.

REMEMBER: In a conditional judgment the defendant may choose
to do or not do something.

If the defendant chooses not to do what you want within the time set by the court (usually 2 weeks), he or she is choosing to pay the money instead.

For example, if someone borrowed a ring from you that is not worth much money but has a lot of sentimental value, the defendant may choose not to give the ring back to you within 2 weeks as ordered. A small claims court cannot make the defendant return the ring. It can only order that if the defendant doesn’t return the ring, he or she must pay you for the ring by including the sum owed in the same judgment. Therefore, you may not get the result you wanted. Now you only have a money judgment to enforce – you may not get your ring.

To get an order to get your ring back, you need to sue in the court of limited jurisdiction instead. Or, you can try discussing the matter with a mediator’s help to see if you can resolve the dispute another way.




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