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How Does Defendant Find Out that I’m Suing Them?

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California law requires you to give the defendants that you are suing formal notice that you have started a case against them in small claims court. 

This is called "service of process," Opens new window and it is very important.  In fact, the judge cannot make any decisions until the other party has been properly "served."

NOTE: You cannot serve Opens new window your court papers in your case (except for subpoenas). Opens new window  Your server must be at least 18 and not a plaintiff in the case. 

  • A relative or friend may serve the papers for you if they are 18 or older, legally competent, Opens new window as long as he or she is not a plaintiff in the case. 
  • A court clerk can serve your papers by certified mail for a fee.

TIP 1:  Service by mail will only be successful if the defendant(s) signs for the letter.  It is only successful about 50% of the time.

TIP 2:  After 2 weeks from the date you filed, call the court clerk and ask if the defendant(s) was served. If not, then consider having the papers served in person or by substitute service. (See How is Service Done? )

TIP 3:  You may also need to ask the court for an extension if the clerk was not able to serve the papers by certified mail. (See Motion to Change Court Date.)

  • A professional "process server" is someone you pay to deliver court papers. Look in the Yellow Pages under "Process Serving" or call your local Bar Association. To find out how much it will cost, call several servers and ask what they will charge.

NOTE:  In Contra Costa County, California, you may call the Contra Costa County Bar Association for names of registered professional process servers. The phone number is: (925) 825-5700.

  • In many counties, the Sheriff (or Marshal, if your county has one) can also deliver court papers. Ask the court clerk how to contact the Sheriff. Or look in the county section of your phone book under "Sheriff." You must pay the Sheriff, unless you qualify for a fee waiver.

NOTE:  In Contra Costa County, California, the Sheriff will not serve your papers for you unless you get a fee waiver from the court.

For more information read also: How is Service Done.



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