- Can I make a claim?
You can make a claim to a small claims court as a business entity for any amount under $5,000, but if you are a natural person (not a business or public entity) you are able to claim up to $10,000 (Section116.221 of the California Code of Civil Procedure). No person may file more than two small claim actions in which the demand exceeds $2,500 each in a year (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code Section 116.231(a)).
You also do not need to be a United States citizen to file a claim or defend a case in a small claims court. However, Cal. Civ. Proc. Code Section 116.225 provides that an agreement entered into or renewed on or after January 1, 2003, establishing a forum outside of California for an action arising from an offer or provision of goods, services, property, or extensions of credit primarily for personal, family, or household purposes that is otherwise within the jurisdiction of a small claims court of this state, is contrary to public policy and is void and unenforceable.
You must sue in the right court and location; this rule is called venue. The right location may be any of these:
- Where the defendant lives or where the defendant business is located;
- Where the damage or accident happened;
- Where the contract was signed or carried out; or
- If the defendant is a corporation, where the contract was broken.
Statute of Limitation
You must bring claim action within a number of years, i.e. the statute of limitation of an event. Otherwise, the court does not have jurisdiction.
- Written contract – four years from the date the contract was broken;
- Oral contract – two years from the date the contract was broken;
- Personal injury – two years from the date of injury or from the date you discovered you were injured;
- Property damage – three years from the date the damage happened;
- Fraud – three years from the date you discover you were defrauded.
- Before making a claim
Before you file your claim, you must ask the party that you are suing for the money, and this can be done either orally or in writing. To prevent the other party using his words against yours, sending the defendant a demand letter in writing will help you go through the process of recovering money from the claim. Lawli provides hugely discounted demand letter drafting self-service, and you can learn more about it here.
This is also an opportunity to collect all evidence relating to the money you are owed which will help you in presenting your case. This can include receipts, invoices, written contract, agreements or anything else which is relevant to your case.
- Filing the claim
You must then start to file the claim, and you can find the form online here. In order to fill in this form correctly, you must have the correct name and address of the defendant, otherwise this can lead to the dismissal of your case.
The fee for filing in small claims court depends on the amount of the claim:
- $30 if the claim is for $1,500 or less
- $50 if the claim is for more than $1,500 but less than or equal to $5,000
- $75 if the claim is for more than $5,000.
You need to notify the defendant that you have filed the claim which is referred to as the “service of process”. This can be done by certified mail, using the sheriff or hiring a private process server. After this has been done, the court will begin processing the claim.
- Going to court and the judgement
At the court hearing you must be prepared to tell your story in a brief, concise, logical way, and to prove what you say by bringing evidence such as photos, receipts, bills, contracts or witnesses to support your case. Be sure your exhibits are organized, concise and well-marked. Lawli has cost-effective paralegal partners who can assist you prepare indexed exhibits before the hearing day. Please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The judge will then give the final judgement after both parties have presented their arguments. This judgement can be later appealed, but the appeal, unlike the small claims court lawsuits, must be tried in a more formal manner where you must strictly follow the rules of evidence and procedure which is usually undertaken with a lawyer.
The court will enter a judgment stating how much the losing party has to pay. However, the court only makes the judgement, and it does not collect the payment for you. The debtor should usually pay immediately but if the debtor refuses to pay, you should use other legal tools which will be available to you to enforce the payment.