How to File a California Small Claims Court Case
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Fill Out The Appropriate Form
Form SC-100 is the form used throughout the State of California to sue someone in Small Claims Court. It is located at: www.courts.ca.gov/forms/fillable/sc100.pdf. This 5-page form needs to be filled in. Only pages 2-3 are required to be submitted to the court.
Information Required for Form SC-100
1) You need your contact information (name, address, phone, etc). 2) You need the proper name of the person or business you are suing. This can be later changed, but it is best to get it correct before you file. If you are suing a corporation, LLC, or LP, get the contact information for the agent for service of process (www.kepler.sos.ca.gov) 3) Know how much you are suing for, why you are suing for this amount, and why this amount. 4) Ask the defendant to pay before you file. 5) Indicate why this court is the proper place to file. 6) Indicate if you have been in Small Claims Court in the last 12 months. 7) Indicate if this dispute is about an attorney-client fee dispute. 8) Indicate if you are suing the government. If so, make sure you have filed the appropriate grievance first, with either a denial of the claim or expiration of the investigation period. 9) Sign the paperwork, having read ALL of the fine print.
Deliver the SC-100 Form to the Court for Filing and Pay the Filing Fee
Some counties allow filing electronically, some do not. If yours does not, then hand deliver (better than mailing, but mailing may work) the form to the filing office along with the appropriate fee. The fee is on a sliding scale: 1) Case less than $1500.00 have a filing fee of $30.00 2) Cases valued between %1500.01 and $5000.00 have a filing fee of $50.00 3) Cases valued over $5000.01 have a filing fee of $75.00 Note, only humans may sue for up to $7500.00. Business cannot sue for more than $5000.00
Serve the Defendant
You are not allowed to serve the defendant personally. Someone else must do it for you. 1) Get a friend to do this for free. 2) In some counties, the Sheriff will do it. Cost is approximately $30.00 (contact the Sheriff's department for availability and cost.). If the Sheriff serves, they USUALLY only go to the one address you direct them to, and during normal business hours only. They USUALLY will attempt three (3) times. 3) The court can do it for you. The cost is $10.00. However, if the court does it, the defendant must sign for the document and they can refuse. 4) Hire a private process server. This can be quite expensive, but they tend to work. The fee is negotiated between you and the process server. Once completed, make sure that the appropriate form is delivered to the court indicating that the defendant was served: www.courtinfo.ca.gov/forms/fillable/sc104.pdf
Prepare your case for trial
Once the defendant has been served, prepare your case. Get all documents necessary to prove that the defendant harmed you and how much it has cost you. Put this information in a binder so that it can be easily referenced. Make 3 copies: 1 for you, 1 for the judge, 1 for the defendant. You can subpoena records, documents, or other information. There are several types of forms to be used depending on what is sought.
Contact a Lawyer, If Necessary
Most lawyers know something about how to litigate a case. They can provide more relevant information on how to proceed. If genuinely concerned, there are several lawyers in CA that specialize in Small Claims matters. Contact one of them for specific guidance.