INFORMATION FOR THE SMALL CLAIMS PLAINTIFF
WHAT IS SMALL CLAIMS COURT?
Small claims court is a special court where disputes are resolved quickly and inexpensively. The rules are simple and informal. The
person who sues is the plaintiff. The person who is sued is the defendant. In small claims court, you may ask a lawyer for advice
before you go to court, but you cannot have a lawyer in court. Your claim cannot be for more than $5,000 if you are a business or
public entity or for more than $10,000 if you are a natural person (including a sole proprietor). (See below for reference to exceptions.*)
If you have a claim for more than this amount, you may sue in the civil division of the trial court or you may sue in the small claims
court and give up your right to the amount over the limit. You cannot, however, file more than two cases in small claims court for more
than $2,500 each during a calendar year.
WHO CAN FILE A CLAIM?
You must be at least 18 years old to file a claim. If you are not
yet 18, tell the clerk. You may ask the court to appoint a
guardian ad litem. This is a person who will act for you in the
case. The guardian ad litem is usually a parent, a relative, or
an adult friend.
You must also appear at the small claims hearing yourself
unless you filed the claim for a corporation or other entity
that is not a natural person.
If a corporation files a claim, an employee, an officer, or a
director must act on its behalf. If the claim is filed on behalf of
an association or another entity that is not a natural person, a
regularly employed person of the entity must act on its behalf.
A person who appears on behalf of a corporation or another
entity must not be employed or associated solely for the
purpose of representing the corporation or other entity in the
small claims court. You must file a declaration with the
court to appear in any of these instances. (See
Authorization to Appear, form SC-109.)
A person who sues in small claims court must first make a
demand, if possible. This means that you have asked the
defendant to pay, and the defendant has refused. If your claim
is for possession of property, you must ask the defendant to
give you the property.
Unless you fall within two technical exceptions, you must be
the original owner of the claim. This means that if the claim is
assigned, the buyer cannot sue in the small claims court.
WHERE CAN YOU FILE YOUR CLAIM?
You must sue in the right court and location. This rule is called
venue. Check the court's local rules if there is more than one court
location in the county handling small claims cases. If you file your
claim in the wrong court, the court will dismiss the claim unless all
defendants personally appear at the hearing and agree that the
claim may be heard. The right location may be any of these:
SOME RULES ABOUT THE DEFENDANT (including government agencies)
You must sue using the defendant's exact legal name. If the
defendant is a business or a corporation and you do not know
the exact legal name, check with the state or local licensing
agency, the county clerk's office, or the Office of the Secretary
of State, Corporate Status Unit at www.ss.ca.gov/business.
Ask the clerk for help if you do not know how to find this
information. If you do not use the defendant's exact legal
name, the court may be able to correct the name on your claim
at the hearing or after the judgment.
If you want to sue a government agency, you must first file a
claim with the agency before you can file a lawsuit in court.
Strict time limits apply. If you are in a Department of
Corrections or Youth Authority facility, you must prove that the
agency denied your claim. Please attach a copy of the denial
to your claim.
HOW DOES THE DEFENDANT FIND OUT ABOUT THE CLAIM?
You must make sure the defendant finds out about your lawsuit.
This has to be done according to the rules or your case may be
dismissed or delayed. The correct way of telling the defendant
about the lawsuit is called service of process. This means giving
the defendant a copy of the claim. YOU CANNOT DO THIS
YOURSELF. Here are four ways to serve the defendant:
the defendant was served. Registered process servers will do
this for you for a fee. You may also ask a friend or relative to
Certified mail—You may ask the clerk of the court to serve
the defendant by certified mail. The clerk will charge a fee.
You should check back with the court before the hearing to
see if the receipt for certified mail was returned to the court.
Service by certified mail must be done by the clerk's
office except in motor vehicle accident cases involving
Process server—You may ask anyone who is not a party in
your case and who is at least 18 years old to serve the
defendant. The person is called a process server and must
personally give a copy of your claim to the defendant. The
person must also sign a proof of service form showing when
Substituted service—This method lets you serve another
person instead of the defendant. You must follow the
procedures carefully. You may also wish to use the marshal or
sheriff or a registered process server.
* Exceptions: Different limits apply in an action against a defendant who is a guarantor. (See Code Civ. Proc., § 116.220(c).)
Page 1 of 2
Form Adopted for Mandatory Use
Judicial Council of California
SC-100-INFO [Revised July 1, 2015]
INFORMATION FOR THE PLAINTIFF
Code of Civil Procedure,
§§ 116.110 et seq.,116.220(c), 116.340(g)
This information sheet is written for the person who sues in the small claims court. It explains some of the rules of and
some general information about the small claims court. It may also be helpful for the person who is sued.
Where the defendant lives or where the business involved is
Where the damage or accident happened;
Where the contract was signed or carried out;
5. For a retail installment account or sales contract or a motor
vehicle finance sale:
4. If the defendant is a corporation, where the contract was
Where the goods or vehicle are permanently kept.d.
Where the buyer signed the contract; orc.
Where the buyer lived when the contract was entered into;b.
Where the buyer lives;
Service by a law officer—You may ask the marshal or sheriff
to serve the defendant. A fee will be charged.