Frequently Asked Questions
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, but you cannot have a lawyer in court. In general, a natural person (an individual) cannot ask for more than $10,000 in a claim. Businesses and other entities (like government entities) cannot ask for more than $5,000. This limit on businesses does not apply to sole proprietors, who are treated as natural persons. You can file as many claims as you want for up to $2,500 each. But you can only file 2 claims in a calendar year that ask for more than $2,500. 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 $10,000.
WHO CAN FILE A CLAIM?
- You must be 18 years old to file a claim or ask the court to appoint a guardian ad litem.
- A person who sues in small claims court must first make a demand, if possible, meaning you have asked the defendant in person, or on the phone or in writing to pay or give you the disputed property and they have refused.
- You must be the original owner of the claim.
- You must appear at the hearing.
- If you are filing on behalf of a corporation or other business entity that is not a person, you must file additional forms to sue as (SC-103) or appear for (SC-109) a business.
HOW LONG DO I HAVE TO FILE MY CLAIM?
The deadline to file a lawsuit is called the statute of limitations. Most lawsuits MUST be filed within a certain amount of time. In general, once the statute of limitations "runs out" on a claim, the legal acclaim is not valid any longer. The period of time you have to sue someone varies depending on the type of legal claim. The link will take you to additional information on the statute of limitations for some common types of legal disputes. http://www.courts.ca.gov/1256.htm
WHERE CAN YOU FILE YOUR CLAIM?
- Where the defendant lives or where the business involved is located.
- Where the damage or accident happened.
- Where the contract was signed, carried out or broken.
- Where the buyer lives, lived when the contract was entered into, signed the contract or where the goods/vehicle are permanently kept for an installment account, sales contract or motor vehicle finance sale.
WHAT ARE SOME RULES ABOUT THE DEFENDANT?
- You must sue using the defendant's exact legal name, especially if you are suing a business entity or corporation. Link: http://www.courts.ca.gov/9736.htm
- If you want to sue a government agency, you must first file a claim with the agency.
HOW DOES THE DEFENDANT FIND OUT ABOUT THE CLAIM?
You cannot serve the defendant a copy of the claim yourself.
- Personal Service by a law enforcement officer, process server, or even a friend or family member who is not a party to your claim.
- Service by certified mail through the clerk's office.
- Service by substituted service.
WHAT IF THE DEFENDANT ALSO HAS A CLAIM?
Sometimes the defendant will also have a claim against the plaintiff. The defendant may file a Defendant's Claim in the same lawsuit. This helps to resolve all of the disagreements between the parties at the same time.
WHAT HAPPENS AT THE TRIAL?
Be sure you are on time. The trial is informal but you must bring all witnesses, books, receipts, and other papers or things to prove your case.
If you settle your case before trial, you must file a dismissal form with the clerk.
The court's decision on a form called the Notice of Entry of Judgment will either be handed to you in court when the trial is over or mailed to you.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER JUDGMENT?
The party who wins the case and collects money is the judgment creditor and the party who loses and owes the money is the judgment debtor. The judgment creditor cannot take any action to collect the money until the time for appeal ends or the appeal is decided.
WHAT CAN I DO IF I LOST THE CASE?
- If you are the Plaintiff, the court's decision on your claim is final. You may not appeal your own claim.
- You may voluntarily pay the judgment creditor directly if you are the judgment debtor.
- If you are the defendant, you may appeal the decision on the other party's claim within 30 days after the Notice of Entry of Judgment was mailed or handed to you.
WHAT CAN I DO IF I DID NOT GO TO THE TRIAL?
You can ask the court to vacate the judgment by filing a Motion to Vacate the Judgment within 30 days after the Notice of Entry of Judgment form was mailed.
IF THE COURT AWARDED ME MONEY, HOW CAN I COLLECT?
The court will not collect the money or enforce the judgment for you.
1. You may request an Order for Appearance and Examination be issued to make the judgment debtor come to court to answer questions about income and property.
2. You may ask the clerk for a Writ of Execution to attach wages, bank accounts or other property.
3. You may want to put a lien on real property by having issued and recorded an Abstract of Judgment.
WHERE CAN I GET HELP WITH MY CASE?
- Procedural information, and some assistance with forms is available at the Self-Help Center of the Sutter County Court.
- If you do not speak English, you must bring an interpreter to court with you.
- Sutter County does not have either night or Saturday court.
- If you have a disability and need assistance pursuant to CRC 989.3 please contact the court immediately to help accommodate your needs.
- You can get small claims forms online at http://www.courts.ca.gov, or they may be purchased at the court.