a consumer needs to go to small claims court to settle a case

How to Sue in Small Claims Court

An overview from filing your case to collecting your judgment.

How to Sue in Small Claims Court

What is Small Claims Court?

Small Claims Court is a special court where you can resolve disputes cheaply and quickly. Small claims rules and procedures are simpler than other courts. The hearing is informal. There is no jury. Parties represent themselves without lawyers. Small Claims Court handles civil cases asking for $10,000 or less.

Here are some examples of problems you can handle in Small Claims Court:

  • Your landlord will not return your security deposit.
  • Someone damaged your car and will not pay for the repairs.
  • Your new TV will not work and the store will not repair it.
  • Your tenant damaged your property and the security deposit will not cover the full repair costs.
  • Your friend will not pay back the money you loaned them.

If you file a case, you are called the Plaintiff. The person you sue is the Defendant. You start your case by filling out an SC-100 Plaintiff’s Claim form and filing it with the court clerk.

How much can I sue for?

An individual or a business owned by an individual can file two cases each calendar year for as much as $10,000. (There are limitations that apply. Contact us for more information.) All other businesses or corporations can file two cases each year for as much as $5,000.

For each additional case filed, you can only sue for $2,500 or less.

Can I sue for more than the maximum?

No. You can reduce the amount of your claim or sue in a higher court. You cannot split your claim into two cases to meet the limit.

Are there time limits to file my case?

Yes. If your case is not filed in time, the Judge can dismiss it. You must file your case before:

  • 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.

Where do I file my case?

You may file your case at the court nearest to where the contract was signed, the person you are suing lives or the business is located. You can also file where the damage or injury occurred.

How much does it cost to file?

The filing fee is based on the amount of your claim. If you file less than 12 claims in one calendar year the following fees apply:

  • $30 for a claim up to $1,500
  • $50 for a claim of $1,500.01 to $5,000
  • $75 for a claim of $5,000.01 to $10,000

How often can I sue?

You can file two claims over $2,500 in a calendar year.

You can file unlimited claims under $2,500.

However, if you file more than 12 claims in a calendar year, each additional case will cost $100 to file. (If you win a case that costs $100 to file, the court will only award you the regular court costs – $30, $50 or $75.)

How soon is the court date?

A court hearing will be scheduled within 20 to 70 days. Make sure you request a court date that allows you enough time to serve the court papers to the defendant.

How do I notify the Defendant?

A copy of your Plaintiff’s Claim must be given to the person you are suing. An SC-104 Proof of Service must be filled out and filed with the court to prove that the Defendant was served.

Can the Defendant sue me?

Yes. The person you are suing can counter-sue you. They do this by filing a Defendant’s Claim and having a copy served to you.

Can I change my court date?

Yes. If you have not served the Defendant you can request a Reset free of charge. If you have served the Defendant you can request a Postponement and pay a $10 fee. The Request for Postponement should be filed at least 10 days prior to your court hearing.

Preparing for court

You will need to bring evidence to court that proves to the Judge that you are owed money. Here are some examples of evidence you can start gathering for your day in court:

  • Receipts or cancelled checks that prove you are owed money.
  • Bills or repair estimates.
  • Photographs of property damage.
  • Written contracts, agreements or other documents that prove your case.
  • You can also bring witnesses to court.

What if I am not a U.S. citizen or don’t speak English?

You do not have to be a U.S. citizen to file or defend a case in Small Claims Court.

If you do not speak English, bring someone to court who can interpret for you. If you need an interpreter and are willing to pay for the service, check here. The court provides interpreters at no cost. To see the languages available, check here. If the Court does not have an interpreter in your language, bring someone who speaks your language and English fluently.

Court forms are available at California Courts – Forms. Select “Small Claims” from the pull down menu. Forms are also available at the Court Clerk’s office.

County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. Last change: May 7, 2018