Translate this page:
View Disclaimer
Checklist for the Plaintiff

Complete Forms at Home

This section tells you what to do:

  1. Before the Hearing
  2. During the Hearing
  3. After the Hearing
  4. More help for before, during and after the hearing...

  1. Before the Hearing

    • Contact the defendant to talk about your claim. Try to settle without going to court.

    • Suggest mediation or agree to try it. Or, see if there is some other informal way to solve your dispute.

    • Learn how small claims court works. Read over this website, contact the Small Claims Advisor, or go to a small claims court session. (Read more on the Small Claims Advisor page.)

    • Try to figure out if you have a good case.

      • Does the law support your case?
      • Can you prove case?
      • Did you miss the deadline to file your claim?
      • Did you lose money?
      • Can you represent yourself?
      • Does the defendant have a good defense?
    • How much is your claim for? Figure out the exact amount. If you are suing as an individual, or as an individual who owns a business (i.e. sole proprietor), you can't get more than $10,000 in small claims court (with exceptions that limit this amount: Code of Civil Procedure sections 116.220(c) and 116.221 ). If you are suing as a corporation, partnership or any other type of business other than a sole proprietorship, you are limited to asking for $5,000. And, you can only get a judgment for the amount of damages you can prove, even if the defendant doesn't go to court.

    • Figure out which court to file your lawsuit in. This is called the venue (location) of the lawsuit.

    • File a Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Defendant (SC - 100 ). If you are a business with a fictitious name, file a Fictitious Name Declaration (SC - 103 ).

    • Get someone to serve your claim on every defendant. Make sure the defendants get enough notice. File the Proof of Service (SC - 104 ) at court before your hearing.

    • Prepare your claim. If the defendant files a Defendant’s Claim and Order to Plaintiff (SC - 120 ) to be heard at the same time as your claim, prepare your defense for that claim, too:

      • Organize your thoughts,
      • Collect evidence,
      • Talk to witnesses, etc.
      • Make 2 copies of the papers that you want to show the judge.
      • Ask your witnesses to write a declaration or go to your hearing.
    • Keep talking to the other person. Try to settle the case before your hearing. If you think more time could help you settle, ask the court to move your hearing to a later date.
  2. During the Hearing

    • Take the original and two copies of the papers you want to show the judge. Take your witnesses’ declarations or make sure they go to the hearing.

    • Get to the courthouse 15 minutes early. Make sure your case is on the calendar. Go to the courtroom where your case will be.

    • When the clerk calls the names of all the cases, let him or her know you are there.

    • They may ask you if you want to let a temporary judge to decide your case. If you don’t want to, the clerk will probably give you another hearing date with a permanent judge or court commissioner.

    • After the witnesses take their oath, the clerk will ask you to leave the courtroom with the defendant so you can share evidence and try to settle the case. You have to give the defendant a copy of the papers you want to give to the judge. When you’re done, go back to the courtroom and wait for them to call your case.

    • When they call your case, go up to the plaintiff’s table with your witnesses. If you agreed to settle the case, tell the judge right away. If you are close to settling the case, you can ask the judge to have the hearing later on so you can try to settle.

    • If you couldn’t settle the case, you will have a few minutes to present your case and answer questions. Give your most important points first. Make sure you explain how you figured out the amount of your damages.

    • Tell the judge about the papers or evidence you want to show the court. The judge will probably ask you to give 1 copy to the clerk. The clerk will mark the papers as evidence and give them to the judge.

    • Don’t interrupt the judge or the defendant. If you forgot to say something when it was your turn, wait until the judge and the defendant stop talking and ask permission to talk.

    • Before you leave, make sure the clerk has your address. If the judge needs time to decide the case (called “taking the case under submission”), the court will mail you a copy of the decision at that address.
  3. After the Hearing

    • Get a copy of the Notice of Entry of Judgment (SC - 130 ) from the court. If you don’t get a copy in the courtroom at the end of your hearing, the court will mail it to you.

    • If you didn’t go to the hearing and the court dismissed your claim, you have 30 days to file a Notice of Motion to Vacate (Cancel) Judgment (SC - 135 ). You will have to pay a fee.

    • If you won, you have to wait at least 30 days before you can enforce the judgment. If the defendant doesn’t pay you or challenge the judgment, you can take legal action.

    • If the defendant appeals or files a motion to cancel the judgment, you must wait until the court decides the appeal or motion before you take legal action to enforce the judgment.

    • After the defendant pays you, you must sign and file a form called Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment. It is on the bottom of the back of the Notice of Entry of Judgment form (SC - 130 ).

    • If you recorded an Abstract of Judgment (EJ-001 ) with the County Recorder’s Office, you have to fill out another form called Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment (EJ - 100 ) and have it notarized.

    • If you went to the hearing and the judge ordered you to pay the defendant, you have 30 days to:

      • Pay the judgment,
      • Fill out a Judgment Debtor’s Statement of Assets ( SC - 133 ) and mail it to the defendant, or
      • File a Notice of Appeal (SC - 140 ) (The whole case will be heard again).

      If you do nothing, the defendant can enforce the judgment.

    • If for any reason you think the judgment is wrong, file a Request to Correct or Vacate Judgment (SC - 108 ).
  4. More help for before, during and after the hearing...

    Read these other pages for the plaintiff:

    You should also read the pages for both the defendant and plaintiff: About Small Claims Court, Alternatives to Lawsuits, Prepare for your Day in Court, Judgment - Judicial Decision, and Property/Money Collection.

    You may also find helpful information on these Small Claims pages: the Small Claims Advisor and Small Claims FAQs.

© 2022 Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara