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About Small Claims Court

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Disclaimer: This website doesn’t give you legal advice. This is only general information.

Small claims court is a special court where you can resolve disputes quickly and inexpensively.

  • The rules are simple
  • The hearing is informal
  • You are not allowed to have a lawyer

If you are filing the claim, you are the plaintiff. If you are being sued, you are the defendant.

For the plaintiff:

As an individual you can use Small Claims Court if your claim is for $10,000 or less.

If you are an individual who owns a business (i.e. sole proprietor) and do business under a fictitious business name, you are considered to be an "individual" in Small Claims Court. For example, if you are a plumber doing business as ABC Plumbing and want to sue a customer who has not paid you, you can file a claim for $10,000 or less.

If your business is a corporation, partnership or any other type of entity other than a sole proprietorship, your maximum claim amount is $5000.

Important note: you can’t file more than 2 Small Claims Court actions for more than $2,500 in California during any calendar year.

For example, if you file a claim for $3,000 in February of this year, and another claim for $4,000 in March of this year, you can’t file another claim for more than $2,500 in any Small Claims Court in California until January 1 of next year. But, you can still file as many claims as you want for $2,500 or less.

Videos about Small Claims Court

Here are some videos made by our Court about Small Claims and Mediation, posted on YouTube video icon

Here are some videos, prepared by the California State Court (Judicial Council), and posted on YouTube video icon

Here are some examples of common Small Claims cases:

  • Your former landlord refuses to return the security deposit you paid.
  • Someone dents your fender and refuses to pay for repairs.
  • Your new TV doesn’t work, and the store won’t fix it.
  • Your tenant caused damage to the apartment and the repairs cost more than the security deposit. (Note: You can't use Small Claims Court to evict someone.)
  • You lent money to a friend, and she refuses to pay you back.
  • Small Claims Court can also order a defendant to do something, as long as you are also asking for money in your claim. For example, the Court can cancel a contract. Or, the Court can order your neighbor to pay you for your lawn mower or to return it to you right away.

See some differences between Civil Court and Small Claims Court, below:

  Small Claims Civil
Appeal Only the party who was sued can file an appeal. The person who filed the claim cannot appeal Either party can appeal
Attorney Representation You can’t have a lawyer file your papers or go to court with you – except for an appeal You can have a lawyer file your papers and go to court for you
Filing fee for either defendant or plaintiff's claim $30 - $100 per claim $180 - $320 per claim
Pretrial Discovery allowed No Yes
How long to complete your case 30-70 days after the complaint 120 days after you file the complaint

You don't have to be a U.S. citizen to file or defend a case in Small Claims Court. If you don't speak English well, bring someone who speaks English and ask the judge if that person can be your interpreter. The Court can’t give you an interpreter.

You can find an interpreter by using the California Courts Interpreter Search page . Also see the web page with interpreter information on this website.

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