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What Is Service?

"Service" or "serving" is when someone—not you or anyone else listed in this case—gives a copy of your court papers Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to go to Small Claims Court (SC-100)  to the person, business, or public entity you are suing. Service lets the other party know:

  • What you are asking for,
  • When and where the trial will be, and
  • What they can do.

Service is performed after you have filed your Small Claims action. Read this section carefully. There are strict rules for serving court papers.


When and How Must I Serve My Claim?

It depends on how you serve your claim:

  • For personal service: Serve your claim at least 15 days before the court date (or 20 days if the person, business, or public entity you are serving is outside the county). Personal service means that the individual or authorized person for a business is handed a copy of the form Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to go to Small Claims Court.
  • For substituted service: Serve your claim at least 25 days before your court date (or 30 days if the person, business, or public entity you are serving is outside the county). Substitute service means that a copy of the Plaintiff’s Claim form was handed to a third party on behalf of the individual being sued or the authorized person for a business which is being sued. Additionally a copy of the Plaintiff’s Claim is mailed to the defendant.
  • For certified mail by the clerk: For a fee, the clerk will mail the Plaintiff’s Claim by certified mail, return receipt. The defendant must sign the receipt at least 15 days before the court date, or 20 days if the person is outside the county. This is considered the least reliable method of service because the defendant can refuse or not be available to sign the postal receipt. If you select this method, fill out the Certified Mail Statement (L-1091)  and file it with your Plaintiff’s Claim.

Who Can Serve the Claim?

You cannot serve your claim. Service must be performed by:

  • Someone of your choosing not listed on the case who is at least 18 years old, or
  • The Orange County Sheriff, or
  • Licensed process server (consult the web or your yellow pages under Process Servers), or
  • Clerk by certified mail. You may ask the court clerk to serve the defendant by Certified Mail Statement (L-1091) . The clerk will charge a fee. You should check back with the court prior to the hearing to see if the receipt for certified mail was returned to the court. You can obtain this information from the case register of actions online . This is considered the least reliable method of service because the defendant can refuse or not be available to sign the postal receipt.

The fee to serve the document depends on who you have serve the documents.


Who Do I Have to Serve?

If you are suing a person (or people)—not a business or public entity—serve each person you are suing. For example, if you were in a car accident and you are suing the owner and the driver of the car, you must serve both people. For more information read What is "Proof of Service"? (SC-104B) .

If you are suing a business or public entity read How to Serve a Business or Public Entity (SC-104C)  for more information.


Must I Serve the Defendant in California?

Yes. You must serve the defendant in California unless:

  • You are suing about property located in California, and the owner does not live in California, or
  • You had a car accident in California, and the owner or driver of the other car does not live in California.

If you are suing for one of these reasons, call the Small Claims Advisor at (714) 571-5277 for help on how to serve someone outside California.

If you are suing a corporation that has a business in California, but does not have an agent for service located in California, you may be able to serve the California Secretary of State on behalf of the corporation. Read the Information Sheet On How Serve an Out Of State Corporation (L-1189)  and fill out the Application and Order to Serve the California Secretary of State (L-1189) . File this form with the court where your case is filed or along with the Plaintiff’s Claim.


How Does the Judge Know That My Claim Has Been Served?

Your server has to fill out a form called Proof of Service (SC-104) , for each person, business, or public entity served. The Proof of Service tells the court who was served, and when, where and how they were served. Once your server fills out and signs the Proof of Service, you must file it with the court at least 5 days before your court date.

If you do not have a Proof of Service for each person served, or if the Proof of Service is filled out wrong, the judge may not be able to hear your case.


What If I Cannot Get My Claim Served Before the Trial Date?

You must return your documents to the court where you filed your case at least three court days before the trial date along with a form called Request to Postpone Trial (SC-150) . You will receive your documents back with a new trial date so that you may continue efforts to serve the defendant(s).

Important: failure to timely return the documents may result in your case being dismissed.


How Do I Get More Information on Serving a Claim?

This section provides a broad overview. For more detailed information on serving a Small Claims action, go to:


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