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The Orange County Superior Court, Technology Department, will be performing a significant hardware upgrade Friday, May 17, 2024, beginning at 6:00 p.m. and continuing through Sunday, May 19, 2024.  During this time, network and online services will be down and unavailable.  Network and online services will be available again beginning on Sunday, May 19, 2024, after 8:00 p.m.

Filing a Lawsuit


Important Advisements


Any court case is complicated and you must follow the Code of Civil Procedure and the California Rules of Court, as well as your court’s local rules. The information provided below does not take the place of the Code of Civil Procedure or Rules of Court. If you are representing yourself, you will be held to the same standard as a lawyer — to know and follow the code and the rules of civil court cases.

If you need to file a lawsuit to evict a person (called an Unlawful Detainer), go to the Landlord/Tenant section of this website.

Eviction Cases:

If you need to file a lawsuit to evict a person (called an Unlawful Detainer), go to the Landlord/Tenant section of this website.


Documents may be electronically filed (eFiled).

Pursuant to section 1010.6 of the Code of Civil Procedure, rule 2.253(b)(2) of the California Rules of Court, Orange County Superior Court Rule 352, and Administrative Order 13/03, all documents filed by attorneys in limited, unlimited, and complex civil actions must be filed electronically unless the Court rules otherwise. Self-represented parties are exempt from the mandatory electronic filing requirement set forth in Orange County Superior Court Local Rules 352, but are strongly encouraged to participate voluntarily in electronic filing and service.

Electronically filed documents subject to the mandatory electronic filing requirements in civil limited, unlimited, and complex actions can be filed until midnight on the day that the filing is due, and will be considered timely pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1010.6 subdivision (d)(1)(D). The document is “filed” at the date and time it is received by the court and the confirmation of receipt is created. See Cal. Rules of Court, Rule 2.259(a)(1). Any electronically filed document received by the Court on or after midnight will be file stamped on the next court day.

In addition to the Self-Help Centers, if you need access to a computer to eFile, you can find public computers at most public libraries and at the Public Law Library.

Things To Think About Before You Sue

If you were wronged, you have the right to sue. But, there are things you have to know before you sue, like:

  • Who to sue,
  • Where they are,
  • What you need to do before you sue them,
  • Where you should sue them, and
  • If you should sue them.

These are hard questions to answer, even in an easy case like a slip-and-fall in a store. For example, if you slip on the floor in a supermarket, you have to figure out if the store is part of a chain or just one store, if falling was partly or totally your fault.

In a complicated case, like if the same slip and fall happened on land that the county owns, but that a government agency rents, you have to figure out who was responsible for slippery ground, and follow the laws for suing the government. If you sue a government agency, you have to follow the laws for notice. This means that before you sue a government agency you have to fill out papers that say that you are suing them. There is a time limit to give notice. After you file your notice, you do not have much time to file your lawsuit. If you do not do things on time, you may lose your right to sue the governmental agency. Many agencies have claim forms on their website.

Even more important are time limits called "statute of limitations." These statutes, or laws, say when you can file your action. If you do not file on time, you lose automatically. For example, if you are in a car crash, you generally have 2 years to file a lawsuit. This might not be true for your case. You have to check the time limit yourself. The court will not review your case to determine if your case is filed on time, but once it has been discovered that you should not have filed, the other party may have your case dismissed and you will not have the cost of your case refunded and the other party may request you to pay their costs.

Read Before You File Your Case on the California Courts website.

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Filing a Lawsuit

A general civil lawsuit starts when the plaintiff files 3 forms. A Summons is a notice that says there is a lawsuit. A Complaint is a form that says how the person was hurt, who hurt them and how much the damages are. A Civil Coversheet tells the court about the type of case you are filing. There are a lot of things to think when you decide where to file your Complaint. For example:


Jurisdiction can mean more than one thing. The court has to have "jurisdiction" over the defendant. This means that the court has the right to hear and decide a case for the person you are suing. In general, you have to file your lawsuit where the injury happened, or where the contract was supposed to happen, or where the defendant lives.

There can be other requirements. Check the California Code of Civil Procedure.

Then, the court also has to have jurisdiction over how much money you want. You have to file your lawsuit in the right court:

  • Small Claims Court ($10,000.00 or less)
  • Limited Civil ($25,000.00 or less)
  • Unlimited Civil (over $25,000.00 and matters, for example such as writs of mandate, voter registration, the legality of any tax, impost, assessment, toll, or municipal fine)
  • Complex Civil (a complex case as defined by Rule 3.400 of the California Rules of Court and Superior Court Of Orange County Local Rule 301, is an action that requires exceptional judicial management to avoid placing unnecessary burdens on the court or litigants and to expedite the case, keeps costs reasonable, and promote effective decision making by the court, the parties and counsel)

Jurisdiction says in what State and what court you file your lawsuit. Venue is the county and justice center where you file your action. Usually, this is where the defendant lives or where the injury happened. The General Information section of this website contains the venue of each Justice Center in Orange County.

Filing the Case:

Usually a case begins with the filing of the following documents:

You may also find the appropriate forms and get help filling out the forms you need using the tutorial form programs and eFilng options on the Self-Help Centers’ “Create Court Forms” page.

There are many types of Complaints depending on your reason for suing. The California Courts have developed form Complaints for the two most common types:

If you need to file a Petition in Civil, check to see if the California Courts have developed a form. If you do not find the correct form to file a Complaint or Petition, you will have to formally prepare the document on pleading paper in accordance with the California Rules of Court, rules 2.100 to 2.119. You may wish to seek the advice of a lawyer to be sure the document is properly prepared.

If you need to file an Unlawful Detainer to evict someone, go to the Landlord/Tenant section of this website.

Pursuant to amendments to Code of Civil Procedure section 1010.6 and Orange County Superior Court Rule 352, all documents filed in limited, unlimited, and complex civil actions must be filed electronically unless the Court rules otherwise.

Superior Court of Orange County Local Rule 303 says that if your case is filed in Unlimited Civil and is subject to civil case management, it will be randomly assigned to a judicial officer for all purposes, who will thereafter handle all proceedings in the case. The judge assigned to your case will be stamped on your copy of the complaint. Thereafter, all documents filed in the case are subject to civil case management and must have clearly typed on the face page of each document, under the case number, the following:

JUDICIAL OFFICER (insert name)
DEPARTMENT (insert no.)

In addition, the face page of any subsequent document must also designate the nature of the document, the hearing date, department, the date action was filed and the trial date, if any, which must be below the case and judicial officer designation (Superior Court of Orange County Local Rule 314).

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Filing Fees & Fee Waivers

In general you have to pay the filing fee when you file the complaint. How much you pay depends on what kind of case it is. Check the list of filing fees for limited civil if the amount requested is $25,000.00 or under. If the amount is over $25,000.00, check the filing fees for an unlimited civil.

If you cannot afford the filing fees, you may qualify to have the fees waived by filling out a Request to Waive Court Fees. You can read more about fees waivers and the forms needed. For more information, read:

Serving the Defendant

After you file your lawsuit, you have to let the defendant know that you are suing them. Usually, the defendant knows about the case a long time before it starts. Hopefully you talked to the defendant and tried to settle the case before you filed.

Now that you filed the lawsuit, you have to let the defendant know formally that you are suing. This is called "service". You have to have all papers "served" on every defendant in the lawsuit. You cannot serve the lawsuit yourself. It must be served by someone who is not a party to the action, at least 18 years old. After service is complete the server must complete the Proof of Service Summons form (POS-010).

Read more about Service of Process on the California Courts website.

What Happens After The Defendant Is Served?

If the Defendant Responds:

In general, the defendant has 30 days to "respond" from the date that they were served. The defendant can file:

  • An answer, or
  • A general denial, or
  • A demurrer, or
  • Different kinds of motions, like a motion to transfer or motion to quash, etc.

To learn more read the I Have Been Sued section of this website.

If the Defendant Fails to Respond:

If you serve a defendant and they do not respond at all in 30 days, you can file the forms for a default judgment. There are two types:

The forms that you file depend on the type of judgment, the amount of the lawsuit, and whether the case is a limited or unlimited civil action. For further information, see Checklist for Civil Request for Entry of Default (Form #L-1006).

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Collection Cases

Unlimited Civil:

Superior Court of Orange County Local Rule 313 says that a matter is a collection case in Unlimited Civil if the complaint is for the recovery of damages that are easily computable from the documentation filed with the complaint. Collection cases are subject to special rules including that a collection case may be dismissed on the court's own motion 90 days after it is determined to be a collection case unless:

  • A default judgment has been entered;
  • A certificate of due diligence has been filed stating why the defendant has not been served;
  • A stipulated judgment payable in full or in installments or an agreement for periodic payments has been entered into and a copy of said agreement received by the court clearly setting forth the date certain of the last installment payment.

There are other requirements, so be sure to read Local Rule 313 if your case is an Unlimited Civil Collection case.

Limited Civil:

If the case is a Limited Civil action, a collections case means an action arising from a transaction in which property, services, or money was acquired on credit. It does not include tort or punitive damages, recovery of real or personal property, or a prejudgment writ of attachment. Limited Civil collections cases must have:

  • The defendant served with the Complaint within 180 days of filing the Complaint, and
  • A default judgment entered within 360 days after the filing of the Complaint if the defendant fails to respond.

Read Rule 3.740 of the California Rules of Court

Additional Resources

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