Filing Your Claim
Where Do I File My Case?
File your case in a court in the right county and court (called Justice Centers in Orange County). In legal terms, this means you have to file in the proper venue (place). For example, if the person you are suing lives in Tustin, the Justice Center where you file your case is the Central Justice Center. Read more below and refer to the General Information section of this website to help you determine the proper Justice Center to file your case.
In general, as the "plaintiff" you have to file your case in the county and Justice Center where the "defendant" lives or the business is located. This makes it fair for the defendant. It is usually easier for someone to defend themselves if the case is close to where they live.
When you file your case, you have to say on your Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to Defendant (SC - 100) that you are filing in the correct venue. If the case was not filed in the right court– it is not the right "venue." The judge may dismiss the case without prejudice unless all defendants are present at the trial and agree to have the hearing there.
If you can file your claim in more than one place, choose the place that is best for your witnesses.
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.
Did You Ask for the Money?
Before you can sue in Small Claims court, have to ask the defendant for whatever you want the judge to award you in court. You can ask them in writing or by phone, but it is a good idea to do both. Keep copies of any letters or other communication in writing. It is best to send letters by mail and ask the post office for a return receipt. Keep the receipt as evidence.
If you are suing a governmental entity, such as a city, you must file a written claim with that entity and receive a rejection before you can file a lawsuit in court.
If you are suing for a disagreement of $5,000.00 or less in attorney fees, in most circumstances, you must have first tried to resolve the dispute through arbitration. For more information, read Attorney Fee Dispute After Arbitration (SC-101) .
EXCEPTIONS TO FILING YOUR CASE WHERE THE DEFENDANT LIVES:
You can file your claim in the county and justice center where you had the accident or where the defendant lives.
You have to file the claim in the county and justice center where:
- You made the contract,
- Where the contract was supposed to be performed by the defendant, or
- Where you are supposed to get paid.
Consumer Purchases (When the Seller Sues):
You can only file a claim to enforce a buyer’s debt in the county and justice center where the buyer:
- Signed the contract,
- Lived when the contract was signed,
- Lived when you filed the action, or
- Where the things bought on credit are installed or kept.
Consumer Purchases (When the Buyer Sues):
The buyer can file an action against the business that sold the items, services, or credit in the county and justice center where the buyer:
- Signed the contract,
- Lived when the contract was signed, or
- Lived when you filed the action.
The buyer can also sue in any of those places if the suit is based on something you bought from a phone call that the buyer did not make. This means when the seller calls the buyer or the buyer answers a phone call or email.
How Much Money Can I Ask For?
An individual (including a sole proprietor) cannot ask for more than $10,000 in a claim. Corporations, partnerships and other entities (like government entities) cannot ask for more than $5,000. You can file as many claims as you want for up to $2,500 each. But you can only file 2 claims in a calendar year that ask for more than $2,500.
A "guarantor" is a person who promises to be responsible for what another person owes. You can only sue a guarantor for up to $6,500 ($2,500 if they do not charge for the guarantee). But, if you are a natural person filing against the Registrar of the Contractor's State License Board you can sue a guarantor for up to $10,000. If you are an entity other than a natural person and the guarantor charges for its services, you may file a claim for up to $4,000.
As an individual you can sue for damages for bodily injuries resulting from an auto accident if your claim is for $10,000 or less, a $7,500 limit applies if a defendant is covered by an automobile insurance policy that includes a duty to defend.
Where Do I Get court Forms?
The forms you will need to file a claim are:
- Plaintiff’s Claim and ORDER to Go to Small Claims Court (SC-100) and Information for the Small Claims Plaintiff (SC-100-INFO). Or, for your convenience, the forms are listed in the local Self-Help Center Small Claims forms packet (SHC-SC-01).
- If your claim is about lawyer-client fees, you will also need to fill out and file an Attorney Fee Dispute (After Arbitration (SC-101) .
- If you are suing using a fictitious business name, you will also need to fill out a Fictitious Business Name Declaration (SC-103) .
- If you are requesting the clerk to serve the defendant by certified mail, you will also need to fill out a Certified Mail Statement (L-1091) .
You can get the forms to file your case as follows:
- Write or go to any Small Claims Division.
- Download forms, complete forms online, and e-File your claim.
If you ask for forms by mail, send a self-addressed stamped 10" x 13" envelope with the right postage. Blank forms will be mailed to you.
What Are the Small Claims Filing Fees?
You have to pay a filing fee when you file your small claims case. The fee depends on the amount of your claim and the number of claims that you file in a year. If you cannot afford the filing fees, you can fill out a Request to Waive Court Fees and Order(FW-001 and FW-003). You can also get these forms online, in person, by mail. You can read more about fees waivers.
What Information Do I Need to File a Claim?
Begin by reading Information for Plaintiff (SC-100-INFO) .
HOW TO NAME YOURSELF:
You must sue using your legal name. If you are suing as a business, you should list the legal name of the owner and business name, names of partners and business name, or name of the corporation. If you use a fictitious business name you have to fill out, sign, and file a form called Fictitious Business Name Declaration (SC-103) every time you file a claim. An example of a fictitious business name is "John Smith doing business as World’s Best Carpet Cleaning Co." Failure to file a Fictitious Business Name Declaration may result in the dismissal of your case.
HOW TO NAME THE DEFENDANTS:
You have to know the exact names. If you name a company, you need to know what kind of ownership it is (example, partnership, corporation, sole proprietorship, etc). If you get a judgment against a defendant but you wrote the name wrong, you might not be able to serve the defendant or collect the money.
You have to know the full name of the person(s) you are suing.
- Suing a person: Write the person’s first name and last name (and middle initial, if known). If the person has used different names, you can list each of them as an "aka" (also known as). For example, if the person you are suing signed a contract as John Doe, but you know he goes by the name of John Roe at work, you can sue him as "John Doe aka John Roe."
- Suing husband and wife: Write both their full names. For example: James Jones and Sally Jones.
- Suing domestic partners: Write both their full names. For example: Jane Jones and Sally Jones.
If you sue a company, you need to know what kind of ownership it is. The most common types are sole proprietorships, partnerships, and corporations. The Sheriff will not serve your claim if you have not named the business correctly. The Sheriff will also not be able to collect your judgment if the business name is incomplete.
- Suing a business owned by 1 person: Write the owner’s name and the business name. Name the owner as an individual to have a better chance of collecting if you win. For example, write: Sally Smith, individually and dba Continental Candies (In this example and others, "dba" stands for "doing business as.")
- Suing a partnership: Name the partnership and the partners individually too. For example: Jim Smith and John Jones, individually and dba Smith & Jones
- Suing a corporation: Write the exact legal name of the corporation. For example: Sally’s Dresses Inc., a corporation.
- Suing a business owned by a corporation: Write the name of the corporation and the business. For example: Lotus Corporation, individually and dba The Flower Company
You can research the full name of a business, to determine whether it is a corporation, partnership or sole ownership, find the agent for service of process, and address for service by searching the following public records:
- For corporations and limited partnerships, you can access the California Secretary of State Corporation records.
- Check for the legal business name by searching for the business license in the city in which the defendant does business.
- Check for the legal business by searching for a fictitious business name.
- Check for a state professional license.
An Auto Accident:
Write the name of the driver and owner(s) of the vehicle. If you do not know the name of the owner of the car but you have the car’s license plate number, you can fill out a Request for Record Information DMV form to get the name of the registered owner.
NEED MORE INFORMATION?
Read more about how to correctly name the person or company that you are suing.
HOW TO LOCATE AN INDIVIDUAL DEFENDANT:
You must have a current address in order to serve a person with your small claims action. Tips for locating a person can be found at Small Claims Advisor in the Small Claims How to Locate a Person or Business document.
SIGN YOUR FORMS:
If an individual or individuals are suing, one of the persons has to sign the claim.
If the claim is filed by a business with one owner, the owner has to sign the form.
If the plaintiff is a corporation, one of the corporate officers (like the president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer or authorized agent) has to sign the form.
You cannot give someone who is not a party in the case permission to sign the Plaintiff’s Claim.
If the plaintiff is a minor (under 18 years old) or not mentally competent, a guardian has to sign the Plaintiff’s Claim. If the plaintiff is over 14, they should also sign the Plaintiff’s Claim. The plaintiff/guardian has to fill out a form called Application and Order for Appointment of Guardian Ad-Litem (CIV-010) and file that with the Plaintiff’s Claim.
What Can I Expect When I File My Claim?
When you file your claim and pay the fee, the clerk will give you a court date between 20 and 70 days away. You may also request night court. Be sure to make this request when you are filing your small claims.
SERVING THE CLAIM:
The clerk will give you a copy of the Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to Defendant. You have to get someone to serve this copy on the defendant (this is called service of process). It is very important that your claim is properly and timely served.
What If I Need to Correct Information on My Claim after It Has Been Filed?
If you need to correct information on your claim such as the amount, name of the defendant, or adding another defendant, you can "amend" your claim.
If your claim has not been served:
- Write the word "AMENDED" at the top of the claim forms provided to you after you filed your claim.
- Make the corrections on the forms.
- Take or mail the claim forms back to the court where your case was filed.
- If you need to change the trial date to allow more time for service, include the completed form called Request to Postpone Trial (SC-150) . You can also write a letter. The request must be received by the court at least 3 days prior to the trial date.
- You will receive your documents back to serve on the defendant(s).
If your claim has been served on the defendant:
- Fill out the form Request To Amend Party Name Before Hearing (SC-114) .
- Serve a copy of the Request on the defendant(s) by hand delivering or mailing a copy and completing number 3a. on the form. If there are other parties named in the case who have been served, you should also notify them, even if you are not changing their name. You can do this by phone, e-mail, or fax. Complete 3b. on the form.
- File the original form with the court before the trial date.
If you find out you named the defendant incorrectly and you have already had a trial date, refer to the Collecting Your Judgment section for information on correcting the judgment.
What If I Settle My Claim before the Trial Date?
If you settle your case before the trial date and want to "dismiss" (cancel) the case, the plaintiff should fill out and sign a Request For Dismissal (L-1203) . If the defendant has filed a Defendant’s Claim which has also been settled, the defendant also signs the form.
There are two ways to dismiss a case:
- With prejudice (cannot sue again for the same reason). Typically a case is dismissed with prejudice when the parties have completely settled the case or it has been paid in full and there are no outstanding issues.
- Without prejudice (can sue again for the same reason). Sometimes the parties dismiss a case without prejudice because the case has settled but the terms of the settlement may not be completed for a period of time. If one of the parties breaches the terms of the settlement, another Small Claims could be filed if the original case was dismissed without prejudice.
File the form with the court before the trial.
How Do I Get More Information about Filing a Small Claims Action?
The Small Claims Overview page in the Small Claims Section of the website provides a variety of resources, including the locations and phone numbers of the Small Claims Advisor, Superior Court of Orange County Small Claims Division and Self-Help Center staff.