• Filing a Small Claims Court Claim

How to File in Small Claims Court California

Pursuing a legal claim is an inherently stressful process; filing a civil suit in the California Superior Court or Federal District Court can add the extra complication of being a long, drawn out process. For claims involving smaller amounts of money or damages, Small Claims Court is an excellent option. The parties can represent themselves and are not required to hire an attorney. In fact, lawyers are not even allowed to appear in Small Claims court for either party.

Small Claims Court Limit – How Much Can Your Claim Be?

In order to file a claim in the Small Claims Court California, the party bringing suit must either be over the age of 18 or an emancipated adult. Additionally, the amount in controversy (the amount of money being sought) must fall under a certain threshold. Generally, the Small Claims Court is authorized to hear cases where the amount in controversy is under $10,000.00.

If you are considering filing a claim in Small Claims Court, it is important that you follow certain steps. The California Department of Consumer  Affairs also provides a comprehensive and practical Small Claims Court Guide regarding filing a California Small Claims matter. Some counties also offer Small Claims legal advisors.

How to Take Someone to Small Claims Court

Identify Parties Being Sued

There are several steps required when suing an individual and taking someone to small claims court. First, you must be able to adequately identify the party against whom you are bringing a claim. While this may seem straightforward at first glance, there are a number of variables to consider. Based on the type of claim you are filing, there may be more than one defendant. If this is the case, each defendant will need to be considered moving forward.

Another factor is considering the identity under which the defendant should be sued. Filing a claim against an individual person requires a different process for filling out the required forms than filing a claim against a corporation or limited partnership. Once you have properly identified the party you are suing, you will also need to find the correct mailing address so you can mail the proper forms.

Demand Payment Prior to Filing Small Claims

You must also make a preliminary demand for payment to the party you are bringing suit against before you can file a claim. This is to give the party a chance to respond and settle the claim before being pulled into court. A demand letter can be sent, or you can request payment in person, or by phone. Regardless of how you approach the other party, you must be able to show the court that you have attempted to collect payment outside of court.

Pick the Right Small Claims Venue

Before filing your claim, you must figure out which court will hear your case. This is called legal venue. Typically, venue is determined by the county where the home or business of the defendant is located. Each county has its own Small Claims Court. This is important because failure to file in the right court may result in the judge dismissing your case.

Prepare Necessary Small Claims Court Forms

The next step is to fill out the paperwork involved in your claim. The exact forms that you will need will depend on the type of claim you are filing, and the type of defendant involved. The basic forms include a Plaintiff’s Claim form and any forms required by your specific courthouse. Preparing these forms can be an extensive process. The California courthouse website advises that you seek help in preparing these forms. A People’s Choice has decades of experience in preparing legal forms, and are able and willing to help in this crucial step.

File Your Small Claims, Serve the Other Party, and Go to Court

To file your claim, you must bring your forms to the proper courthouse and deliver them to the courthouse clerk. It is important to remember that you will need to pay the filing fee. The filing fee will range from $30.00 to $75.00. Contact your local courthouse to determine the filing fees of your specific county.

Once you file your forms, you will receive a court date. At this point, you will need to serve the defendant. Click here for guidelines on proper service of process.

Service of Process cannot be carried out by the Plaintiff or by anyone else directly named or involved in the claim.

Once you have served the other party, all that remains is to attend your court date. It is important to remember that claims brought in Small Claims Court California will require that the parties represent themselves. You may speak with a lawyer before or after court, but you are required to represent yourself. A Peoples Choice can help prepare your formal testimony ahead of time, making it easier to present your side of the story in a clear and concise way to the court.

Get help with your California legal documents today!

A People’s Choice can save you hundreds of dollars by preparing your legal documents instead of an expensive attorney!



A People’s Choice can help you prepare the necessary forms as you consider filing a claim in Small Claims Court, or with a variety of other legal claims. Avoid the hassle of dealing with a lawyer and let A People’s Choice do the heavy lifting as you pursue your legal options. Reach out to our offices today, for more information about our legal document preparation services.

By |2018-01-18T15:47:44-07:00March 9th, 2015|California Courts, Miscellaneous|7 Comments

About the Author:

Sandra M. McCarthy, founder of A People’s Choice Inc., has worked exclusively in the legal field since 1976. She served as the 2004-2005 President of CALDA (California Association of Legal Document Assistants). She obtained a Paralegal Certificate from the University of California, Santa Barbara. During her career in the legal field, she has worked as a freelance paralegal, law office manager and paralegal studies teacher, and has co-authored numerous legal publications and written hundreds of self-help legal articles. As a registered Legal Document Assistant, Sandy is dedicated to providing affordable, low-cost, self-help document preparation services for California consumers in all 58 counties.


  1. Brian May 1, 2018 at 8:42 pm

    How much do you charge to file a small claim in Palm springs or riverside county?

  2. Roxanna December 28, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    I need help filing against a business for fraud and deceptive practices, they are trying to strong arm me into paying for services I didn’t receive. So It was suggested to file my own claim against them.
    The business operates out of many states, they’re trying to file against me from new York.

    • Sandy McCarthy December 29, 2017 at 5:22 am

      I believe it would be in your best interest to get legal advice from an attorney regarding this matter.

    • Sandy McCarthy January 12, 2018 at 4:41 am

      We do not assist with these types of complaints. You will probably need to hire an attorney to help you on this.

  3. Ginger September 11, 2017 at 3:08 am

    I need help this is a traffic matter
    If someone could please call me 9513939724

    • Sandy McCarthy September 13, 2017 at 3:58 pm

      Hi Ginger – Unfortunately our office does not handle traffic related matters (unless you are looking to file a civil lawsuit for a motor vehicle accident).

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