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Superior Court of California - County of San Diego: Small Claims: Small Claims FAQs
Small Claims Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Who can file a claim?
  2. Where can I file a claim?
  3. Does the court provide an interpreter?
  4. Does the court provide a small claims advisor?
  5. What are the rules about designating a defendant?
  6. How does the defendant find out about the lawsuit?
  7. What happens after the trial?
  8. How do I enforce the court's judgment?
  9. How do I recover costs and fees?
10. Statewide Links and Useful References.


1. Who can file a claim?

  • An individual, which includes a sole proprietorship, may file a claim up to a maximum of $10,000, subject to the following exception: If you are suing for injuries incurred in an automobile accident and the defendant is insured, you are limited to a maximum dollar limit of $7,500.

  • Only the actual party to the claim may file. You must represent yourself at the small claims hearing. Attorneys or others are not permitted to represent a party in small claims court. If a husband and wife sue or are sued, one spouse may represent the other in Small Claims Court.
  • You must be at least 18 years old to file a claim. If you are not yet 18, you may ask the court to appoint a guardian ad litem, who can then act on your behalf. The guardian ad litem is usually a parent, relative or an adult friend but cannot be someone who is a party on the same case.

  • If you are an individual who owns a business (i.e. sole proprietor) and are doing 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 may file a claim for up to $10,000.

  • If you are a business who has filed a fictitious business name statement, you must include your statement number and date of expiration on the claim form. You cannot file a case in small claims court without a valid fictitious business name statement.

  • If your business is a corporation, partnership or anything other than a sole proprietorship, your maximum claim amount is $5,000.

  • A corporation or other entity that is not an individual must be represented by a regular employee or representative. The employee cannot be hired solely to represent the corporation or other entity in small claims court. The employee or representative is required to file a declaration with the court stating the basis of their authority to represent an entity.

  • You cannot file more than two small claims cases anywhere in California for more than $2,500 each during a calendar year.
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2. Where can I file a claim?

You must file your claim in the proper venue (county) and court location (courthouse within the county). If you file your claim in the wrong venue, the court may dismiss your claim.  If you file your claim in the wrong court location, the court may transfer the case to the proper court location or it may dismiss the case. Visit our Locations page for more information.
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    3. Does the court provide an interpreter?

    If you are involved in a small claims hearing, the court will not provide you with an interpreter. You may bring a relative or a friend to interpret for you. This person should be able to interpret statements made by the judge, the plaintiff, and the defendant.

    4. Does the court provide a small claims advisor?

    The Superior Court of California provides a Small Claims Legal Advisor at no cost. The advisor is available to assist with small claims issues and procedures from filing through enforcement. For more information about the court's Small Claims Advisory program, visit our Small Claims Advisor page.

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    5. What are the rules about designating a defendant?

    • You must be careful to designate the defendant properly using his/her/its exact legal name. If the defendant is a corporation, check with the California Secretary of State for the exact name and the agent authorized to receive service of process for the corporation. For other types of businesses, check the city business license or the county fictitious business name statement. If you do not designate the defendant's exact legal name, you may not be able to enforce the judgment.

    • If your claim is against a governmental agency, you must first file a formal claim with the agency and have your claim denied before you file a claim in court. Generally, you have six months after the incident or dispute to file a complaint with the agency.
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    6. How does the defendant find out about the lawsuit?

    You must make sure the defendant receives a copy of the claim you filed. This is called "service of process." Service of process has strict rules that must be followed exactly or your case will be delayed or dismissed. The plaintiff cannot complete service of process himself/herself.  For ways to serve the defendant, see our Proof of Service page.

     Back to Top7. What happens after the trial?

    The prevailing party must wait 30 days from the date of the mailing of the Notice of Entry of Judgment before taking any action to collect the judgment. During this period (30 days), the opposing party has a right to APPEAL. If the opposing party was not present at the small claims hearing, he or she has no right to appeal, but may file a MOTION TO VACATE. For more information on post-judgment proceedings, see our After the Trial page. If the opposing party was not present at the small claims hearing, he or she has no right to appeal, but may file a motion to vacate. If the opposing party does not file an appeal or a motion to vacate within 30 days of the Notice of Entry of Judgment, then the prevailing party may begin collection proceedings on the 31st day.

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    8. How do I enforce the court's judgment?

    For specific enforcement procedures see our How to Collect page.

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    9. How do I recover costs and fees?

    • At Trial - If you file a Small Claims lawsuit and win the case, the court will generally award you the following costs and fees:
      • Filing fees
      • Reasonable costs to serve the other party
      • Reasonable costs for an investigator to locate the other party for purposes of service of process

      If you did not hear the judicial officer award you costs and fees, ask the judicial officer to award reimbursement for these items.
    • After Trial - Collecting your judgment often requires you to spend some money to have the court issue a Writ of Execution or Abstract of Judgment or to have the Sheriff's Deparment perform a levy or serve a garnishment. If the levy is sufficient to satisfy the judgment, the Sheriff Department will deduct enough to cover the costs of levy and hence no Memorandum of Costs need be filed.  If the levy fails to satisfy the judgment, then you must fill out a Memorandum of Costs After Judgment, Acknowledgment of Credit, and Declaration of Accrued Interest (MC-012) and serve a copy of it on the other party and then file it with the court clerk. Only costs incurred within the last two years may be recovered.

      This is a technical part of the small claims process and may be confusing, but help is available for free from the small claims advisor.

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