Small Claims FAQ

  • An individual, which includes a sole proprietorship, may file a claim up to a maximum of $12,500.
  • 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 $12,500.
  • 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.

You must file your claim in the proper venue (county). In San Diego County, all Small Claims actions must be filed at the Hall of Justice (Central Division) located at 330 W. Broadway, Room 225, San Diego, CA 92101.

If you have a small claims hearing scheduled and need an interpreter, complete the Interpreter Request/Cancellation form (SDSC Form #ADM-348 ) as far in advance of your hearing as possible. The form can be brought to the business office during business hours or mailed to the court location noted on your paperwork. The court will try to schedule an interpreter for the date and time of your hearing at no cost to you, but cannot guarantee that one will be available. 

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 the Small Claims Advisor page.

  • You must be careful to designate the defendant properly using their 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.

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 on their own. For ways to serve the defendant, see the Proof of Service page.

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, they have 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, the prevailing party may begin collection proceedings on the 31st day. For more information on post-judgment proceedings, see the After the Trial page.

For specific enforcement procedures, see the How to Collect page.

  • 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, you may 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 Department 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.