Small Claims Court FAQ

What is small claims court?

Small claims court is a special court where disputes are resolved quickly and inexpensively. The rules are simple and informal. The person who sues is called the plaintiff. The person who is sued is called the defendant.

Who can sue in small claims court?

Any mentally competent person who is:

  • 18 year old or older, OR
  • an emancipated child.

How much money can I ask for?

An individual can ask for up to $10,000 in a claim. Corporations and other entities cannot ask for more than $5,000.

Do I have to pay to file?

Yes. The fee is based on the amount of your claim and the number of claims you have filed in the past 12 months. You can check your local court's website for the exact amount of the filing fee. Most Small Claims Court filing fees range from between $30-$75.

Can I bring a lawyer?

No, a lawyer can't represent you in court. But you can talk to a lawyer before to assist you in your preparations or after court to assist you in filing your appeal.

How long do I have to wait to go to court?

You will go to court between 20 and 70 days after you file your claim.

What will happen at my hearing?

The judge will listen to both sides of the story. To help tell your side, bring evidence like:

  • Witnesses
  • Photos
  • Bills
  • Receipts
  • Contracts
  • Other relevant documents that support your side

The judge may make a decision at your hearing, or mail it to you later. Instead of a judge, you may have a commissioner or temporary judge at your hearing. They are both just like judges. A temporary judge (called a "judge pro tem" or "judge pro tempore") is a lawyer who hears and decides cases. If you don't want a temporary judge, you can ask the court to have a judge hear your case

Can I appeal the judge's decision?

You can't appeal if you were the one who filed the claim. If someone else files a claim against you and you lose, you can appeal.

How do I file an appeal?

If you were at the hearing, you must file a form called "Notice of Appeal." You have 30 days to do this after the date the clerk mails the Notice of Entry of Judgment. There is a filing fee to file a Notice of Appeal.

What happens if someone else appeals?

You'll have a new hearing. You'll have to bring your evidence and tell your side of the story again. This time, you can bring hire a lawyer to represent you.

Content supplied by the California Courts Self Help Center