The plaintiff must file
their small claims case in the proper justice center and geographical area. This rule is called venue.
The correct venue is based on any of the following options:
A. A defendant lives
in this venue or a defendant corporation or unincorporated association has its principal
place of business in this venue.
B. A person was injured or personal property was damaged
in this venue.
C. A defendant
signed, entered into a contract, lives in this venue, or if the defendant was a
corporation or the contract was breached in this venue.
D. The claim is on a retail installment account or contract
subject to Civil Code section 1812.10.
claim is on a vehicle finance sale subject to Civil Code section 2984.4.
For a list of each justice
center please refer to the
If you bring your claim in the wrong court, the court may dismiss your case
and you will have to refile in the correct court.
*You must correctly name
If it's possible
that you may need to use the court process to enforce a judgment in your favor,
it's important that the defendant must be named correctly. Otherwise your judgment
may be difficult to enforce. If you don't know the defendant's correct name and
only learn about it later, you can ask the judge to amend or modify your claim at
the hearing. You also can amend the judgment at any time to show the judgment creditor's
If you're not sure which of several possible defendants
is responsible for your claim, name each person you believe is liable. The court
will decide whether the people you named are proper defendants and legally responsible.
Here are some examples of ways to name a defendant: An
individual—Write the first name, middle
initial (if known), and last name.
Example: "John A. Smith." If
an individual has more than one name, list all of them (separated by the words "also
known as" or "aka").
A business owned
by an individual—Write
the names of both the owner and the business. Example: "John A. Smith, individually
and doing business as Smith Carpeting, and Smith Carpeting, a proprietorship." If
you win your case, you can enforce your court judgment against assets (such as a
checking account balance) in the names of either John A. Smith or Smith Carpeting. For more tips on naming or finding a business name, click here.
A business owned
by two or more individuals—Write the names of both the business and all of the
owners that you can identify. Example: By naming Suburban Dry Cleaning and its owners,
John A. Smith and Mary B. Smith, you can collect from the assets of either the business
or an individual owner. They can be sued as "John A. Smith and Mary B. Smith, individually
and doing business as Suburban Dry Cleaning, and Suburban Dry Cleaning, a partnership."
A corporation or
limited liability company—Write
the exact name of the corporation or limited liability company, as you know it,
on the claim form. You need not name the individual owners of the corporation or
limited liability company. Example: "Fourth Dimension Graphics, Inc., a corporation."
If the corporation operates through a division, corporate subsidiary or fictitious
business name, both should be listed. Example: "Middle Eastern Quality Petrol, a
corporation, individually and doing business as Fast Gas, and Fast Gas."
A vehicle accident
you're suing to recover the losses you sustain in a motor vehicle accident, you
should name both the registered owner or owners, and the driver. Example: If the
owner and the driver are the same person, "Joe Smith, owner and driver." If the
owner and driver are not the same, "Lucy Smith, owner, and Betty Smith, driver."
- Make a copy for yourself and each defendant
named. Take the completed forms and
copies to the proper
and file with the Small Claim’s clerk.
- Pay the current filing fee.
The clerk of the court
will stamp and issue a date of hearing on each form and copy.
The court will keep the original.
You must keep one copy for your own records and you must serve the remaining copies
on each defendant.
There are 3 different
ways to serve someone:
(1) Personal Service:
-The Sheriff charges
$40 to serve each defendant. You must
contact the Sheriff in the county in which the defendant is located.
here for Sheriff Service Instructions.
Or contact the Orange County Sheriff's Office:
North County 714-569-3700
South County 949-476-4820
servers charge a similar fee for service and may be found in any yellow pages. Anyone over the age of 18 who is not a party to the action
may serve a defendant.
* Tell the server to: Walk up to the person to be served and
say, "These are court papers." Give the person copies of all the court papers. If
the person won't take the papers, just leave them near the person. It doesn't matter
if the person tears them up or throws them away.
*You must serve
your claim at least 15 days before the court date (or 20 days if the person, business,
or public entity you're serving is outside the county).
(2) Substituted Service:
If the person you have to serve is not at home or work when your server goes
there, your server can give the court papers to:
- A competent adult (at least 18) living
at the home with the person to be served, or
- An adult who seems to be in charge where
the person to be served usually works, or
- Tell the person s/he's leaving the court
papers with to give them to the person you're suing.
- Write down the name of the person s/he
gave the court papers to. If the person won't give his/her name, your server must
write down a physical description of the person who took the papers.
- Mail another copy of the court papers
by first-class mail to the person you're suing at the same address where your server
left the papers.
*You must serve your claim at least 25 days before your
court date (or 30 days if the person, business, or public entity you're serving
is outside the county).
(3) Service by Certified Mail by the Court Clerk
However, you must keep in mind that if the defendant
chooses not to sign for the certified mail, then they were not served with the lawsuit.
For information on how
to serve a business click here.
For any type of service,
the person doing the service must complete and file a Proof of Service for each defendant served.
Once your server fills out and signs the Proof of Service, you must
file it with the Court at least 5 days before your court date.
Before your court date, plan what you are going to say. Decide what your main points
are and bring proof. Try to think of what the other person might say and how you
will answer. You can also talk to a small claims legal advisor or a lawyer before
Types of proof:
- Estimates (bring at least 2)
- Diagrams that show how an accident happened
- Police reports
If you need documents
that someone else has, or you wish to bring a witness, you can fill out a
At the trial, the judge
will either rule the day of or keep the case under submission.
In either event, both parties will receive a Notice of Entry of Judgment
through the mail.
You must wait 30 days
from the date of mailing of the Entry of Judgment before proceeding with collecting
your judgment. If the judge rules in
your favor, the defendant becomes known
as the judgment debtor and your are the judgment creditor.
There are various options for collecting your judgment if the judgment debtor
does not pay you voluntarily:
-Debtor’s Examination: If you have no information with regards
to the judgment debtor’s assets, you may choose to do a debtor’s examination. You should come to the hearing with
a list of questions to ask the debtor.
In a debtor's examination,
you can ask the debtor:
- What type of property they own,
- Where that property is located, and
- Whether or not the debtor has a job.
Fill out an
Application and Order to Produce Statement of Assets and to Appear for Examination
Judgment Debtor's Statement of Assets.
Take these forms to court to get a hearing date. (Click here to see Sample Questions to Ask the Debtor)
The debtor will be put under oath, but in most counties you will ask the questions
yourself. The questioning will probably occur outside the presence of the court
commissioner or judge.
You should also serve
the debtor with a Subpoena and Declaration
for any documents you need to see.
The subpoena, notice of debtor's examination and judgment debtor's statement
of assets must be personally served on the debtor.
-Garnishment of Wages: You'll need the court to issue a
Writ of Execution.
You'll then need to prepare
Application for Earnings Withholding Order.
You'll then need to prepare instructions for the sheriff.
-Levy a Bank Account: You’ll need the court to issue a
Writ of Execution. You'll
then need to prepare instructions for the sheriff explaining what you want
them to levy. Then you will need to prepare a Notice of Levy (Enforcement of Judgment).
-Place a Lien on
Property: Have the court clerk
Abstract of Judgment . Take or mail the Abstract of Judgment
's office in the county where you believe the debtor owns real property. Click
to find a County Recorder.
You will not be paid automatically, but if there is a refinancing or
sale of the property, you should get paid your money with interest. You do not need to know the address of the real property to record an Abstact. However, if you would like to ascertain this information, then some county assessors will confirm if a debtor owns real property over the
here to find a local tax assessor.
for more ways to collect your judgment
The Superior Court must
charge for the various documents filed and issued. Check our
for current fees.
All of the aforementioned forms are available from each
courthouse or you may download the forms from this web site.
Ask the clerk if the court can give you an interpreter for
free. If not, bring someone-such as
an adult or relative or friend-who can interpret for you in court.
It is best if your interpreter is not a witness or listed in this case. Lastly, you may choose to ask the clerk
for a list of interpreters (Interpreters usually charge a fee.)
If you have questions
regarding the process or procedures of small claims please call the
Small Claims Court Advisory of the Legal Aid Society of Orange County.
Small Claims Clinics
are held every Friday.
Call (714) 571-5200 or
(800) 963-7717 for questions
to the status of your case should be directed to the
where your case is filed.