How to File Your California Small Claims Court Case
Updated: Jun 5
You got your small claims court forms ready, now what? (If you are still unclear about what forms you need to file your small claims court lawsuit check out our Quick List of Forms for California Small Claims Court.)
Now it is time to file your case.
Before Filing Your Case
Before filing your small claims court case in California, make sure you review the following:
Before you can file a small claims court lawsuit in California, the court requires that you request your money or your property back from the person you intend to sue. You will have to confirm you have done this when you file your lawsuit.
Types of Cases that Can be Filed in Small Claims
So long as there isn't another court better suited to hear the case, then the lawsuit can be filed in small claims. The most common types of small claims cases in California Small Claims Court are:
Landlord/Tenant disputes over the security deposit.
Landlord/Tenant disputes over early termination of the lease.
Disputes over loans.
Contracts (written and oral).
Disputes over auto repairs.
Disputes over remodeling or home repairs.
Damage caused to property.
Small Claims Court Limits
To be able to file a small claims court lawsuit in California, you are capped at the amount you can sue for, also known as "small claims court limits."
An individual or sole proprietor can sue for $10,000 or less.
A corporation or LLC can sue for $5,000 or less.
If you are owed for more than the amount you can sue for, you can still sue for the maximum amount allowed but you waive any additional amount over the limit.
Example: You are an individual and you paid $11,000 for someone to paint your home. They didn't paint your home. You can sue in small claims court for $10,000 and waive $1,000.
Statute of Limitations
Do not wait to file your small claims court lawsuit! After an incident occurs, you only have a set period of time to file your lawsuit. Think of this as a deadline (called the statute of limitations). Once the deadline is reached, you cannot file your California Small Claims Court lawsuit. You can review common statute of limitation periods in California here.
4 Simple Steps:
1. Figure out the filing fees.
To calculate the filing fees for your small claims court case refer to the first document you prepared: Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court (SC-100). Go to page 2 of the document where it says "The Plaintiff claims the Defendant owes $____." What amount does the Defendant owe you?
If you are owed $1,500 or less, then your filing fee is $30.
If you are owed more than $1,500 but less than or equal to $5,000, then your filing fee is $50.
If you are owed more than $5,000 but less than or equal to $10,000, then your filing fee is $75.
If you have filed 12+ cases in California Small Claims Court in the previous 12 months, then it doesn't matter how much you are owed and your filing fee is $100.
2. Figure out how to pay the filing fees.
Each court has a different procedure. What we have noticed is most courts accept checks made out to "Clerk of the Court." Most courts also accept credit/debit cards.
3. Print Copies.
You will need at least 3 copies of Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court (SC-100) one for the court, one for yourself, and one for the Defendant. If you have more than 1 Defendant, you need to print an additional copy for each Defendant. If you do not bring enough copies, most courts charge you to make additional copies.
4. Submit your documents and pay. Where?
Now you have your documents ready with the correct number of copies and you have calculated your filing fee. Next up is actually filing the case with the court. You can file your case in-person, by mail, or online.
In-Person at the Small Claims Court
You can file your case in person at the small claims court. Once you get to the courthouse, locate the room number for the "Clerk of the Court." Once in the room, locate if they have a special line for small claims cases.
Most small claims courts accept documents to be filed by mail. If your county has more than 1 court, you will want to call your local Clerk of the Court to ask which court accepts small claims court filings. Make sure you mail sufficient copies (a minimum of 3 copies) and a check for the correct amount made out to "Clerk of the Court." You also want to include a self-addressed stamped envelope with the correct number of stamps. This will allow the court to mail you a copy of the stamped complaint. To be on the safe-side, mail your documents as certified mail, return receipt requested so that you can track if the court has received your documents. You also want to write "ATTN Small Claims Court Division" in the mailing address.
Some California small claims courts are now accepting electronic filing (known as "efiling"). The efiling process is far from uniform in California with each court having a different procedure for efiling. Go to your local small claims court website to find out if they have adopted efiling.