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How to Serve the Defendant

Camila Lopez - How To - July 9, 2024

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    Once you file your California small claims court lawsuit, the next step is to notify the defendant that they have been sued. This is called "service of process" (also known as "service"). You must serve the defendant at least 15 days before trial if the defendant lives in the county you are suing in. Otherwise, If the defendant lives outside the county you are suing in, then you must serve the defendant at least 20 days before trial.

    Service of Process is the step in the small claims court process that most plaintiffs get wrong so read carefully.


    Step 1: Select the Person Who Will be Doing the Serving  

    Ask a friend:

    • Free of cost (but you will probably need to treat your friend to lunch 😉).

    • Your friend must be over 18 years old and cannot be a party to the case (aka they can't be a plaintiff).

    Ask the Court Clerk  

    • Costs around $10-$15 (costs differ depending on the county).

    • The court clerk notifies the defendant of the lawsuit by mailing the documents using certified mail. Only the Court Clerk can serve using certified mail.

    • The defendant must sign the certified mail receipt clearly (if no signature or illegible signature, then service is invalid). We do not recommend this option as it is only successful 50% of the time (and according to some sources it is only successful 5% of the time) 🛑.

    Hire a Process Server

    • Costs around $60- $125 (costs differ depending on the county).

    • A process server is an individual licensed to serve your case documents.

    • They are experts at serving court documents and are highly successful at completing the service of process. 🕵️

    • If you are a process server and want to partner with People Clerk click here to get started.

    Ask the Sheriff

    • Costs $40- $60 (only available in some counties, costs differ depending on the county).

    • Only the Sheriff located in the county where the defendant resides will be able to serve the defendant. However, not all sheriff’s offices provide this service. 👮

    Step 2: Provide a copy of the Plaintiff's claim  

    Provide the person who you selected to serve the defendant a copy of the Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court (SC-100).

    Step 3: Provide Proof of Service

    Once the defendant is served, you will have to file Proof of Service (Form SC-104) (unless you selected the Court Clerk to serve your case).


    Camila Lopez

    Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Camila holds a law degree and is a certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.

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