Do you have a dispute with a gym over a refund, purchase, or charges to your account? You have several options, including suing the gym in small claims court.
In this article, learn about:
- Common types of small claims lawsuits against gyms.
- What to do before suing a gym in small claims court.
- How much does it cost to sue a gym in small claims?
- How much can you sue a gym for in small claims?
- How to file a small claims lawsuit against a gym.
- Fun fact, lawyers are not allowed at the initial small claims hearing! This is to even the playing field so that each party has an equal chance of obtaining justice.
Common types of small claims lawsuits against a gym
We often receive the question, can I sue a gym in small claims? The answer is yes as long as the dispute is for $10,000 or less (more on this below).
Here are some examples of small claims lawsuits against gyms:
- Failure to cancel your membership. For example, you requested the gym cancel your membership but they never cancelled it.
- Failure to refund your account. For example, the gym agreed to issue you a refund but never did.
- Charges to your credit card. For example, if you cancelled your gym membership and they kept on charging you.
What to do before suing a gym in small claims court
Send a Demand Letter
A demand letter is a letter that outlines a set of requests. For example, you could request a refund and explain why you are requesting a refund.
If you eventually decide to sue in California small claims court, you are required to first request your money or property back before you can file the lawsuit. While you can request your money or property back orally, it is recommended you do so in writing in the form of a demand letter.
What to include in the demand letter?
Unsure of what to include in your demand letter to the gym:
- How much money you are owed.
- Why you are owed money.
- Your contact information.
- Where to send payment.
- Give them a few days to respond (usually about 7 to 14 days).
- State that if they don't respond, you intend to sue.
How much does it cost to sue a gym in small claims?
So how much are you going to spend by suing a gym in small claims court?
Court Filing Fees
The amount you will pay to file a small claims lawsuit in California depends on how much you are suing the gym for. You will pay between $30 to $75 to file the lawsuit. If you cannot afford to pay court fees, you can ask the court to waive the fees.
Once the lawsuit is filed, you have to notify the gym that you have sued them. This is called "serving." Serving Costs can range from $0-$75.
More on who to serve on behalf of the gym below. If you win, you can request that the gym pay for your court fees and serving costs.
How much can you sue a gym for in small claims?
In California, you can sue a gym for a maximum of $10,000 if you are an individual. If you are a business suing a gym, you can sue for a maximum of $5,000. Note, if you are a sole proprietor, you count as an individual.
By suing in small claims you are agreeing to waive any amount over the maximum amount you can sue for, even if you are owed more. For example, if the gym owes you $15,000, and you decide to sue in small claims, you are waiving suing for an additional $5,000. Meaning that you will win a maximum of $10,000.
While you may be missing out on the full amount you are owed, there are practical benefits to suing in small claims instead of suing in "regular court."
Here are some of the benefits:
- Court filing fees are cheaper in small claims than in other courts.
- The process is faster in small claims than in other courts as your hearing will usually be scheduled 30-70 days after you file the lawsuit.
- Lawyers are generally not allowed in small claims which helps keep the costs of suing low.
How to file a small claims lawsuit against a gym
Step 1: Identify the legal name for the gym, their address, and their "agent of service of process."
In order to sue in California small claims, you need to be able to correctly name the person or business you are suing. Identifying whether the gym is doing business as an LLC or Corporation is very important. Alternatively, the business may be owned by a person, known as a "sole proprietorship."
- Look for names the gym uses on contracts, receipts or the store front. Look through any documents you have from the gym and write down any potential names you have from the gym. Follow the steps below using the names you have written down.
- Fictitious Business Names. Many gyms use a name other than their legal name to do business. They do this for marketing purposes usually because their legal name is too long. A name other than a legal name is called a fictitious business name. Each county has a database of fictitious business names where you can search for the real legal entity name. In this article, we cover this process in detail.
- Business License Search. Using the address for the gym, you can search for their business license. Each city has a database of business licenses. Call the business license department for the city where the gym is located in.
- Search on the California Secretary of State's website. The gym may be registered as a corporation or LLC. You will need to identify the name of the corporation or LLC. In this article, we cover this process in detail. It is important to identify who the agent for service of process (someone selected by the corporation or LLC to receive legal documents on its behalf) as this is the person who will be served.
Step 2: Complete "Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court" (Form SC-100)
- This form starts the California Small Claims Court lawsuit process. Download here.
- It is also known as the "complaint" or "claim."
Step 3: File "Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court"
Each California Small Claims Court has a different procedure for filing. You have to check with your local small claims court whether they allow filing in-person, by mail, online, or by fax. Or we can file your case for you!
Step 4: Serve the gym
If the gym is owed by an individual (not registered as a corporation or LLC)
Once you file your California small claims court lawsuit, the next step is to notify the gym that they have been sued. This is called "service of process" (also known as "service"). You must serve the gym at least 15-20 days before the small claims court hearing (sometimes you are required to serve at least 30 days before the hearing). There are several ways you can serve the gym including by having a friend serve, hiring a process server, or hiring the sheriff. You cannot serve your own lawsuit.
If the gym is a corporation or LLC
Remember, you will be serving the gym's "agent for service of process" as listed on the California Secretary of State's website. Learn more here.
What is a small claims court hearing like?
Small claims hearings in California small claims are informal and most hearings last around 15 minutes. While many disputes settle before the hearing, here is what to expect if your lawsuit does not settle.
Who will represent the gym at the hearing?
- The easiest way to answer this question is that a lawyer will not be representing the gym since lawyers cannot represent parties at the initial small claims hearing. They will have a non-attorney representative.
- Right before the hearing, the judge will ask you and the gym's representative to show each other the evidence that you will later show the judge.
- The judge will ask you why you are suing.
- The judge will ask the gym's representative to tell them their side of the story.
- The hearing will last around 15 minutes.
- The judge will ask you to show them the evidence you brought. Sometimes the judge will keep the evidence. Other times, you will get the evidence right back.
- Very rarely a judge will tell you whether you won or lost at the hearing. Instead, the judge will tell you that their decision will be mailed to you (usually takes a few weeks to two months or so).