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Serving your California Small Claims Lawsuit

Camila Lopez - Serving - August 26, 2022

People Clerk helps you with your small claims court lawsuit.

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Once you file your 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. If the defendant lives outside the county you are suing in, then you must serve the defendant at least 20 days before trial.

In this article, learn about:

Service of Process is the step in the small claims court process that most plaintiffs get wrong so place close attention while reading this article. 🛑

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

Ask a friend:

  • Costs: Free (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. 🕵️

Ask the Sheriff

  • Costs: $40- $60 (only available in some counties). This option is free if you qualify for a

    court fee waiver.

  • 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 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: 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).

Chief Legal Architect & Co-Founder @ People Clerk. Camila is an attorney, consumer advocate, and certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.

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