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What happens if the person I sued does not show up to the small claims hearing?

Camila Lopez - How To - August 26, 2022

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    As long as the person you sued has been properly notified that they have been sued ("served"), the judge will still decide your case with or without them.

    This is the step in the small claims court process that most people get wrong so read carefully. 🛑

    Background on Serving

    Once you file your California small claims court lawsuit, the next step is to notify the person you sued that they have been sued. This is called "service of process" (also known as "service").‍

    Why? Fairness. How can you win a lawsuit against someone if they didn't know of the lawsuit?

    • Remember, it isn't just about them vaguely knowing they have been sued but about  "proper notification" that they have been sued. Meaning, they need to correctly be notified that they have been sued. This action of properly notifying someone that they have been sued is known as "serving" or "service of process."

    • So long as someone has been correctly notified that they have been sued, then they are required to defend themselves (attend the hearing) or face the consequences (potentially lose the lawsuit).

    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 $45-$75 (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: $0- $40 (only available in some counties).

    • 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 lawsuit  

    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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