Category Archives: Filing the Action

California Small Claims Court Rules

What are the California Small Claims court rules?

California Small Claims Court Rules

California Small Claims Court Rules

There are two types of rules that we use in California for small claims court cases.  State-wide rules and local rules and the names are very descriptive of what they are.  State-wide rules apply to the entire state of California (from Siskiyou to San Diego–North/South or the Pacific Ocean to the Arizona/Nevada border–West/East).

You know what is great?  Small claims court is intended to provide a venue that is easily accessible to people without any legal education or training.  There are no juries, no formal pleadings, rules of evidence, or findings in small claims court actions.  This is codified (fancy word for stated) in California Code of Civil Procedure section 116.120(b) which reads:

In order to resolve minor civil disputes expeditiously, inexpensively, and fairly, it is essential to provide a judicial forum accessible to all parties directly involved in resolving these disputes.

What the court is saying here is we need to have a special system in place that makes it easy for nonlawyers (or lay people) to have their day in court.

In fact, the training that judges undertake encourage judges to take an active role in determining the facts that are in dispute by witnesses.  Judges may consult with witnesses informally (asking the witness questions straight from the bench).  Contrary to what you think, it is nothing like what you see on television with Judge Judy or some other infamous judge.  Here, the judge will likely be cordial, courteous, and polite with all the parties.

What rules does the judge follow in making a decision?

Common sense.  Seriously we’re not joking.  Decisions should be based on substantive law  and on the application of common sense.  So if you know substantive law before you file your small claims court case, you will already have a decent chance of knowing whether you will win or lose.

What are these state-wide rules?

Most of the state-wide rules pertain to the procedures you need to use during your small claims court actions.  When we say procedures, we mean the rules and directions you need to follow when filling out your small claim court forms, when you are serving a defendant, how much time you have to file an appeal, etc.  These rules can be found generally at California Code of Civil Procedure section 116.120 through 116.870.  These are available online.

Does the other side have to follow the rules?

Yes.  Both sides have to follow the rules.  This applies to you if you are the plaintiff (person bringing the claim) or the defendant (person being sued).

What else do the rules cover?

The procedural rules found in the Code of Civil Procedure outline the entire process from who may file a claim (a person/corporation/etc.), where the claim is to be filed (venue/jurisdiction), who may be sued (you can sue your landlord for your security deposit back here), to whether you can amend your claim, whether a defendant can file a claim against the plaintiff as well, states that there is no formal discovery, etc.

For the most part, the rules that govern small claims court cases in California are aimed to be the least obtrusive to the parties while still complying with a level of due process.  Due process is an abstract name we’ve given to a set of ideas we believe are required in order for a judicial process to be fair.  Things like, did both parties have adequate notice of the judicial hearing, did both parties have adequate time to prepare for the hearing, etc.

Questions regarding rules?  Feel free to leave your comments below and we are more than happy to help you understand the rules.

What forms do I need to file with the small claims court?

California Small Claims Court Forms

Type CA Small Claims Court FormsHandling a case in small claims court is a lot easier than most people think it would be.  In fact, the Judicial Council of California hosts a wide variety of fillable pdf forms that allow you to draft your claim or response on the computer.  These forms were updated January 1, 2011 by the Judicial Council to reflect changes made during the 2010 year.  We will review the basic forms needed for the plaintiff and defendant along with certain cases that will require additional forms.

Note: the drawback to these forms is that you cannot save them.  Thus you will fill out the form and then print it out.  I recommend printing out a copy (to review for typos and misspellings), making the corrections, and then printing out the second copy for the court.  Also, I’ve made all the links on this page to the forms open in a new window so that you can refer back to this page for assistance in completing the forms.

Plaintiff’s forms

If you want to take someone to small claims court, you need to fill out form SC-100.  Fill out the address on page 1, the information on page 2, and 3 and you are set.  Take this to your clerk’s office (located in your local county courthouse).

Note: as a Plaintiff, you waive your right to appeal by submitting your claim to small claims court.  This means that you are stuck with the court’s ruling and may not appeal it.

If there are more than two plaintiffs or more than two defendants, you will need to also fill out form SC-100A.  This is a simple form asking for information such as the name and address of the additional parties.

Defendant’s forms

After being served with a plaintiff’s claim, a defendant responds by filling out form SC-120.  Fill out the address in the upper right of the court on the first page (should be the same as the address listed on the paper you were served with by the plaintiff).  And fill out pages two and three.

Note: like the plaintiff, if you raise a claim in your response, you too waive your right to an appeal on that issue.  If the judge rules against you on the plaintiff’s claim, you still may appeal that issue.

Similar to the plaintiff above, the defendant will have to fill out form SC-120A if there are too many parties to list on form SC-120 in items one and two.

Request an Extension

Either the plaintiff or the defendant may file for an extension.  A plaintiff can request an extension if not all the defendants have been served.  A defendant can request an extension for a reason as well.  You need to fill out SC-150.  Note: If you are the plaintiff or the defendant check the date your case is scheduled for trial as early as possible.  If you have any possible conflict, we encourage you to fill out and file an extension as early as possible.  In fact, if you do not request it, you have to fill out a specific section (item 5) on form SC-150 explaining why you waited so long to ask for an extension.

Case Involving Attorneys’ Fees

A specific case that requires an additional form is a dispute involving  attorney-client fees.  Form SC-101 is required to be attached per Item 7 on form SC-100.  This form lets the court know that you are suing for a disagreement  for $5,000.00 in less in attorneys fees and that you have tried to solve the dispute through arbitration.  The form asks for some basic information including what the arbitrator’s decision was.  The second page also details what your rights are.  If you are a client in a dispute with an attorney, we strongly encourage you to read this form through prior to initiating your claim.

For a complete list of forms to use for your small claims court case, visit the California Judicial Council website forms section.  Once there, from the drop down menu select “Small Claims” and click the grey button below which reads “See Forms.”

California Small Claims Statute of Limitations


Small Claims Court Statue of Limitations

How Quickly Must I File My Case in California Small Claims Court?

The Statute of Limitations is a legal term that asks simply whether the lawsuit or action was filed “in time.”   The time is different for the type of case and varies by each state.  What is nice about California is that the Statute of Limitations is the same throughout the state (from Modoc County all the way down to San Diego).

The statute of limitations acts as a dagger hanging over the head of the plaintiff.  If the plaintiff fails to file the action within the time required, the judge must dismiss the case as a matter of law (unless the statute of limitations was suspended and the time limit extended).

The statute of limitations or time which the plaintiff must file depends on the case.

  • Two years from the date of injury.  If the injury isn’t immediately discovered, two years from the date it is discovered.  A minor has until his/her 18th birthday to file a case (or the two years, whichever is longer).
  • In a case involving an oral contract, the statute of limitations is two years from the date the contract is broken.
  • In a case involving a written contract, the statute of limitations is three years from the date the contract is broken.
  • In a case involving fraud (someone lied to you or tricked you on purpose), you have three years after you learn of the fraud.
  • Government entities are handled differently.  Before a government or public entity may be sued, a written claim must be filed with the entity.  For cases involving personal injury or personal property damage, the claim must be filed within six months.  For cases involving breach of contract and damage to real property, you must file the claim within one year.  If your claim is rejected by the public entity (and they most always are), you must file your action within six months of the rejection or you’ll lose your right to sue (we will cover handling public entities in another article, but for now, just remember that they are treated differently).

The statute of limitations is a harsh rule.  If you file it one day late, the judge will dismiss your action as a matter of law (meaning you won’t even be able to argue the facts of your case).  The reason for this rule which sounds harsh and archaic, is to protect individuals from being sued for something that happened years before.  As time passes, memories fade, witnesses die, or move away, and clear details of the case often blur together.  For example, you probably remember what you had for breakfast today, but if  asked what you had for breakfast three weeks ago, you probably would not remember (unless the breakfast stood out in your mind for a unique reason–like it was your birthday and your spouse made you breakfast in bed).

Thus, it is in your best interest to file your claim earlier (remember the sooner you file the sooner you are likely to prevail).  Additionally, it will make it significantly easier for you to remember the specific details surrounding the case.