Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why One Small Claims Case Won’t Change the Way AT&T Does Business

Cnet has a good article discussing Matt Spaccarelli’s recent victory against AT&T.  It notes that AT&T forced him to go to small claims court specifically because the contract signed by him prohibited the ability of a class action lawsuit.  The Supreme Court ruled in 2011 to uphold a company’s right to include a clause in contracts prohibiting subscribers from suing the company as part of a class action.

At this point, Mr. Spaccarelli’s only two options were an arbitration program, funded entirely by AT&T, or file in small claims court.  CNET’s article notes that many consumer advocates believe that allowing wireless carriers to completely opt out of class action lawsuits is unfair as it will lead to different outcomes in cases which involve essentially the same facts.  Very interesting.

LA Times Publishes Article With Tips for Small Claims Court

In the wake of the win by an LA County litigant against Honda regarding miles per gallon advertising claims, the LA Times had an article with a variety of tips for small claims litigants.  Nothing new or earth shattering.  The article pointed out that many counties offer small claims advisors.  It discussed the limits of small claims court and other general questions.

AT&T Reverses Course, Decides not to Appeal Small Claims Court Case

In a sudden change of heart, AT&T has decided that it will not be appealing its loss in Ventura County Small Claims Court several weeks ago.  Instead, it has decided to pay Matt Spaccarelli’s damages ($850 + $85 in court costs).  This is a big change from AT&T’s prior position when it sought to appeal the decision and to muzzle Mr. Spaccarelli’s attempts to assist others in his position.  No word yet on whether AT&T will terminate his cell phone service.

Mr. Spaccarelli has created a website to assist other AT&T customers in his position.  Mr. Spaccarelli’s website lists the documents he used in his case.  In fact, Mr. Spaccarelli is already helping his brother who is similarly situated.

Why did Mr. Spaccarelli win?  Because he went in prepared.  He had a statement of the case prepared that he read to the judge and he was able to explain his case in a simple and straightforward fashion (even with something as complex as data throttling on cellular networks regulated by the FCC).  Kudos to Mr. Spaccarelli.  We hope this inspires other readers with their own cases.

Civic owner sues Honda and wins almost $10k

A few weeks ago, Heather Peters prevailed in a small claims court case against Honda.  Court Commissioner Douglas Carnahan awarded Peters $9,867.19 in damages (just under the new $10k threshold) (and note it was a commissioner, not a judge who made the decision).

In her case, Peters asserted Honda’s advertising misled her into believing her hybrid could achieve as much as 50 miles per gallon.

Honda, of course, is appealing the ruling.  They called it a “radical and unprecedented departure from California and federal law.”  We believe Honda’s comments are disrespectful and ignorant of the class action lawsuit against Honda on the very same issue.

In fact, Heather Peters had to opt out of the class action lawsuit in order to allow her case to move forward.  The advantage to this is that Heather was able to achieve far more than what she would obtain from a class action settlement.

AT&T seeks quiet settlement with small claims Victor

Here is an update for an earlier story we had regarding a small claims litigant who sued AT&T for throttling his data while on an unlimited service plan.

It appears that AT&T is currently in talks to try and settle the case (which is odd, because they had no intent of doing so prior to the trial).  The law firm retained by AT&T has even threatened to cancel Matthew Spaccarelli’s cell phone service if he doesn’t sit down to talk.

AT&T has also stated they are appealing the judge’s decision.

While Mr. Spaccarelli admits he tethered the phone to his computer, he still believes AT&T went too far with the tethering and essentially rendered his phone unusable without any warning.

While we always encourage settlement before trial, it appears AT&T is now attempting to bully this small claims court winner into settling the case.  We think AT&T should pay their money and be quiet.  Asking Mr. Spaccarelli to be quiet is only going to make the problem worse.

Here’s a fun clip of Mr. Spaccarelli asking AT&T for his money:

We wish him the best of luck as this case continues to unfold.

California small claims court limit raised to $10,000

On July 8, 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 221 into law.  As of January 1, 2012, small claims litigants can now recover $10,000 from the previous limit of $7,500.  There are two caveats to this increase: 1.) for claims of bodily injury from a car accident against a defendant if the defendant is insured and the policy contains a duty to defend and 2.) the limit remains $5,000 for suits brought by corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships, and other corporate entities.

An individual still cannot file more than two small claims actions that exceed $2,500 in any year.

SB221 was authored by the same senator who authored SB422 in 2005 which increased the limit from $5,000 to $7500.

This will allow more people to resolve their cases without the expense of hiring an attorney to recover money.  This website has more information on small claims court cases in California.

Small Claims Court Appeal

Appeal a Small Claims Court Case – Can I appeal?

small claims appeal

Small Claims Appeal

An appeal of a small claims court judgment is a request to the superior court to change the small claims court judge’s decision.  This entails another hearing and you must present your case again.

What is a “trial de novo”?

One name for a small claims appeal is a “trial de novo” which is a fancy legal term for “new trial.”  This means that your case is decided by a brand new judge from the beginning so you have to prepare for appeal all over again (like you prepared for the initial hearing).

The appeal takes place in the civil division of the superior court (not the small claims court division).  Because of this key difference, both you and the other party are allowed to bring an attorney to represent you at the new hearing.

Who can file an appeal in a small claims case?

Short answer–only the defendant.  Long answer–the plaintiff can also file an appeal but only if the defendant has filed a counterclaim against the plaintiff and the defendant prevails on the counterclaim.  Since an appeal for a small claims case is a new trial, the entire case is decided again from the beginning.

How is a small claims appeal filed?

The appeal must be filed within thirty days of the date the small claims judgment was mailed to you.  This date will appear on your copy of the small claims decision.  You must file a Notice of Appeal (Small Claims) (Form SC-140) with the small claims court.

After you file the Notice of Appeal, the court will mail you the date and time of the hearing on the appeal.  As mentioned above, the hearing will be in the civil decision of the superior court (which may be at a different courthouse than the courthouse you appeared at for the first hearing).

If you do not appear at the appeal, the judge will not hear your side of the case.

What happens at the trial on the appeal?

A new judge will hear all the evidence again and renders a decision.  The judge does not know what happened at the first trial, so this judge looks at the case as if it was being decided for the first time.

As stated above, either side may be represented by an attorney at a small claims appeal.  It is possible the judge may award you up to $150 in attorneys fees and $150 for your actual loss of earnings, transportation expenses, and lodging that you incurred for the appeal.

Additionally, if your side can prove the other side filed the appeal in bad faith with the intent to harass or delay you, or to encourage you to not pursue your claim, the judge may award reasonable and actual attorneys fees of up to $1000 and $1000 in actual loss of earnings, transportation expenses, and lodging incurred (and that are reasonable).

For example, if the judge finds the appeal was not in bad faith, you may have had to hire an attorney for $250.  Even though it cost you more than $150, you may only recover that amount unless there is bad faith.  The same goes for loss of earnings, transportation (think mileage) and lodging (if the court is far from where you live).

What happens after the decision on the appeal?

The decision on the appeal is final meaning it cannot be appealed again.

If you win the appeal…

…and are the plaintiff, once the court sends you notice that you have won the appeal, you may proceed with collection of your judgment.  There is no 30-day waiting period like there was after the original small claims trial.  (The purpose of the thirty day waiting period was to allow for the defendant to appeal).

…and are the defendant and you completely win the appeal, you owe no money.  🙂

If you lose the appeal…

You will have to pay the original judgment (or more if the judge found that you owe more on appeal).  The judge may order you to pay for the plaintiff’s court costs (such as filing fees and cost of service).  Interest accrues at the rate of 10% each year the judgment is not paid.

As mentioned above, you may be ordered to pay up to $150 in attorneys fees to the plaintiff as well as $150 in costs associated with the appeal (transportation, loss of earnings, and possibly lodging).

The worst thing that can happen to you is that the judge finds that you filed your appeal in bad faith.  The judge could award up to $1000 in attorneys fees and $1000 in travel costs (and loss of earnings).

What does it mean to file an appeal “in bad faith?”

The judge makes a finding that:

  1. You filed your appeal without strong support for your position;
  2. Your intent was to harass or delay the other party; or
  3. You filed your appeal to encourage the other side to drop their case.

California Small Claims Court FAQs

California Small Claims Court FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Small Claims Court frequently asked questions

Small Claims Court FAQs

This is meant to be a quick stop to answer a variety of questions that many people have involving small claims court cases.  For more in depth information, we encourage you to view the other articles on our website.

What is small claims court?

A special court set up in California to handle disputes quickly, efficiently, and without the procedures and rules involved in every other court case.

Can I sue in small claims court?

Any mentally competent person who is eighteen years of age or an emancipated child may sue in small claims court.  (An emancipated minor is a minor whose parents no longer have control or custody of him or her-if you have to ask you are most likely not an emancipated minor).

What is the limit of how much money I can sue for?

A person cannot sure for more than $7,500 in a case.  A corporation (or other entity like the government) cannot sure for more than $5,000.  You can only file two claims per year for more than $2,500.  You can file as many claims as you want asking for $2500 or less.

A guarantor (a person who promises to be responsible for what another person owes) may only be sued for up to $4000 ($2,500 if they didn’t charge for the guarantee).  But if you are a person suing the Registrar of the Contractors’ State License Board, you can sue a guarantor for up to $7500.

Is there a cost to file a small claims court case?

Yes.  A filing fee is required and is based on the amount of your claim and the number of claims you have filed in the past twelve months.  If you filed twelve or less claims in the past twelve months, the filing fee is:

  • Suing for $0 through $1,500, the fee is $30
  • Suing for $1,500.01 through $5,000.00, the fee is $50
  • Suing for $5000.01 through $7,500.00, the fee is $75
If you filed more than twelve small claims court actions in the previous twelve months, the filing fee is $100 (no matter how much you are suing for).

Can I have an attorney?

You cannot have an attorney represent you in court.  However you are able to speak with an attorney before or after your hearing to answer any questions and/or ask for help preparing your case.  Our site has an in depth article detailing when you may see the other party represented by an attorney.

How long does it take for my case to be heard?

The Superior Courts of California are divided by counties.  So it varies within each county (depending on how backlogged the courts where you filed are).  Typically you will go to court between twenty and seventy days after your claim is filed (lately we are seeing hearings on the latter side of that time frame with many counties past the seventy days).

What types of cases can be filed in small claims court?

Many types of cases can be filed in small claims court.  The most common cases we see are automobile accidents, property damage, rent deposit disputes between a landlord and a tenant, and a collection of money owed.

What happens at the small claims court hearing?

The judge (check out our article on the type of judge you will see in small claims court) will listen to both sides of the story.  To help prepare your side, you should collect and provide to the court evidence like witnesses (who were there when the accident happened), photos (of the auto accident, your injuries, how clean your rental unit was when you left or how the damage was present when you moved in), any bills you received or sent to the defendant, any contracts that were signed between you and the other side, and any other relevant documents that help your case.

A judge may make a decision about your case at the hearing or mail it out later.