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Who can sue in small claims court?
Any mentally competent person who is:
→18 year old or older, OR
→an emancipated child.

If you are:
not mentally competent, OR
under 18 years old (and not emancipated)
a judge must appoint an adult called a guardian ad litem to represent you in California small claims court.

How much money can I ask for?
An individual cannot ask for more than $10,000 in a claim. Corporations and other entities (like, government entities) cannot ask for more than $5,000. You can file as many claims as you want for up to $2,500 each. But you can only file 2 claims in a calendar year that ask for more than $2,500.

You can only sue a guarantor for up to $4,000 ($2,500 if they don't charge for the guarantee). But, if you are a natural person filing against the Registrar of the Contractors' State License Board you can sue a guarantor for up to $10000. A "guarantor" is a person who promises to be responsible for what another person owes.

Do I have to pay to file?
Yes. The fee is based on the amount of your claim and the number of claims you have filed in the past 12 months:

If you have filed 12 or fewer claims in the past 12 months:

Amount of your claim: Filing Fee
$0 to $1500 Your filing fee is $30
$1500.01 to $5,000 Your filing fee is $50
$5000.01 to $10,000 Your filing fee is $75

If you have filed more than 12 claims in the past 12 months, the filing fee is $100 (for any claim amount).

Can I bring a lawyer?
No, a lawyer can't represent you in court. But you can talk to a lawyer before or after court. Lawyers can appear on a small claims appeal.

What kinds of cases go to small claims court?
There are different kinds of cases. The most common are: car accidents, property damage, landlord/tenant rent deposit disputes, and collection of money owed.

What will happen at my hearing?
The judge will listen to both sides of the story. To help tell your side, bring evidence like:
Other relevant documents that support your side

The judge may make a decision at your hearing, or mail it to you later. Instead of a judge, you may have a commissioner or temporary judge at your hearing. They are both just like judges. A temporary judge (called a "judge pro tem" or "judge pro tempore") is a lawyer who hears and decides cases. If you don't want a temporary judge, you can ask the court to have a judge hear your case. You may have to come back another day. Click here to find out how to get ready for court.

Can I appeal the judge's decision?
You can't appeal if you were the one who filed the claim. If someone else files a claim against you and you lose, you can appeal.

How do I file an appeal?
If you were at the hearing, you must file a form called "Notice of Appeal." You have 30 days to do this after the date the clerk mails the Notice of Entry of Judgment. The current cost to file a Notice of Appeal is $75.

What happens if someone else appeals?
You'll have a new hearing. You'll have to bring your evidence and tell your side of the story again. This time, you can bring a lawyer to represent you.

When is it too late to file a claim?
It's not easy to figure out if it's too late to file. If you're not sure, file your case and let the judge decide.

Here are some tips:
• If you are suing because you got hurt, you can file a claim for up to two years after you were hurt.
• If you are suing because a spoken agreement was broken, you have 2 years to file after the agreement was broken.
• If you are suing because a written agreement was broken, you have 4 years to file after the agreement was broken.
• If you are suing because your property was damaged, you have 3 years to file after your property was damaged.
• If you are suing because of fraud, you have 3 years to file after you find out about the fraud. Fraud is when you lose money because someone lied to you or tricked you on purpose.
• If you are suing a government or public agency, you have 6 months to file a claim with that agency. They have 45 days in which to make a decision. If no decision is made with 45 days then it is deemed denied. If they reject your claim, you have 6 months to file a claim with a small claims court.

Do I have to go to court?
If you're suing someone, you must go to court. You can't send anyone else (even a lawyer) to represent you in court.

But there are some exceptions. For example:

You may not have to go to court if: (1) you are serving on active duty in the armed forces, (2) you were assigned to your duty station after your claim arose, and (3) your assignment is for more than six months.

For more information about exceptions, read Civil Procedure Code section 116.540 . Also, check out: Authorization to Appear (Small Claims) (form SC-109)

Who goes to court when a business is sued?

If you are the only owner of a business, you must go to court unless the claim can be proved by evidence of a business account in which case a regular employee with knowledge of that account may represent you.

If you have a partner, one of you must go.

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this site is not legal advice, but general information on legal issues commonly encountered in the California Small Claims process.'s Legal Document Service is not a law firm and is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. cannot provide legal advice and can only provide self-help services at your specific direction.
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