About Small Claims Court

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The Small Claims Court is designed to hear disputes from natural persons valued at $10,000 or less ($5,000 if the suit is brought by an artificial entity such as a trust, LLC, or a Corporation). With very few exceptions, the parties must represent themselves. An attorney is only permitted to represent a party during a small claims appeal.

Regular civil litigation can be a very complicated and long process. Non-attorneys attempting to represent themselves are generally confused and overwhelmed by the many rules and requirements. Small Claims court is very different. It is meant to go faster than a lawsuit in Superior Court, and many procedural and evidentiary rules in regular civil court are relaxed or non-existent. Generally, a small claims case is resolved from between 1 to 2 months after it is filed.

Generally, any person or entity (for example, businesses, partnerships, or government agencies) can sue or be sued. To file a lawsuit a person must be 18 or older and be considered mentally competent. Lawsuits on a minor’s behalf must be brought by a parent or guardian acting as a Guardian Ad Litem.

The small claims hearing itself typically lasts about fifteen minutes. The judge may announce his/her decision at your hearing or mail it within a few days. Claimants should go prepared to explain their case to a judge and should bring 3 copies of all evidence they wish to present.

Some rules governing Small Claims Court can be found in the Small Claims Act at Code of Civil Procedure Section 116.120 through 116.950. Online search: Search CA LAW.

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