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Departments - Small Claims





This web site is designed to give you general information on small claims issues.

It is not a substitute for legal advice.

Please be warned that court forms, laws and local rules change constantly. Though best efforts are made to keep this web site current, some of the information may be outdated.

Small Claims General Information
Tips for Representing Yourself in Court
Small Claims Forms from the California State Self-Help Center

Small Claims General Information:

Small claims court is a special court where disputes are resolved quickly and inexpensively. The rules are simple and informal. The person who sues is the plaintiff. The person who is sued is the defendant. In small claims court, you may ask a lawyer for advice before you go into court but you cannot be represented by a lawyer in court. Your claim cannot be for more than $5,000.00 per business claim, or $7,500.00 for a private party claim. If you have a claim for more than this amount, you may sue in the civil division of the Superior Court or you may sue in the small claims court and give up your right to the amount over $5,000.00. You cannot file more than two cases in small claims court for more than $2,500.00 each, during a calendar year.

If you choose Small Claims court to resolve a dispute and you are the plaintiff, you give up the right to have another court review the Small Claims judge’s decision. In other words, the plaintiff has no right of appeal. So if you should lose, that’s probably the end of the case. However, the person or entity you sue (defendant) may appeal the judge’s ruling. When such an appeal is filed, the entire case will be heard again.

If you are the plaintiff and a Claim of Defendant is filed (the defendant sues you on the same case) and you have a judgment against you, you may file an appeal on that decision.

You must be at least 18 years old to file a claim. If you are not yet 18, you may ask the court to appoint a guardian ad item. This is a person who will act for you in the case.

You must file your claim in the county where the defendant lives or where the transaction took place. You may pick up a Small Claims Packet which includes an information sheet, at our office. Read the information sheet carefully and complete the form. The form does not have to be typed but does have to be legible. Return it to our office with the proper filing fee. You may do this in person or by mail.If you live out of the area, you may send us a written request along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope. We will process your request and return the proper forms to you.

If you have been named as a defendant in a Small Claims action and have received an order to appear at a Small Claims hearing, you are being sued. If you don’t know why you are being sued, contact the plaintiff immediately for an explanation. Never ignore an order to appear in court even if you think the case is wrong, unfair, or has no basis. If you do not appear in court at the proper time and date, the court may still hear and decide the case without you and you may lose the suit by default.

If you believe the plaintiff has caused you injury or owes you money for any reason, you can file a claim against the plaintiff in the same Small Claims court action. If your case is related to the subject of the plaintiff’s case, it may be helpful and convenient to resolve it at the same hearing by filing a Defendant’s Claim and Order to Plaintiff.

If judgment has been entered against you and the appeal time has lapsed, your money or property and maybe a portion of your earnings can then be taken legally by the judgment creditor to pay the judgment against you. A Small Claims judgment is public record. Small Claims court does not report to any credit reporting agency; however, these agencies come to the court often and place the judgment on the losing party’s credit record even after the judgment is paid.

If you need further assistance for your small claims suit, you may request the name of a Small Claim Legal Advisor at no cost to you. You will need to request the name of Mariposa's Small Claim Legal Advisor by contacting the court.

Tips for Representing Yourself in Court:

  • Dress the way you want to be treated: professionally. Shorts, tanks tops, and bare feet are not allowed in the courtroom. Do not chew gum. Silence pagers and cell phones.

  • Be on time! Be seated in the courtroom with your documents [bring at least 3 copies] and your witnesses at least 10 minutes before court is scheduled to begin. Check the calendar – make sure you are in the right courtroom. Sit quietly in the courtroom, until your case is called.

  • Be prepared! Be ready to tell the judge what you want to happen that day and why. Be brief and talk about the most important things first. Make an outline to stay organized. Bring a pen and paper for notes. Organize your documents and evidence before coming to court.

  • Talk only to the judge. Do not argue with or interrupt the judge, the other party, or attorney. Each side will be given an opportunity to be heard.

  • Keep your comments positive and respectful. Do not engage in name-calling or make demeaning comments. Do not get emotionally upset or become physically or verbally threatening. If you need a break, ask the judge for a recess.

  • Behave professionally. Do not slam pens, papers, or doors. Do not laugh, sigh loudly, or make faces. The judge will be observing and behavior impacts credibility.

  • NEVER lie to a judge, even if you are not under oath. Do not try to misrepresent the facts of your case or misstate the law.

  • Do not try to talk to the judge about your case unless the other party or attorney is present. The judge legally cannot talk to you alone.

  • Do not bring young children into the courtroom. If your child cries loudly or cannot sit still, the bailiff will ask you and your child to leave.

  • Remember that everyone is human and can have a bad day. Do not take negative comments personally. Reply to legal and factual issues.

  • Attend a court hearing before your court date so you know what to expect.



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