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 to court, but you cannot have a lawyer in court.
Small Claim matters are filed in the Civil Division.
The Small Claims court has a monetary limit, called a jurisdictional limit, on the amount of money damages that a person can claim. The most you can ask for is $10,000 (businesses can only ask for up to $5,000); however, you are limited to filing no more than two claims anywhere in the State of California for over $2,500 in one calendar year. You may file an unlimited amount of claims for $2,500 or less.
Other helpful websites to assist you in filing or defending a claim:
Small Claims Court Advisor for Tehama County
The small claims court advisor for Tehama County provides information and counseling to litigants and potential litigants concerning all aspects of the small claims court process, including case preparation, collection, venue, appeals and more.
The maximum amount you can sue for is up to $10,000. You cannot file more than two claims for more than $2,500.00 each during a calendar year.
See or print the Statewide Civil Fee Schedule (effective January 1, 2016).
No, the court will accept legible handwritten forms.
Current legislation does not allow for fax filings in small claims.
The plaintiff must file his or her claim in the proper Court and judicial district. This rule is called venue. You must be at least 18 years old to file a claim. If you are not at least 18 years old, you may ask the court to appoint a guardian. For more information on the proper venue and other requirements, see the California Courts’ form Information for the Small Claims Plaintiff.
You must make sure the defendant finds out about your lawsuit. This has to be done according to the rules or your case may be dismissed or delayed. The correct way of notifying the defendant about the lawsuit is called service of process. This means providing the defendant with a copy of the claim. You cannot do this yourself. For information on service of process, please see the Administration Office of the Courts’ website: What is Proof of Service?
You may also serve the defendant by certified mail through the Clerk’s Office for a fee.
No, neither side may be represented by an attorney at trial. However, attorneys may represent either side if an appeal is filed or in connection with the enforcement of a judgment.
In order to request a continuance you must file a Request to Postpone Small Claims Hearing with the court indicating why the continuance is being requested and include a processing fee (if the defendant has been served). You are also required to mail a copy of the letter to the other parties on the case. If the request is received by the court within 5 days of the court date, the request will be attached to the court case to be considered by the judge at the time of trial. If the request is received more than 5 days prior to the court date you, will be notified of the judge's decision by mail.
- Come to court organized and prepared.
- Arrive promptly at your assigned court time; if you arrive late, your case may be heard without you.
- Bring enough photocopies of all your evidence for each party and the judge.
- Any copies submitted to the judge the day of trial may not be returned to you.
- Bring all your witnesses.
- If both parties are present, meaning both the plaintiff and the defendant, you will be asked to go into the hallway to exchange and review any documents that will be submitted to the judge as evidence. This must be done prior to the case being heard.
- Have all your documents ready and in chronological order when your case is called.
- There will be several other cases assigned to the same time as yours so you may have to wait to have your case heard.
- When your case is called, you will stand at a podium in front of the judge. You will be asked to present your evidence and give your testimony. Always address the judge and not the other party.
- Usually, the plaintiff will give his/her testimony first and then the defendant.
- The judge will probably ask questions to further his/her understanding of the case.
- If you are the only party to appear at the trial and you are the plaintiff, you still must prove your case. Do not expect to "automatically" win your case if the other party does not appear.
- The proceedings will not be recorded by a court reporter or by any other type of recording.
- If you are not fluent in the English language, you must bring an interpreter with you. Small Claims courts do not provide interpreters.
- The judge may not tell you the decision in court. The decision (judgment) will be mailed to you.
For more information about getting ready for court, please see the California Courts’ website page: Going to Court.
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, this means that you are being sued. If you do not 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, credit agencies check the Court’s records to find judgments and recordings that have an effect on credit ratings.
Also, see Plaintiff's Claim and Order (page 4 of this form contains Information for the Small Claims Defendant).
The judge has up to 90 days to make a ruling on a case that has been taken under submission. Notice of the ruling will be mailed to you when a decision has been made.
If you do not have information regarding the judgment debtor’s income or property, you may make the debtor come to court to answer questions about his/her assets. This is done by filing an Application and Order to Produce Statement of Assets and to Appear for Examination with the Clerk’s Office including a filing fee. You must serve a copy on the defendant. Once you have the financial information needed, you may request a Writ of Execution. There is a fee for issuance of a Writ of Execution. A Writ of Execution is a court order authorizing the sheriff or other officer of the law to carry out the Court’s decision to collect a money judgment. This document tells a law officer to take property of the judgment debtor to pay your claim. The kinds of property an officer may be able to take include: wages, bank accounts, automobiles, and business property or rental income. The Sheriff will charge a fee to execute the writ.
If the debtor owns real property, you may want to record an Abstract of Judgment to place a lien on the property so that you will be able to be paid if the property is purchased, sold or financed. There is a fee to the Court for issuing an Abstract of Judgment, and the abstract needs to be recorded with the County Recorder in the county where the property is located. The Recorder’s office will charge a fee to have the abstract recorded.
The Tehama County Recorder/County Clerk’s Office’s address is:
633 Washington Street, Rm. 11
Red Bluff, CA 96080
It is required by law that the creditor files an Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment with the court upon full or partial payment of a judgment. If this form is not filed, liens cannot be removed from a debtor's property and credit reporting agencies will continue to report outstanding judgments. The judgment creditor may be liable for damages if satisfaction of judgment is not filed with the court in a timely manner.
If you do not agree with the judgment, you may ask the Court to vacate the judgment. To make this request, you must file a Motion to Vacate the judgment within 30 days after the date that the Notice of Entry of Judgment was mailed to you. If granted, the default judgment will be vacated and the matter will be reset for a trial. If the request is denied, you then have 10 days from the date that the notice of denial was mailed to you to file a Small Claims Appeal.