April 24, 2014
Overiew of Small Claims Court

Small claims is a special court within the Superior 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 to court, but you cannot have a lawyer in court

Monetary Limits for Small Claims Court: Generally, your claim cannot be for more than $5,000 if you are a business entity, or $10,000 if you are a natural person (not a business or public entity) (*see below). 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 or $10,000 if you are a natural person. You cannot, however, file more than two cases in small claims court for more than $2,500 each during a calendar year. Please refer to the Fee Schedule for the filling fees.

The Parties Present Their Cases Themselves: An attorney may not represent you in court, although you may consult an attorney before you go to court or after.

Cases are Heard Quickly: If you and the person you are suing live within the County, your case will be heard within 40 days of the date you filed your claim. If the person you are suing lives outside the County, your case will be heard within 70 days.

Typical Cases: Typical cases involve, but are not limited to, auto accidents, property damage, landlord/tenant disputes and the collection of personal debts.

The Hearing: Your case will be heard by a Small Claims Court commissioner or a judge pro tem. A commissioner has all the responsibilities and powers of a judge. A judge pro tem is an attorney who volunteers his or her time to hear and decide cases. A judge pro tem also has all the responsibilities and powers of a judge. Each party will have a chance to tell his side of the story. It's important to bring evidence such as photos, witnesses, bills, receipts, contracts or anything else that will prove your case. The judge may decide the case at the time of the hearing or mail it to the parties later.

If You Want to Appeal a Decision: Only defendants have the right to appeal in Small Claims Court. If a Plaintiff loses a claim, he/she may not appeal. However, occasionally, the defendant will file a claim against you and the hearing may be scheduled on the same day as your claims against the defendant. If you lose the claim the defendant filed against you, you may appeal that judgment.

If any party appeals, there will be a new trial on the claims being appealed. If you appeared at the trial, you must begin your appeal by filing a form called a Notice of Appeal and pay the required fees within 30 days after the date the Notice of Entry of Judgment was mailed or handed to you at the time of the Small Claims hearing. Your appeal will be heard in the Civil Division of the Superior Court. You will have a new trial and you must present your evidence again. You may be represented by a lawyer on the appeal.

* If you are filing a claim for bodily injuries as a result of a car accident against a person who has car insurance that includes a "duty to defend," you can only sue that person for $7,500.

Another exception exists in cases against a bonding company or a guarantor. Those cases have a $6,500 limit on claims by a natural person. However, this exception does not apply to consumer claims against licensed contractor's bond.

© 2014 Superior Court of San Mateo County