Introduction to Small Claims
Before reading any further, you can always check out this Introduction to Small Claims for Kern County prepared by the Self-Help Attorney for Kern County Superior Court.
You can also continue below for some general information on small claims cases.
What Makes a Case a Small Claims Case?
Small Claims are civil lawsuits for $10,000.00 or less that are designed to be handled quickly and efficiently compared to other kinds of civil lawsuits. In most small claims cases, there is a single hearing where the whole case is decided (unless the defendant appeals the result). Parties represent themselves in small claims court – you cannot have an attorney appear on your behalf.
Small Claims cases do not strictly require a written response from the defendant, but the defendant can file their own claim against the plaintiff that can be heard at the same hearing date.
PLEASE NOTE – If you were served with paperwork titled Summons that gives you a 30 day deadline to file a written response, this is not a small claims case.
In California, some cases can be for under $10,000.00 without being a small claims case – if you were served with a Complaint and Summons from a plaintiff looking to recover money from a credit account, contact the Kern County Law Library to learn about that kind of case.
What Kind of Cases are Heard in Small Claims Court?
Civil cases (in other words, not criminal cases) for $10,000.00 or less. There are many kinds of cases which can match that description.
A small claims case may be appropriate if you:
- Have had your property damaged
- Believe someone broke an agreement with you for goods or services
- Want someone to be ordered to return property that is in their possession which you believe belongs to you, or to be paid the value of the property they won’t return
Are There Any Special Requirements in Small Claims Court?
Yes. Before you file in small claims court, you should ask the person/company/whomever you want to sue for the money or property you believe you are owed. That can be done in person, over the phone, or with a demand letter.
If you want help preparing a demand letter, the California Court’s website has a DEMAND LETTER GENERATOR.
Who Can I Sue in Small Claims Court?
There are many kinds of defendants you can sue. The Federal Government cannot be sued in small claims, but most other kinds of defendants can be.
Whoever you are looking to sue in small claims, you must carefully and accurately name the defendant, so that you can collect assets from the defendant if they will not willingly pay the judgment you won.
CLICK HERE TO VISIT THE PAGE on the Judicial Branch website to learn about naming a defendant in a small claims case.
The page linked above gives explicit instructions on how to name your defendant, depending on the type of defendant, so please review its examples carefully before naming your defendant.
I Want to Sue a Business – What Should I Know?
Businesses come in many sizes and many legal classifications.
You will need to know what kind of business you are suing, and you will need to know who to serve a copy of your Complaint.
Some businesses are only registered with “Fictitious Business Names” with the city in which they operate, or the county in which they operate. If you want to sue a business in Kern County, you can check to see if they registered with the city in which they operate, or you can CLICK THIS LINK TO DO A FICITITIOUS BUSINESS SEARCH for businesses registered with Kern County.
Some businesses register with the California Secretary of State. If you did a fictitious business name search for a company registered in Kern County and they operate as a Limited Partnership, LLC, or Corporation, you can find important information you will need to fill out your paperwork by doing a BUSINESS SEARCH THROUGH THE CALIFORNIA SECRETARY OF STATE WEBSITE.
Where Should I File My Small Claims Case?
First, you should MAKE SURE KERN COUNTY IS THE PROPER VENUE for your case.
Next, if you determine Kern County is the proper county for your lawsuit, visit the KERN COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT home page and you can use the “Where Should I File?” feature to figure out which courthouse to file in.
What Forms Will I Need?
For many Small Claims cases, you will only need to fill out and file form SC-100 to start your case. If there are multiple defendants (people you are suing) or more than two plaintiffs, you will need an additional form you can download here.
Complete your Plaintiff’s Claim and ORDER to Go to Small Claims Court (linked above). File it with the courthouse you found in your Where Should I File? search on the Kern County Superior Court website (also linked above).
The clerk of the civil court will assign a case number and a hearing date for your matter. Once you have a copy of your SC-100 (plus any attachments) back with a hearing date displayed, it is your responsibility to make sure the defendant gets served a copy of the paperwork.
How Should the Defendant be Served?
There is a lot of information to cover on this point, so we recommend going to this detailed web page on service from the California Judicial Branch. This page features in-depth information, plus the form(s) you may need.
The important points we cover on this page are:
- You cannot serve your own paperwork – it has to be someone else, over the age of 18, and they cannot be a party to the case
- Once your paperwork is served, your server will need to file a Proof of Service with the court at least five days before your hearing date.
- If the defendant is a business entity or government entity, there will be special rules about who to serve which you should review carefully on the link above.
I’m Still Unclear on Some Details…
You may also want to review the Small Claims Binder prepared by the Small Claims Advisor, or make contact with them at (661) 868-2532 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also review Everybody’s Guide to Small Claims on our NOLO Self-Help page. Log into the Legal Information Reference Center with the information on that page and then search for that title and you can read a self-help guide that covers far more than we can fit in a single page.