Small Claims & Unlawful Detainers
Small Claims is a court where you can exercise your rights to resolve a dispute. Attorneys are not permitted to represent either plaintiffs or defendants (attorneys are allowed in Small Claims appeals). Small Claims cases are for damages of $10,000 or less. Small Claims is affordable and fast, with simple and informal rules.
Small Claims Advisor
Phone: (209) 742-5322
The first step in filing a small claims action is to make a verbal or written request for payment. If a verbal demand is made, it should be followed up with a letter. To establish jurisdiction, the action must have occurred in Mariposa County, or the defendant’s (the person you are filing against) principal place of business or residence must be in Mariposa County. The maximum claim allowed in small claims court is $10,000. A plaintiff is limited to two small claims filings over $2,500 per year.
|Filing claim for $1,500 or less
|Filing claim for more than $1,500 but less than or equal to $5,000
|Filing claim for more than $5,000 but less than or equal to $10,000 (claim by natural persons only)
|Filing claim by person who has filed more than 12 small claims in California within the previous 12 months
You must submit the original and at least 2 copies of your small claims filing. If filed by mail, you must provide a self-addressed stamped envelope for return of your documents. All documents must be assembled and stapled in the upper left hand corner.
If you want the Court to notify the defendant by certified mail, there is an additional charge of $15.00 per defendant.
Before the court can exercise jurisdiction over the person (have the power to order the defendant to do something), the defendant must be aware of the lawsuit and be given an opportunity to defend the claim. The papers must be served on the defendant by personal delivery or certified mail by the court. This is called due process, a fundamental right guaranteed in the Constitution. It means that the government will not take away rights, liberty or property without first notifying the person who is to lose those rights, and giving him or her the right to appear and object. The rules governing notice to a defendant require strict compliance.
The correct way to notify a defendant about a lawsuit is by service of process. This means that a copy of the complaint filed in the court must be given to the defendant by one of the following means:
- Personal service. You may ask anyone who is not a party in your case and who is at least 18 years old to serve (give) a copy of the court papers on the defendant. Personal services means the person personally gave a copy of the court papers to the defendant.
- Substituted service. Substituted service occurs when a person other than the defendant is served on the defendant’s behalf so long as the papers are served (i) at the defendant’s business with the person in charge; or (ii) at the defendant’s home with a competent person who is at least 18 years old. The person who receives the court papers must be told about their contents. Another copy of the same court papers must be mailed, first class, postage prepaid, to the defendant at the address where the paper was left. The service is not complete until 10 days after the copy is mailed.
- Certified mail. For small claims cases only, you may ask the Clerk of the Court to serve the defendant by certified mail. The clerk will charge a fee of $15.00 for this service. You should check back with the court prior to the hearing to see if the receipt for certified mail was returned to the court. Service by certified mail can only be accomplished by the Clerk of the Court.
- The person who completes service as stated above must complete the Proof of Service form, Judicial Council Form SC-104, and have it filed with the Court.
PROOF OF SERVICE MUST BE FILED WITH THE COURT FIVE (5) DAYS PRIOR TO THE HEARING DATE. If there is no proof of service on file the matter may be continued or will be automatically dropped from the Court’s calendar. The Plaintiff must then request the matter be reset.
YOU CANNOT SERVE PAPERS ON THE DEFENDANT YOURSELF. YOU MUST USE A NON-PARTY. Professional process servers are available for hire, and the sheriff’s department may also serve legal papers for a fee.
The defendant must be served at least 15 days before the trial date if he or she lives in the county, and at least 20 days if the defendant lives outside the county. If service is not completed in time, the trial will be continued (postponed). If service is accomplished by substituted service or by certified mail, you must allow 10 ten additional days.
You may prepare your own case, or consult with an attorney about the applicable law and preparation for trial. You may also receive assistance from the small claims advisor (209) 742-5322 located at 5092 Jones Street, Mariposa, CA 95338.
If you prepare the case yourself, you may wish to research the legal theory by which you are seeking relief from the court. Small claims court is informal, so you do not have to know the law; however it will improve your chances for success if you can distill the essential elements of the case and present them to the court in a clear and concise manner.
The opposing side is entitled to see all evidence before it is submitted to the court; therefore, if you plan to bring documents to show the court, you need to make extra copies for the other side, and for the judge. It will save time if you can each have a copy to refer to in court.
Be sure you are on time for the trial. Although the small claims trial is informal, you must be prepared with witnesses, books, receipts and other documents needed to prove your case. If your witnesses are not willing to come to court voluntarily, you can request that the court clerk issue a subpoena. A subpoena is a court order that requires the witness to appear. The witness has a right to charge a fee for appearing. If you do not have in your possession the records or papers necessary to prove your case, you may request the court clerk issue asubpoena duces tecum in advance of the trial date, which orders the documents you are requesting be delivered to court for trial.
Many cases are scheduled for the same time, so each case is given limited time. You should describe the events clearly and concisely. Before you present to the court any photographs, diagrams or documents, you must first show them to the opposing side. If possible, observe other small claims proceedings in the same department or courtroom where your case is scheduled, prior to the day you are to appear. You will get an idea how to proceed in an organized manner due to the limited time available for each case.
You can complete forms online for free at www.courts.ca.gov/forms.html.