Small Claims Court
Review for
Volunteer Attorneys
Gary M. Baum
Law Offices of Gary M. Baum
[email protected]
Purpose of Small Claims Court
 Small
Claims Court is designed for less formal and
smaller disputes.
 Decisions
are made by Commissioners or
Temporary Judges.
 Typically,
Small Claims Court is used for money
 $10,000
is the general ceiling for claims.
business may not file a claim for more than
 If
a claim is for more than $10,000 and the filing is
made in Small Claims Court, then the amount over
$10,000 is waived.
 Claims
for automobile personal injury are limited
to $7500.
 Service
must be done properly.
 Personal
service is preferable, but cannot be done
by the plaintiff. The person serving must be over
18 years old.
 Client
may hire someone to serve the claim.
 Certified
mail is a cheaper alternative.
 Substituted
service is possible.
claim should be filed in the County where the
Defendant resides.
 It
may be filed where the Defendant’s business is
located or where the contract was to be
 Cases
in South County should be filed in Morgan
 Cases
in North County should be filed in Palo Alto.
Tips for the Plaintiff
 Arrive
at least ½ hour early to park and get
through security.
 Attempt
to settle with the Defendant if at all
 Bring
 Give
 Live
3 copies of all documentation.
the Defendant a copy of all documents.
witnesses are always better than declarations.
Tips for Defendants
 The
same tips as apply for Plaintiffs, apply here.
 Dress
nicely and wear clean clothing.
 Bring
in an interpreter with them, if necessary. The
interpreter should not be a witness.
 Be
prepared to briefly explain their side of the
 Bring
any evidence for the Commissioner to
 Either
side may default. For Defendant, ask that
the case be dismissed with prejudice.
default can only be taken if service was proper.
 For
Plaintiff they will need to prove up the value of
their case.
Special Circumstances
A contractor may only sue for $500 or more if he or she is
licensed. Bring a copy of the license to Court.
No license, no case and the case will be dismissed.
Note: car repair facilities must be licensed as well and they
should take a copy of their license to Court.
Landlord Tenant Disputes
 Landlord
tenant disputes are one of the most
common filings in small claims court.
 General Tips:
 Use
photographs or live witnesses.
 Security
deposits are capped at two times the
monthly rent for unfurnished apartments and three
times the monthly rent for furnished apartments.
 There
is no such thing as a non-refundable deposit.
Landlord Tenant Disputes (con’t.)
Most disputes are about security deposits.
The landlord bears the burden of proof in these cases.
Deposits may be withheld for cleaning, actual damage,
alterations to the unit or unpaid rent or utility obligations.
Deposits may not be withheld for normal wear and tear.
For example, the life of a carpet is generally expected to be 5
The landlord must provide receipts for all amounts withheld.
Landlord Tenant Disputes (con’t.)
The landlord must provide a full accounting and a refund of
the remaining deposit within 21 days of the termination of
Receipts or a written summary if the work was performed by
the landlord is required for all withheld amounts in excess of
Failure to provide the summary and funds within 21 days may
result in a penalty of up to twice the deposit under Civil
Code 1950.5.
Collecting Judgments
Winning is only the first step. Collecting can be the hard
The judgment is stayed for 30 days after entry.
If the judgment is for $750 or more involving a motor vehicle
accident, the Plaintiff can file with the DMV which will affect
the Defendant’s license.
Writs of Execution or wage garnishment are also available.

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