Small Claims Courts offer alternative, informal, simple and low-cost proceedings for the resolution of disputes whose claims are not significant enough to merit the expense of formal litigation. Small claims suits in California vary from breach of contracts, damage of property, landlord-tenant disputes, fraud, outstanding debts, defective products, and unsatisfactory services as filed by consumers. The age limit of filing for Small Claims suits is 18 years. However, minors can file them through parents, guardians or friends who have attained the legal age. The small claims courts proceedings considerably vary from formal judicature processes. Principally, the proceedings are pro se litigation which implies no attorney is allowed to take part in the proceedings. Moreover, the proceedings are devoid of pleadings, lack legal rules of evidence and are characterized by lack of a civil jury. The award to the suit is founded on substantive law and often based on common sense, the fundamental element of reasonable compromise and conciliation. The statutory requirements and steps to be followed in filing a small claims suit in California, specifically Santa Clara County are charted in this study
Santa Clara County conducts the judicial hearing of Small Claims suits in the Downtown Superior Court ("Plaintiff Filing a Claim - Small Claims - Superior Court of California"). The street and mailing address of the court is 191 North First Street San Jose, CA 95113. Claimants wishing to file small claims suits can do so between 8.00am and 5.00pm effective Mondays till Fridays in the drop box located in the court's lobby. However, the official courthouse business hours are from 8.30 am to 3.00pm on published weekdays. Moreover, the civil court exempts court holidays as official business days. Moreover, a plaintiff can specify for their case to be heard on a Tuesday night at the timing of suit filing which is heard on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of every month. The forms employed in the conduct of the Small Claims Courts are Claim Statement/Complaint, Summons, Return of Summons, Answer and Subpoena which are served to the witnesses (Warner 155).
Statutes of Limitation
The statutes of limitation for filing a small claims suit in California are dependent on the comprehensive description of the claim (Warner 72). The plaintiff receives a maximum of up to four years to file a suit of a claim based on a written contract and three years for suits involving property damage. Significantly, the statute of limitation regarding oral contracts is bounded to a maximum of two years, further to which a plaintiff is legally barred from suing (Warner 19). It is paramount a plaintiff is well versed with various requirements of filing a suit, the court locations, the filing fees and procedures to undertake upon the determination of the case.
The claimant is legally required to file the small claims suit in the right county or district which is the judicial district where the defendant resides. The plaintiff is required to state in the Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Defendant form (SC -100) why the particular court is the right court (Warner 156). However, if the defendant is domicile in any other district then it is the judge's prerogative to decide the appropriate court. Significantly, exceptions abound to this rule which includes if the contention is in more than a single judicial district. The forms to be filled for a small claims suit in Santa Clara County, California can be instantly accessed in the county clerk's office upon request. Additionally, the claims form can be accessed online through the state's website http://www.courts.ca.gov/forms.htm.
The necessary paperwork to be filled includes the name of the plaintiff, the name of the defendant. It is critical that the name address of the defendant be correct and verifiable as this may present grounds for the dismissal of the claim. After successful completion of the filling, the plaintiff is required to pay court fees which vary according to the amount of the claim. If a plaintiff has filed no more than twelve claims in the past twelve months, their fee is set at 30 dollars. Additionally, for claims no more 1500 dollars and 50 dollars for claims above 1500 dollars. Moreover, for claims above 5000 dollars to a maximum of 10000 dollars, the fee is set at 75 dollars (Warner 148). Significantly, the Santa Clara County Courts stipulate excess of twelve Small Claims suits within twelve months, bears a 100 dollar filing fee. Significantly, a claimant can secure an affidavit of Substantial Hardship in order for the judge to allow delay of payment of the court fees. Furthermore, the state of California bars claimants from filing more than two suits worth more than 2500 dollars within the county during a calendar year. However, claimants are at liberty to make subsequent suit claims as long as the claims are less than 2500 dollars.
Serving the Papers
Subsequent to the filling of the claims form is the notification of the details of the suit known as the "service of process" In the jurisdiction of Santa Clara, the service of process can exclusively be conducted through the certified mail, the sheriff or through the services of a hired private process server (Warner 171). The court is subsequently mandated to set a pre-trial or trial date upon the defendant successfully being served with suit details.
Pre-trial and Ttrial
All the concerned parties to the suit are required to attend the pre-trial hearing. The defendant is allowed to present documents supporting their claims. However, witnesses are unallowed at this point of the proceedings. Moreover, the defendant and the plaintiff can commit to having the suit heard by a mediator or opt for a trial. The trial stage of the judicial proceedings involves the plaintiff and the defendant presenting their case in front of a judge or any other court-appointed official. The trial stage allows the plaintiff to present witnesses to support their claim through a subpoena served prior to the trial date.
The Court's Verdict
The judge or the court-appointed official is mandated to make a determination of the suit after a presentation from the defendant and the plaintiff. The plaintiff is required to prove his or her claim. In the event that the defendant is unsatisfied with the decision rendered by the court, they can find reprieve through an appeal (Warner 352). The appeal is heard in a formal court proceeding contrary to an initial Small Claims informal setting. Moreover, attorneys are allowed to attend the conduct of the appeal proceedings, the legal rules and procedures of evidence are strictly followed.
The court determines the suit by making a judgment on the amount the losing party is required to compensate or pay. The court is only mandated to decide the amount to be compensated by the losing party and not the payment collection (Warner 375). There exists an array of legal actions that can be dispensed to impose the court's determination. Legal tools like wage garnishment and property liens can be imposed on the losing party to effect the court's decision on the small claims suit.
I have undoubtedly gained significant insight into the availability of an alternative legal process for the resolution of small claims. The Small Claims court provides an invaluable legal redress mechanism for all citizens irrespective of their ability to be able to afford the expensive services of lawyers and attorneys in the litigation of their suits. Moreover, it is undoubtedly less time consuming to adequately address legal matters typically concerning small claims through the small claims court rather than the lengthy and complex formal litigation procedures.
"Browse All Forms - Forms_and_rules." California Courts - Home, www.courts.ca.gov/forms.htm.
"Plaintiff Filing a Claim - Small Claims - Superior Court of California." Home Page - The Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara, www.scscourt.org/self_help/small_claims/plaintiff/filing_claim.shtml.
Warner, Ralph. Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court in California. Nolo P, 2015.
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