This Resource Guide for Small Claims Court litigants is designed to direct you to a number of resources and locations where you can get help to file and prepare your Small Claims Court case.
Some of the resources will provide you an opportunity to talk with someone about your case. Some of the resources will require that you read and understand material about Small Claims Court and apply what you read yourself.
For instance should you go to the Law Library for assistance you will be referred to materials that will help you, and you will be called upon to read, review and apply the materials on your own to your particular case.
We hope this Resource Guide is helpful.
I'd Like Some In-Person Help
Legal clinics and other resources referred to here will allow you to discuss your case with someone at the legal clinics and you will be given information about how to handle your case by the person you speak with.
Start here to find out if you have a claim or defense. Advisors and volunteers at the clinics may be able to provide you with information to determine if you have a legal claim. Once it is established that you have a valid legal claim or defense, you can use the other resources in this guide to start or reply to a small claims case.
For in person help, you can consult the following:
- If you think you may be able to reach an agreement with the other party, the National Conflict Resolution Center may be able to offer free mediation to resolve the dispute without going to court. Call 619-238-2400
- The San Diego Superior Court has a Small Claims Advisor. They offer workshops, and other services. Call 858-634-1777 for more info.
- USD School of Law has a Small Claims Clinic. They require appointments, call 619-260-7470.
- California Western School of Law offers a Community Law Project which offers walk in legal advice and referrals at five locations in San Diego.
- Thomas Jefferson School of Law has a Small Claims Clinic. Call 961-4371 for more info.
- The San Diego County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service has a Small Claims panel. Fees may be involved. Call 619-231-8585 for more info.
Lawyers usually cannot represent you in a small claims action. They may advise you, but with some exceptions you must represent yourself in court.
This guide is intended to assist you in preparing for your small claims action. It is not intended to provide legal advice. Be certain to do your own thorough research.
Can I File a Small Claims Court Case?
By law, every superior court in California shall have a small claims division. See: Code of Civil Procedure 116.210.
The Small Claims Court has jurisdiction in the following actions:
- Recovery of money up to $10,000. (CCP 116.221) Specific rules apply for claims of $10,000 or less.
- For an injunction (the court would require the defendant to do, or stop doing something) under certain circumstances.
- For specific other equitable relief (the court would require the defendant to provide relief other than money. For example: performance, or provision of property) under certain circumstances.
- Various other very specific cases as listed in the Code of Civil Procedure, section 116.220.
Read the Code carefully to be sure your claim is a fit.
There are limits to the number of small claims actions you can bring. See Code of Civil Procedure, section 116.231.
What Do I Do?
The San Diego Superior Court has a great information page for small claims procedure on their website here.
As with any lawsuit,if you can't resolve your dispute through discussion or mediation, you can start by filing a claim (or complaint) with the court, and then serving that claim on the defendant. You will then appear in court and present your case to the judge.
If you are being sued in Small Claims court, start by reading the information provided on the Plaintiffs Claim that was served on you. It tells you when to appear in court and what you have to bring, and offers options that may stop the claim from proceeding in the court.
Look at the Resources page of this Guide for online materials, and hard copy materials that will assist you.