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Small Claims

Small Claims Division

Small claims cases are lawsuits that do not exceed $10,000 and are resolved quickly and inexpensively with relatively simple and informal rules

In Small Claims court, disputes are settled in a fair, quick and inexpensive manner. You may ask a lawyer for advice before you go to court; however, you may not have a lawyer represent you in court, but you may have an attorney to represent you in the appeal. The place to file a Small Claims case is at 205 S. East Street, Alturas, CA. The court clerks can answer many kinds of questions and provide the forms you need; however, they are prohibited by law from giving legal advice. Further information and publications are available at the Department of Consumer Affairs and the California Courts Self-Help Center located at

The Small Claims court does not report to any credit reporting agency; however, these agencies come to the court often and place the judgment on the losing party's credit record even after the judgment is paid.

If you need additional assistance or have questions filing your claim, please contact our Self Help Facilitator, Stephen King, at (530) 233-4444 for further assistance.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you choose Small Claims court to resolve a dispute and you are the plaintiff, you give up the right to have another court review the Small Claims judge's decision. In other words, the plaintiff has no right of appeal. Therefore, if you lose, that is probably the end of the case. However, the person or entity you sue (defendant) may appeal the judge's ruling. When such an appeal is filed, the entire case will be heard again.

If you are the plaintiff and a Claim of Defendant is filed (the defendant sues you on the same case) and you have a judgment against you, you may file an appeal on that decision.

If you are filing a Small Claims Appeal out of the county, you may obtain the forms from the California Courts Self-Help Center. A checklist and forms are also available at California Courts Self-Help Center—Small Claims Forms, including the fee waiver application and order Monetary Limit.

The Small Claims court has a monetary limit, called a jurisdictional limit, on the amount of money damages that can be claimed. The most "a natural person" can ask for is $10,000; however, you are limited to filing no more than two claims anywhere in the State of California for over $2,500 in one calendar year. You may file an unlimited amount of claims for $2,500 or less. Corporations and other entities (such as government entities) cannot ask for more than $5,000. Service The party who has filed the case must cause the legal documents to be served upon the other party.

If this service is not done correctly, the court will require the plaintiff to re-serve the papers correctly before the case can be heard in front of a judge.

The following instructions will assist you in proceeding with your claim; failure to comply with these instructions may result in a delay or in your claim being dismissed.

Personal Service

This must be completed at least 15 days prior to the court date if the defendant is in Modoc County or at least 20 days prior if the defendant is outside of Modoc County.

Substituted Service

Sometimes it is not possible to locate the actual party named on the legal document. In this case, it is legal and proper to leave the claim with another adult at the defendant's home, or with someone who is in charge at the defendant's usual place of business. These documents must be in an envelope bearing the name of the defendant, and the server must state that the papers are for a legal case. In this situation, the documents must be served at least 25-days prior to the court date if the defendant is in Modoc County or at least 30-days prior to the court date if the defendant is outside Modoc County. At this point, the person who served the documents must also mail the second copy of the claim to the defendant at the exact same address where the first copy was left. This is to be done with first class mail, postage pre-paid. No other form of mail is permitted.

Marshal or Sheriff in the county where the defendant lives or does business.

If you choose this method, you must contact the Sheriff’s Department for further instructions. It is your responsibility to insure that the completed proof of service is returned to the court prior to the scheduled court date.

Private Process Server

(a listing of process servers may be found· in the yellow pages under “process serving.)” If you choose this method, you must make arrangements with the process service of your choice. It is your responsibility to insure that the completed proof of service is returned to the court prior to the scheduled court date by anyone at least 18 years of age who is not a party to the action. They must fill out a proof of service form and it is your responsibility to insure that the completed proof of service is returned to the court prior to the scheduled court date. You may pay the court to do service by certified mail. You may not send the certified mail yourself. Please refer to the fee schedule.

A lawyer is not allowed to represent you in court. However, you may talk to a lawyer before or after court.

If you are the suing party, and you do not meet the exceptions outlined in Code of Civil Procedure §116.540, you must go to court. You cannot send a representative to take your place in court. Please consult this code section if you are in doubt.

When a claim is filed, the clerk will schedule the hearing date approximately 45 days out to allow sufficient time for service.

At the hearing, the judge will listen to both sides. You may bring witnesses, photos, bills, receipts, contracts, or any other proof you have. The judge may make the decision at the time of the hearing or take the matter under submission and mail the decision to you. The party filing the claim is the plaintiff and the person being sued is the defendant. If you have been named as a defendant in a Small Claims action and have received an order to appear at a Small Claims hearing, this means that you are being sued.

If you do not know why you are being sued, contact the plaintiff immediately for an explanation. Never ignore an order to appear in court even if you think the case is wrong, unfair, or has no basis.

If you do not appear in court at the proper time and date, the court may still hear and decide the case without you and you may lose the suit by default.

If you believe the plaintiff has caused you injury or owes you money for any reason, you can file a claim against the plaintiff in the same Small Claims court action.

If your case is related to the subject of the plaintiff's case, it may be helpful and convenient to resolve it at the same hearing by filing a Defendant's Claim and Order to Plaintiff. If judgment has been entered against you and the appeal time has lapsed, your money or property and maybe a portion of your earnings can then be taken legally by the judgment creditor to pay the judgment against you. A Small Claims judgment is public record.

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