Small Claims Court Checklist

Before the Hearing - For the Plaintiff

  1. Contact the other party to discuss the issues and try to resolve the problem.
  2. Offer to resolve the problem by mediation or other informal dispute resolution methods.
  3. Familiarize yourself with small claims court procedures. Read this handbook. Talk to a small claims adviser. Attend a court session.
  4. Determine the exact amount in dispute, and how it's calculated.
  5. Identify a court where venue is proper.
  6. File a Plaintiff's Claim and ORDER to Go to Small Claims Court (Form SC-100), and pay the filing fee. If you're a business, also file a Fictitious Business Name [Declaration] (Form SC-103) if appropriate.
  7. Arrange for service of process on each defendant sufficiently in advance of the hearing as required. Make sure that the Proof of Service (Small Claims) (Form SC-104) is completed and returned to the court the required number of days before the hearing.
  8. Prepare for the court hearing. Organize your thoughts. Collect evidence. Talk to witnesses.
  9. Keep communication open. Try to resolve the dispute with the other party before the hearing.
  10. Attend the hearing and present your case.

Before the Hearing - For the Defendant

  1. Determine whether you may be legally obligated to pay the claim, and, if so, why. Consult a small claims adviser or an attorney to determine how much, if anything, you owe.
  2. Contact the plaintiff to discuss the issues and try to resolve the dispute.
  3. Suggest or agree to try mediation or some other informal dispute resolution method.
  4. Familiarize yourself with small claims court procedures. Read this handbook. Talk to a small claims adviser. Attend a court session.
  5. If you have a claim against the plaintiff, consider asking the court to resolve it at same hearing. (Complete and file a Defendant's Claim and ORDER to Go to Small Claims Court (Form SC-120).)
  6. Prepare for the court hearing. Organize your thoughts. Collect evidence. Consult witnesses.
  7. Keep communication open. Try to resolve the dispute before the hearing.
  8. If you and the other party haven't met and discussed the claim, ask the court to postpone the hearing to let you and the other party meet and resolve the dispute informally if you can.
  9. If you owe something, try to pay it, or to work out a payment plan before the hearing.
  10. Try to avoid having a court judgment entered against you, since it probably will appear on your credit record for a long time, even after you've paid it.
  11. Attend the hearing and present your defense.

After the Hearing - Plaintiff and Defendant

  1. Read the Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form SC-130) that you have received from the small claims court. It tells you and the other party how the judge ruled. If you discover an error in the judgment, you may file a Request to Correct or Vacate Judgment (Form SC-108). Either a plaintiff or a defendant may file such a request.
  2. If either of the parties was unable to attend the hearing for good cause, the party who did not appear may file a Notice of Motion to Vacate Judgment (Form SC-135) to request a new hearing in the small claims court.
  3. Judgment debtor — If the other party asserted a claim asserted against you, and you appeared at the hearing, and the judge decided against you, and there is good reason for you to believe that the judge made a mistake, you may file a Notice of Appeal (Form SC-140) to obtain a new hearing before a different judge.
  4. Judgment debtor — You may comply with the judgment (for instance, by payment to the judgment creditor or the court). If you can only make weekly or monthly payments, the court probably will issue an installment payment order if you request it by filing a Request to Pay Judgment in Installments (Form SC-106).
  5. Judgment debtor — If you haven't paid the judgment in full within 30 days after receipt of the Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form SC-130), complete the Judgment Debtor's Statement of Assets (Form SC-133) that accompanied the Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form SC-130) and send it to the judgment creditor.
  6. Judgment debtor — After the judgment creditor has received full payment, make sure that the judgment creditor files an Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment (Form EJ-100) with the small claims court.
  7. Judgment creditor — File an Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment (Form Sc-290) with the court when the judgment debt is paid, or take steps to collect the judgment.