Glossary of Terms

All form numbers refer to Official Judicial Council Forms

Abstract of Judgment - (Form EJ-001)
A document issued by the clerk of the small claims court. When recorded at a county recorder, it places a lien on any real property owned by the judgment debtor in that county.

Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment - (Form EJ-100, SC-290)
A form that the judgment creditor must complete, sign, and file with the court as soon as the judgment is fully paid.

Agent for service of process
A person or legal entity that a corporation or other business entity designates as its agent for receipt of documents constituting service of process. Service on the agent is effective as service on the entity authorizing the service.

Appeal
New hearing of all of the claims by a different judge of the superior court. See Request to Correct or Vacate Judgment (Form SC-108).

Application and Order to Produce Statement of Assets and to Appear for Examination - (Form SC-134)
A judgment creditor's request for an order directing the judgment debtor to come to court to answer questions, and (if so requested) to bring described documents.

Application for Earnings Withholding Order (Wage Garnishment) - (Form 982.5(1))
A form that a party who wins the case must complete and file with the small claims clerk to enforce a judgment against the losing party's earnings.

Assignee
A person or business that stands in the place of the original creditor. A debt collection agency is an assignee. Assignees can't sue in small claims court.

Authorization to Appear on Behalf of a Party - (Form SC-109)
A form that a representative of a party (such as a corporation or a person in jail) must complete and file with the judge at a hearing in which the representative will represent that party.

Bank levy
Enforcement of a judgment by resort to the judgment debtor's checking or savings account at a bank, savings association, credit union, or other financial institution. For this to occur, a Writ of Execution and the judgment debtor's written instructions must be obtained from the court and delivered to a sheriff or other enforcement officer.

Claim of defendant
A claim filed by a defendant against the plaintiff who has started the lawsuit. (See Cross Claim and Defendant's Claim and ORDER to Go to Small Claims Court (Form SC-120).)

Claim of Exemption - (Forms WG-006, EJ-160)
A document filed by the judgment debtor that lists the property that the judgment debtor claims is exempt from execution and therefore can't be taken by a sheriff or other enforcement officer to pay the judgment.

Claim splitting
Dividing a claim and filing two lawsuits instead of one, for the purpose of staying below the upper limits on amounts that can be sought in small claims court. Claim splitting is prohibited. The entire claim must be asserted and resolved.

Claimant
A person (including both a plaintiff and a defendant) who asserts a claim.

Conditional judgment
A decision whose effect depends on an election to be made after the hearing by one or both of the parties (such as a judgment providing that one party must either pay to the other party the fair value of certain property, or return the property itself to the other party).

Costs (or court costs)
Official fees and charges that a party pays to file a case or obtain documents needed to enforce a judgment. The judgment may require a losing party to pay costs incurred by the prevailing party, but only if they (a) are of a kind allowed by law, (b) were necessarily incurred, and (c) are reasonable in amount. Allowable costs do not include claims for travel expenses or loss of time to prepare for or attend the hearing.

Cross claim (or counter claim)
A claim of the defendant against the plaintiff. A claim of the defendant is usually heard and decided at the same hearing as the plaintiff's claim. It need not relate to the plaintiff's claim.

Damages
Money claimed or awarded in court, equal to the dollar value of the claimant's losses.

Default
If a party to an action does not attend the hearing it is said that the party is in "default." If the judge determines that the non-appearing party was properly notified of the action, the judge may consider the plaintiff's evidence and decide the case in the defendant's absence. The judgment in such a case is sometimes called a "default judgment."

Defendant
The person or other entity that is being sued.

Defendant's Claim and ORDER to Go to Small Claims Court - (Form SC-120)
The form that is completed and filed by a defendant who asserts a claim against the plaintiff.

Defense
Facts and argument that demonstrate and explain why a person asserting a claim is not lawfully entitled to receive the money or other relief that the claimant is requesting.

Dismiss with prejudice
To set aside the present action, without the claimant having a right to file another lawsuit on that claim. A dismissal with prejudice ends the case.

Dismiss without prejudice
To set aside the present action, but leave open the possibility of another lawsuit on the same claim.

Disputant
A person who is involved in a dispute with another person, whether an actual or prospective plaintiff or defendant.

Enforce
To legal enforcement procedures to obtain money to pay a judgment, as by a bank levy or wage garnishment. A Writ of Execution or Abstract of Judgment is usually needed.

Exempt assets
Property and income of a judgment debtor that is legally protected from being forcibly taken to pay a judgment debt. (See Claim of Exemption (WG-006), EJ-160).)

Fictitious Business Name [Declaration] - (Form SC-103)
A form stating that the business has complied with California's fictitious business name registration laws. A "fictitious business name" is a name, other than the business owner's true name, under which the business operates.

Financial Statement - (Form EJ-165)
A form that a person claiming an exemption of earnings must complete and file.

Good cause
A sufficient reason.

Guardian ad litem
A person appointed by the court to represent a minor (a person who is both under age 18 and not legally emancipated). The representative is usually the minor's parent. A guardian ad litem may also represent a person who is mentally incompetent.

Guarantor
An individual or company that has agreed to be responsible for the acts or omissions of another.

Interest
An amount added to certain kinds of debts when payment of the debt is delayed. Interest is recoverable only if specifically awarded by the judge hearing the case.

Judgment
The decision of the judge. It usually states the amount the judgment debtor must pay the judgment creditor, and may include other terms such as an award of pre-judgment interest and court costs, an authorization to pay the judgment debt by installments, and provisions on calculation and payment of post-judgment interest.

Judgment creditor
The party (the plaintiff or the defendant) in whose favor a judgment has been awarded.

Judgment debtor
The party (the plaintiff or the defendant) against whom the judgment has been entered.

Judgment Debtor's Statement of Assets - (Form SC-133)
A form, completed by the judgment debtor, that lists the judgment debtor's assets and sources of income. The judgment debtor must complete and transmit this form to the judgment creditor within 30 days after receiving notice of the court's decision.

Keeper
A levying officer (usually a sheriff) who takes over the operation of the judgment debtor's business for a limited duration to obtain cash and credit card receipts for payment to the judgment creditor to satisfy the judgment.

Mediation
A process in which a neutral third person — a "mediator" — helps the parties to a dispute to discuss their problem and work out their own mutually acceptable solution

Monetary limit (or "jurisdictional limit")
The most that a plaintiff or defendant may seek in a small claims court action.With important exceptions, the monetary limit is $5,000.

Motion
A written request to the court.

Natural person
An individual person, as distinguished from a fictitious legal entity such as a corporation or limited liability company. With certain exceptions, the monetary limit on a claim by a natural person is $7,500.

Notary public
A person whose most common function is to certify that the signature of the person signing a document is the signature of the person named in the document.

Notice of Appeal - (Form SC-140)
A request for a new hearing of a small claims court case before a different judge of the superior court.

Notice of Entry of Judgment - (Form SC-130)
A form notifying the parties of the judge's decision after a hearing.

Notice of Motion to Vacate Judgment - (Form SC-135)
A request to vacate (set aside) a judgment issued at a hearing at which the person making the request was not personally present. A request of this kind is only granted upon a showing of good cause.

Order to Appear for Examination - (Form SC-134)
A court order instructing the judgment debtor to appear in court at a specified date and time to answer questions about his or her property and sources of income. (The full title of this form is Application and Order to Produce Statement of Assets and to Appear for Examination (Form SC-134).)

Party
A person named as a plaintiff or a defendant in a small claims court action (may be a natural person, or a fictitious legal entity such as a corporation or limited liability company).

Personal service
Handing a copy of court papers directly to the person to be served.

Plaintiff
The individual person or entity who files the lawsuit.

Plaintiff's Claim and ORDER to Go to Small Claims Court - (Form SC-100)
The form that the plaintiff completes and files to begin a lawsuit in a small claims court. A copy must be served on each defendant. This form is ordinarily called the "plaintiff's claim."

Pro tem judge
See temporary judge.

Process
Court papers that notify a person that the judgment debtor is being sued. In small claims court, this might be the Plaintiff's Claim and ORDER to Go to Small Claims Court (Form SC-100), or the Defendant's Claim and ORDER to Go to Small Claims Court (Form SC-120).

Process server
A person who serves court papers on a party to a lawsuit. This may be an adult relative or friend, a professional process server, or a county sheriff (where available).

Proof of Service (Small Claims) - (Form SC-104)
A form that is completed and signed by the person who has served court papers on a party, stating when, where, and on whom service of process was made.

Proof of Mailing (Substituted Service) - (Form SC-104A)
A form that is completed and signed by the person who has effected service of process on a party using substituted service.

Request for Dismissal - (Form CIV-110)
A form filed with the small claims court if a settlement or agreement is made between the parties before commencement of the small claims court hearing. The dismissal cancels the hearing and stops the proceeding. (See dismiss without prejudice and dismiss with prejudice.)

Request to Correct or Vacate Judgment - (Form SC-108)
A request to the small claims court to correct either a clerical error or an inadvertent judicial error in a judgment issued by the small claims court. Compare appeal.

Request to Pay Make Payments - (Form SC-106)
A form that is completed and filed by the judgment debtor (along with the judgment debtor's Financial Statement (Form EJ-165), if the parties can't agree on an installment payment plan. The judgment creditor may oppose or agree to the judgment debtor's request to pay by installments using Response to Request to Make Payments (SC-221).

Request to Pay Judgment to Court - (Form SC-145)
A form completed by the judgment debtor seeking authorization to pay the judgment directly to the court, rather than to the judgment creditor.

Request to Postpone Small Claims Hearing - (Form SC-110)
A form that either party may file to seek a postponement of the hearing.

Request to Waive Court Fees - (Form FW-001)
A form that must be completed by a party who desires the court to waive (forgive) filing fees or court mailing costs. Eligibility rules are provided in an Information Sheet on Waiver of Court Cover Fees and Costs (Form FW-001-INFO).

Satisfaction of Judgment
See Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment (Form SC-298, EJ-100).

Service of process
Usually involves delivering to a party who is sued a copy of the plaintiff's claim (Form SC-100). Other methods also may be used.See Proof of Service (Form SC-104); What is "Proof of Service?" (Form SC-104B); How to Serve a Business (Form SC-104C).

Settlement
An agreement reached by the parties to a dispute — often involving a compromise of one or more claims — that resolves the dispute. It typically states the terms (including total amount and payment dates) to which the parties have agreed.

Sheriff
A county law enforcement officer whose duties include enforcing court judgments — for instance, by seizing and selling a judgment debtor's assets (pursuant to a Writ of Execution (Form EJ-130) and the judgment creditor's written instructions) and transmitting the proceeds of sale to the judgment creditor. In some counties, marshals and constables enforce court judgments.

Small claims advisor
Someone who is employed by the county or who volunteers his or her services to advise and assist parties and prospective parties to small claims court actions, other than by representing them in court. Unless exempt, each county must provide individual personal advisory services to small claims disputants at no charge.

Small claims clerk
A court employee whose duties include a wide array of clerical, administrative and record keeping services to the small claims court and the public.

Small Claims Subpoena for Personal Appearance and Production of Documents and Things at Trial or Hearing and Declaration - (Form SC-107)
An order for a person to appear in court and (if applicable) bring described documents. This is typically called a "subpoena."

Statement of Assets
See Judgment Debtor's Statement of Assets - (Form SC-133).

Statute of limitations
The period of time following a transaction or occurrence within which a lawsuit must be filed in order to avoid loss of the claim.

Stipulate
To agree to something; to give one's consent.

Subpoena
A court order that requires a named person to come to court to testify as a witness. (See Small Claims Subpoena for Personal Appearance and Production of Documents and Things at Trial or Hearing and Declaration (Form SC-107).) A party to a small claims court action may request the small claims clerk to issue a subpoena.

Substituted service
Service of process by delivering the court papers to someone other than the party, mailing copies to the party at that address, and complying with other statutory requirements.

Temporary judge
An attorney who volunteers his or her time to hear and decide small claims court cases. Also called a pro tem judge.

Testify
To tell something to the judge in court. A person who testifies is a witness. What the person says in court is called testimony.

Venue
A county in which an action may be filed. In large counties, the county is divided into areas of court location and the action must be filed in a court located within the proper area of court location within that county.

Wage garnishment
A judgment enforcement procedure that requires the employer of a judgment debtor to withhold a portion of the judgment debtor's wages to satisfy the judgment. For this to occur, a judgment creditor must complete and file an Application for Earnings Withholding Order (Wage Garnishment) (Form WG-001).

Waive
To abandon or give up a claim or a right or to forgive some other requirements.

Witness
A person who comes to court to tell the judge something that relates to the case — that is, to testify. The words that the person expresses to the judge in court is called testimony.

Writ of Execution - (Form EJ-130)
A document, issued by the small claims court clerk at the judgment creditor's request, that directs the sheriff of a particular county to enforce a judgment.