How do I file my case correctly if I am suing a business?

Updated: Apr 27

When suing a business, you will want to be sure you the because to the right court house. Read on to learn more about how to select the right place so your case is filed correctly.

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Selecting a Venue

“Venue” refers to the specific county in which your legal case can be decided by a court with proper jurisdiction. For example, if you live in California and you wanted to sue a California-based company for failing to provide you with services you paid $9,000 for, then you could likely sue the company in small claims court in California, because that court would likely have both “subject matter jurisdiction” over such a relatively minor case and “personal jurisdiction” over the parties (because both you live in California and the business is based in California). But each county has its own small claims court (or even multiple small claims courts). Figuring out which county you can sue in is the goal of determining the venue.

Factors to Consider

The defendant has the right to challenge your choice of venue for the case. Consider these factors, in the order listed, to figure out in which county’s courthouse to file your claim:

1. Identify the county in which the business has its main office. If your contract does not provide the address of the business’s main office, you may be able to search the internet to find it. For instance, you can check the California Secretary of State’s database. If the company’s main office is outside of California, then you might be able to sue in the county of your choosing.

2. Identify the county in which the contract was entered into. For verbal contracts, this would be where the parties ended up agreeing to the deal (i.e., said “yes” to it). For written contracts, this would be the county (or counties) in which the parties signed the contract. Note that if you’re suing over breach of contract for an online purchase, the county in which the contract (or the sales website’s terms of use, where this information may be found) was entered into would be the county in which you completed your purchase.

3. Identify the county in which the contract was to be performed. For example, if the company was supposed to deliver goods to your house or complete work at your house, on that basis you could select a courthouse in your county of residence.

4. Identify the county in which the defendant breached the contract or made it clear that it would be breaching the contract—this is called an “anticipatory breach”. For instance, if you are using a contractor company for not fixing your house, and the contractor made it clear to you that they wouldn’t be fixing your house when you met for coffee in Shasta County, then you could sue them in Shasta County because that was the location of their anticipatory breach.

5. Contracts sometimes name the county in which disputes over them shall be handled. If this is the case with your agreement, a judge might expect you to file at a courthouse in the county listed in the contract, if the venue stated in the contract is indeed a proper venue according to the four factors listed above. Note that if you are trying to sue a company for breach of contract on the basis of a purchase you made on their website, the “contract” you are suing over is normally the same as that website’s terms of use. (Though the fact that you have used the company’s website and made a purchase through it, often you and the company can be seen as having agreed to the website’s terms of use, which operate as a contract). But if the venue stated in the contract (or terms of use) that you are suing over doesn’t satisfy any of factors 1-4 above, then you should be able to ignore the venue stated in the contract and just choose a venue that does satisfy one of the four factors listed above.

More than one of the above apply

If there’s more than one county that is a proper venue, then you can choose the county among them that’s most convenient for you or your witnesses.

None of the above factors apply

If none of the above factors apply, then you may be able to file in a county of your choosing. However, if the defendant company can make a good argument for changing the venue once your case is filed, the judge may grant its request to change the venue. For example, the law allows defendants to move lawsuits against them to a county that has some connection with the defendant such as where the defendant’s representative resides or where the agreement was made, even if these sorts of connections wouldn’t normally be strong enough to make any of those counties the proper venue.

Defendant fights selected venue

When the defendant wants to change the venue you selected, it does have to give you notice of its plan. That will give you time to prepare your counter-arguments so that you can fight for the case to stay in the county in which you filed.

But, since small claims suits usually involve only one court appearance, the chances are less likely that the defendant will try to fight the venue you have chosen than if your suit were in a different, more major court.

What if your agreement says you must sue in a state other than California?

Since you intend to bring your claim in small claims court, you should be able to ignore that part of the agreement. At the hearing, you will be able to explain that the cost of traveling to a different state in order to bring a small claims court lawsuit would be more than the case is worth. That would be unjust and unfair to you.

Bottom line

Do your best to select the venue that makes the most sense to you, using the guidelines set out above. In the end, the judge will decide if you have selected the correct venue.

Remember, the safest venue for you to choose is the county in which the defendant has its main office. Keep in mind that the defendant company can and might ask the court to change to a different county. You must be prepared to defend your venue choice by providing evidence that shows why it is fair for the defendant. For example, if you have witnesses whose evidence is important to your case, and they reside in the same county as you, that would add weight to your choice of your county of residence for the venue.

Quest for Justice can help you navigate the entire process of litigation, including selecting a venue that would least likely be challenged!

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