How Small Claims Court Works | Sonoma County, California
If you are looking for a way to settle a dispute without paying expensive attorney fees, you may want to consider filing a small claims court case in Sonoma County. Small Claims Court is a division of the California Superior Court that handles civil disputes between individuals and businesses with damages of $10,000 or less. In this blog post, we will provide an overview of how Small Claims Court works in Sonoma County, CA.
What is a Small Claims Court?
A small claims court is a court system where parties can resolve disputes over a small amount of money without having to hire an attorney. Cases are heard by a judge, and the filing process is much simpler than in other courts. Small claims courts are designed to provide justice quickly and fairly, so it is important to understand how it works before filing your claim.
How Does the Sonoma Small Claims Court Work?
In Sonoma County, small claims court cases are handled by the Superior Court of California. Cases are heard in one of several locations throughout Sonoma County and each court has its own procedures and rules. To file a claim, you must first complete SC-100 to describe the dispute and the damages sought. This paperwork is filed with the court clerk, who will then review the complaint and assign it to a judge.
At the hearing, each party will be allowed to present their side of the story. The judge will listen to both sides and make a ruling based on the evidence presented. The judge may not tell you about their decision at the hearing. Rather, you will receive a formal decision in the mail.
A defendant that loses their case may appeal this decision within 30 days. If you appeal the case, you can begin taking the steps for the case to be considered by a higher court. A plaintiff cannot appeal the decision unless it's losing a countersuit brought by the defendant of the original claim.
Before Small Claims Court
Did you know you can take steps before going to court to get your money back? Before filing a claim, you can send a letter demanding payment. A well-written demand letter may encourage the other side to come to do what you ask and avoid the time and fees associated with being taken to court. If you have not tried this option yet, read more about how to write an effective demand letter and how best to send it to the person who owes you money. Alternatively, you can use tools such as JusticeDirect to generate and send a custom demand letter for free and leave the headache out of it!
Filing Your Case
If you did not get what you wanted from the demand letter, consider filing a small claims court case. To file a case, you will need to complete the necessary paperwork and file with the court. You must also pay a filing fee, which is based on the amount of money you are seeking. Steps to file can be found on the court website.
Alternatively, you can use tools such as JusticeDirect to generate your California Small Claims forms and to guide you step-by-step on how to file and serve your case, free of charge!
Upon submitting the form, you’ll also need to pay a filing fee. The filing fee you owe will depend on the amount you are claiming is owed to you.
$0 - $1500
$5,000.01- $10,000 *
Frequent Filer **
*Only individuals, not businesses, can sue for this amount. **If you file more than 12 cases in a 12-month period, you must pay a $100 filing fee. Additional fees may apply for extra copies of documents. To review fees associated with other parts of the small claims court process, visit the county website.
After filing, the plaintiff will receive court-stamped forms that indicate the court hearing date and time. The plaintiff will now need to "serve" the defendant so the defendant is aware that they have been sued and to show up to the court hearing.
If the defendant chooses to respond to the filing, they may submit a MC-030, however, this is not required. A defendant can just show up at the hearing to present their case.
How much money can you ask for in the Small Claims Court in Sonoma County?
Individuals or businesses represented by an individual: $10,000
If you filed more than two cases in the same calendar year, you can only sue for $2,500 or less in subsequent cases.
How Long Do You Have to Take Someone to Small Claims Court in Sonoma County?
In California, cases must be filed within a certain amount of time called a statute of limitation. In each case, you must calculate the time limit from the date the contract was broken or the date the damage/injury/fraud occurred.
Statute of Limitation
If you file your claim after the set period of time, your case might be dismissed or some of your requested damages denied.
What Happens if You Don't Show Up for Sonoma County Small Claims Court?
If the plaintiff doesn't appear at the hearing and doesn't notify the court of the reason for the absence, the court has several options. The judge may:
Reschedule the case
Dismiss the case with prejudice
Dismiss the case without prejudice
If the defendant appears, the judge may enter a judgment against you after considering the defendant's evidence.
To learn more about how to request for dismissal after filing your claim in California read here.
If the defendant doesn't appear at the hearing but the plaintiff does, then it's very likely a default judgment will be entered against the defendant after the plaintiff presents their case. A defendant with a valid reason for missing the hearing may file to vacate the default judgment and have the case heard again. This can be done by filing SC-135.
NEED HELP WITH YOUR JUSTICE JOURNEY?
The quest for justice is never easy, particularly when it comes to getting your money back. However, thanks to advances in technology, it has become easier. Quest for Justice’s first app, JusticeDirect, is the only app of its kind designed to support people without lawyers to resolve their disputes and get their money back, both in and out of court. The first step to getting money back is through a letter demanding payment from the other party JusticeDirect offers customizable demand letters for free. If the letter demanding payment does not work, then the next step is taking them to court. JusticeDirect* will guide users every step of the way through the small claims court process by helping them:
Understand the legal process;
Evaluate the pros and cons that come with taking someone to court;
Generate small claims court forms; and,
Avoid common mistakes when filing your forms and serving notice on the other side.
*Currently, JusticeDirect can only help litigants sue in California’s small claims court.