I am Wrongly Named in a Lawsuit
Updated: Dec 1, 2022
It’s a bad idea to ignore a lawsuit; you might be regretful when you spot a judgment on your credit report or a creditor seizes some of your property. If you don’t show up to court and ignore the case because you think you’ve been incorrectly named, the court can still make an order without you being there to defend yourself. The first thing you should do if you are incorrectly named in a lawsuit is to inform the court.
1. Request for Court Order and Answer
A court order and answer is a simple form to use to ask the court to make an order before the trial. It’s not used to resolve the whole case, but rather a specific issue that should be addressed before the trial is held. For instance, if you were improperly named and should not be a part of the lawsuit, you can request the court to make an order that you have been improperly named.
In the case of California, for example, you would need form SC-105. To fill out the form, complete the first page of the two-page document. The second page is for the person who is suing you to complete as a response. Regardless of the state you are in, some tips to keep in mind are:
Organize your writing. If you have multiple points to make, use a numbered list with clear headers (bold or underlined).
Be brief. Make your points directly without rambling or including irrelevant information.
Be professional. Write formally and double-check your work.
Last but not least, date the form then print and sign your name.
Make sure you don’t miss any boxes or forget to sign your name because if the form isn’t completed correctly the court can reject it. This means your request won’t be heard and you’ll have to try again. You can ask the self-help center to look over your forms and let you know if you missed anything, however, they cannot give legal advice about your case, so keep that in mind.
2. Call the Courthouse
If you’re close to the trial date and you’re not sure if your document will be processed in time, consider calling the courtroom to alert them of your request.
What number do I call?
To figure out what phone number to call, search online for the courthouse where your trial is located. You’ll find a general number for the courthouse. This should be your first step, though it’s possible you may reach a recording without an option to speak to a person directly.
What department do I ask for?
The best way to get straight to the clerk you need to talk to is to call the department where your small claims case has been assigned. Within the courthouse, there are many small departments, which is just another way of saying courtrooms. Each courtroom has its own judicial officer (judge), and each courtroom has its own clerk.
What department was my case assigned to?
Take these steps to find out what department your case is assigned to:
Search your case number online. You’ll find the case number on every page of the complaint you were served with.
Go to the website for the courts in the county where the lawsuit is.
For example, if your case is in Orange County you would go to occourts.org
If your case is in Los Angeles County you would go to lacourt.org.
Use their case search feature to search your small claims case online to pull up information about the case.
Each county has its own website for the superior court and each website has its own way of viewing case information online, sometimes called “online case access” or “online case search” or “case access”.
If there is no feature to search just small claims cases, make sure you use the civil search feature (as small claims court is a sub-category of civil court).
Once you’ve made it this far, you can see things like any future court dates, what documents have been filed—and importantly, what department the case is assigned to. When you’ve got the department, you can search online for the courtroom directory which gives you a direct line to that courtroom.
Tips for Calling the Clerk of a Specific Courtroom
This clerk is not the judge. Do not start telling them why or how you were improperly named. It’s not up to them.
Be polite and brief. These clerks are busy coordinating many cases and need to be efficient with their time.
For example (“ Hi, my name is ___ and I am the defendant in case number _______, set to be heard on _____ (date). I have filed an SC-105 because I was improperly named in this case. Does the department have an email address where I may send an electronic version of this document for your convenience?”)
If the clerk provides you with an email address in which to send a copy of your letter, don’t abuse it. Send the one letter and then no more correspondence unless requested of you. A court can hold it against a party when they unnecessarily bother the department clerk and interrupt other cases.
You might not be able to get anyone on the phone, or response might take a while. Try to be patient because courthouses are slammed with high caseloads and limited budgets—and this was true before the COVID-19 epidemic impacted the courts.
Obligation of the court
Maybe the court rejects your documents for errors, or there just isn’t enough time for a judge to review your form before the trial. Fear not, as you can still show up in person and plead your case.
If you’re there to argue that your business has been improperly named, the court should verify this before you even start your argument. Just as there are rules placed upon the parties in small claims court, there are also rules which apply to the court itself.
One of these rules is that in a small claims lawsuit involving a business and the lawsuit is related to the work of that business, the court must ask the defendant about their true legal name. (CCP § 116.560(a)). If the name on the court documents says something different, the court is required to fix it.
What if the court doesn’t fix this?
If the court doesn’t do this—bring it up! It might be your first instinct not to correct the court if they have your wrong legal name. After all, wouldn’t that protect the other party from actually recovering against you?
In actuality, it would just delay the inevitable—and it could cost you. If your business has been sued and the judge does not verify the true legal name, the plaintiff can come back to court in the future and fix the judgment to reflect the true legal name of your business once the mistake is discovered. When they do this, they could ask the court to impose a fine (called a sanction) against you for intentionally wasting the court’s time.
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 resolve their dispute 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.