What is Small Claims Court?
Small claims court is a special court where disputes between parties are handled quickly and inexpensively. The procedures and rules of evidence for small claims court cases in Santa Clara are the same for any County in California. The rules for small claims court are simple and informal compared to the rules of regular civil cases. The person who files the lawsuit or action is called the plaintiff. The Defendant is the person or business that is being sued. In California small claims court cases, neither party can hire an attorney to represent them at the hearing. However, you are able to consult and speak with an attorney before or after the small claims court hearing.
Can I hire a lawyer?
No. A party cannot be represented by anyone else (including an attorney). However, you are able to talk to an attorney before or after the small claims court trial to answer questions and discuss strategy.
How long does it take my case to be heard?
Each County has its own Superior Court. The amount of time between when the claim is filed and heard varies between each County (and even within each County). Generally, the small claims court trial should be between twenty and seventy days after the case is filed. But, because of state budget cuts to the court’s budget, these hearings are usually being set well past the seventy day mark (which should give you plenty of time to prepare for the trial).
What is small claims court mediation?
You may be asked to have your mediated before the trial. Mediation is a confidential, non-binding dispute resolution program where an impartial mediator attempts to bring both parties to an outcome that each side agrees to. Mediation can occur before the trial or even on the same day as your trial. Mediation may work for your case, but at the very least, it will give you the chance to explain your case to someone (before you explain it to the judge).
Small Claims Court Hearing in Santa Clara County
Small Claims Court cases are often scheduled where a number of cases will be heard in the same department at the same time (one at a time). Because the court’s schedule is very busy (and has become more busy based on state cuts to the court’s budget), the court may expect you to present your entire case in a few minutes. It is essential to spend time preparing your case in advance. You should bring all the paperwork that supports your claim (or defense) including receipts, contracts, photographs, invoices, and any other paperwork. Bring other witnesses who were present during relevant times and can provide testimony about the incident. Ensuring that you are prepared for your case goes along way to securing a successful outcome. After hearing both sides, the judge may make a decision at the hearing or notify the parties of the ruling by mail, several days later.
Filing Fee for Small Claims Court cases in Santa Clara County
The plaintiff must pay a filing fee when the claim is filed. If a plaintiff has filed twelve or less claims over the past twelve months, the filing fees are:
- $0 to $1,500 – $30
- $1,500 to $5,000 – $50
- $5,000 to $10,000 – $75
Once a party has filed twelve cases within twelve months, each consecutive case has a $100 filing fee.
What types of cases are filed in Santa Clara County Small Claims Court?
All types of cases can be filed in small claims court. The most common types are automobile accidents, property damage, rent deposit disputes, homeowners association disputes, and contractor disputes.
Santa Clara County Small Claims Court Locations
In Santa Clara County, small claims court cases are heard in 3 courthouses across the County. The website for Santa Clara County Superior court is: www.scscourt.org. Here are the locations:
Superior Court – Downtown
The Superior Court – Downtown is located at:191 N. First St. San Jose, CA 95113-1090
The phone number is: 408-882-2100
Palo Alto Facility
The Palo Alto Facility is located at:270 Grant Ave. Palo Alto, CA 94306-1993
The phone number is: 408-882-2100
South County Courthouse
The South County Courthouse is located at:301 Diana Ave. Palo Alto, CA 94306-1993
The phone number is: 650-462-3800
Which cases are filed in Santa Clara County?
The general rule is the case or claim must be filed in the County where the defendant resides. There are a number of exceptions to this, like in an automobile accident which can also be filed in the County where the traffic collision happened. A party may file the claim in small claims court if that party is at least eighteen years old. A party can file as someone less than eighteen if he or she has been emancipated. If you are under 18 or not mentally competent, the judge must appoint a guardian at litem to represent you in small claims court. This person only acts on their behalf with respect to that particular small claims court case.
Statute of Limitations in Small Claims Court Cases
All cases must be filed by a certain deadline called the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is a legal term that means the time someone has to file a claim. The statute of limitations is different depending on the type of case. If the case involves personal injury to you, the case must be filed within two years of the injury or two years of when you first learned of the injury. (A minor has two years from his or her eighteenth birthday). If the defendant broke an oral contract, the plaintiff must file the case within two years of the breach. If the contract was written, you have three years from the date the contract was breached or broken to file the case. If you were the victim of fraud, you have three years from when you first learn of the fraud to file your case. It can be very difficult to find out when the statute of limitations begins to run. It is better to file sooner, rather than later, and let the judge decide.
Limits on Santa Clara County Small Claims Court
The most a person can sue for in small claims court is $10,000. A corporation (or other corporate entity) cannot sue for more than $5,000. An individual can only file two small claims court cases for more than $2,500.00 in one year. A person or corporation can file as many cases seeking $2,500.00 or less.