You must be at least 18 years old to file a claim. If you are not yet 18, you may ask the court to appoint a guardian ad litem. The guardian ad litem is usually a parent, relative or an adult friend.
Only the actual party to the claim may file. If you assign your claim to someone, they cannot file a small claims action on that claim. You must represent yourself at the small claims hearing. Attorneys or others are not permitted to represent a party in small claims court.
If you are a business required to file a fictitious business name statement, you must include your statement number and date of expiration on the claim form. You cannot file a case in small claims court without a valid fictitious business name statement.
A corporation or other entity that is not a natural person must be represented by a regular employee or representative. The employee cannot be hired solely to represent the corporation or other entity in small claims court. The employee or representative is required to file a declaration with the court stating the basis of their authority to represent an entity.
Where To File A Claim?
You must file your claim in the proper judicial district. If you file your claim in the wrong judicial district, the Court will dismiss your claim unless all parties personally appear at the hearing and agree to have the case heard. The hearing judge must also approve the agreement.
The right judicial district may be any of the following
Where the defendant lives or the defendant corporation or other entity has its principal place of business.
Where the person or personal property was injured or damaged.
Where the defendant signed the contract or where the contract was breached.
Where the buyer resided at the time of entering into a retail installment account or contract on a motor vehicle finance sale.
You must be careful to properly designate the defendant using his/her exact legal name. If you do not designate the defendant’s exact legal name, you may not be able to enforce the judgment.
If the defendant is a corporation, check with the California Secretary of State for the exact name and the agent authorized to receive service of process for the corporation. For other types of businesses, check the city business license or the county fictitious business name statement. If you do not designate the defendant’s exact legal name, you may not be able to enforce the judgment.
If the claim is against a government agency, you must first file a formal claim with the agency and have your claim denied before you file a claim in court. Generally, you have six months after the incident or dispute to file a complaint with the agency.
Serving The Defendant
You must ensure the defendant receives a copy of the claim you filed. This is called “service of process.” Service of process has strict rules that must be followed exactly or your case will be delayed or dismissed. The plaintiff cannot complete the service of the process himself/herself.
If you arrange for personal service or certified mail, an in-county defendant must be served at least fifteen (15) days prior to the hearing. If the defendant is out of Solano County, service must be completed at least twenty (20) days prior to the hearing. If service is by “substituted service,” an additional ten (10) days is required for proper service of process.
The person who serves the defendant must complete a “proof of service” form verifying the defendant was properly served with a copy of the claim. A signed mail receipt is sufficient if the service was completed by certified mail. The proof of service form must be returned to the court clerk at least five days prior to the hearing.
Anyone over the age of 18, who is not a party to the case, may serve a copy of the claim. There are three methods to serve process on the defendant.
A. Personal Service
In-County: 15 Days | Out-Of-County: 20 Days
A copy of the claim is delivered personally to the defendant by someone over the age of 18 whom is not a party to the case. The Solano County Sheriff will serve the process for a fee.
B. Certified Mail
In-County: 15 Days | Out-Of-County: 20 Days
The clerk of the court where you file your claim will send a copy of the claim to the defendant by certified mail.
The clerk must do the mailing
There is a fee for the service.
Important Note: If the defendant does not sign the receipt for certified mail, the service of process is invalid.
C. Substitute Service
In-County: 25 Days | Out-Of-County: 30 Days
This is a two-step process where someone other than the defendant personally receives a copy of the claim.
The first copy must be delivered to someone over the age of 18 at the defendant’s residence or place of business with the person in charge or at the defendant’s usual place of mailing other than an U.S. Postal Service Box.
A second copy must be mailed to the defendant at the same place where the first copy was delivered. The mailing must be completed at least 25 days before the hearing. If the defendant is located out of Solano County, the mailing must be at least 30 days before the hearing. The mailing must be by regular, not certified mail.