Small Claims Division
Small Claims is affordable and fast, with simple and informal rules.
El Dorado Superior Court: Self-represented individuals may seek free assistance with civil matters such as small claims, unlawful detainers, name changes, landlord-tenant and civil harassment restraining orders through the Court’s Office of the Family Law Facilitator/Self-Help Center located at the Main Street Branch, 495 Main Street Placerville, CA 95667.
California Courts Online Self-Help Center: An online self-help guide with step-by-step information about how to start, finish or respond to a small claims case.
El Dorado County Law Library: Please call (530) 626-1932 or visit the website for available resources.
The Small Claims Advisor provides a free service for legal information and assistance to people representing themselves in a small claims matter. Small Claims Advisor services are provided by the El Dorado County Superior Court's Office of the Family Law Facilitator/Self-Help Advisor.
Family Law Facilitator/Self-Help Advisor
Phone: (530) 621-5098
These programs and services are available to all parties in a case. The program staff cannot represent any of the parties in a case. No attorney-client relationship is created between any party and the program staff as a result of these services. Communications between parties and program staff are not confidential. The staff can only provide information and education, not legal advice. To receive legal advice, one must hire a private attorney.
The first step in filing a small claims action is to make a verbal or written request for payment. If a verbal demand is made, it should be followed up with a letter. To establish jurisdiction, the action must have occurred in El Dorado County, or the defendant’s (the person you are filing against) principal place of business or residence must be in El Dorado County. The maximum claim allowed in small claims court is $10,000. A plaintiff is limited to two small claims filings over $2,500 per year.
|Filing claim for $1,500 or less||$30|
|Filing claim for more than $1,500 but less than or equal to $5,000||$50|
|Filing claim for more than $5,000 but less than or equal to $10,000 (claim by natural persons only)||$75|
|Filing claim by person who has filed more than 12 small claims in California within the previous 12 months||$100|
You must submit the original and at least 2 copies of your small claims filing. If filed by mail, you must provide a self-addressed stamped envelope for return of your documents. All documents must be assembled and stapled in the upper left hand corner.
If you want the Court to notify the defendant by certified mail, there is an additional charge of $15.00 per defendant.
Before the Court can exercise jurisdiction over the person (have the power to order the defendant to do something), the defendant must be aware of the lawsuit and be given an opportunity to defend the claim. The papers must be served on the defendant by personal delivery or certified mail by the Court. This is called due process, a fundamental right guaranteed in the Constitution. It means that the government will not take away rights, liberty or property without first notifying the person who is to lose those rights, and giving him or her the right to appear and object. The rules governing notice to a defendant require strict compliance.
The correct way to notify a defendant about a lawsuit is by service of process. This means that a copy of the complaint filed in the Court must be given to the defendant by one of the following means:
- Personal service. You may ask anyone who is not a party in your case and who is at least 18 years old to serve (give) a copy of the court papers on the defendant. Personal services means the person personally gave a copy of the court papers to the defendant.
- Substituted service. Substituted service occurs when a person other than the defendant is served on the defendant’s behalf so long as the papers are served (i) at the defendant’s business with the person in charge; or (ii) at the defendant’s home with a competent person who is at least 18 years old. The person who receives the court papers must be told about their contents. Another copy of the same court papers must be mailed, first class, postage prepaid, to the defendant at the address where the paper was left. The service is not complete until 10 days after the copy is mailed.
- Certified mail. For small claims cases only, you may ask the Clerk of the Court to serve the defendant by certified mail. The clerk will charge a fee of $15.00 for this service. You should check back with the Court prior to the hearing to see if the receipt for certified mail was returned to the court. Service by certified mail can only be accomplished by the Clerk of the Court.
- The person who completes service as stated above must complete the Proof of Service form, Judicial Council Form SC-104, and have it filed with the Court.
PROOF OF SERVICE MUST BE FILED WITH THE COURT FIVE (5) DAYS PRIOR TO THE HEARING DATE. If there is no proof of service on file the matter may be continued or will be automatically dropped from the Court’s calendar. The Plaintiff must then request the matter be reset.
YOU CANNOT SERVE PAPERS ON THE DEFENDANT YOURSELF. YOU MUST USE A NON-PARTY. Professional process servers are available for hire, and the Sheriff’s Department may also serve legal papers for a fee.
The defendant must be served at least 15 days before the trial date if he or she lives in the county, and at least 20 days if the defendant lives outside the county. If service is not completed in time, the trial will be continued (postponed). If service is accomplished by substituted service or by certified mail, you must allow 10 ten additional days.
You may prepare your own case, or consult with an attorney about the applicable law and preparation for trial. You may also receive assistance from the Small Claims Advisor at (530) 823-7560.
If you prepare the case yourself, you may wish to research the legal theory by which you are seeking relief from the Court. There are books available in the El Dorado County Law Library at 550 Main Street in Placerville, which explain different legal theories and the elements necessary to prove your case. Small claims court is informal, so you do not have to know the law; however it will improve your chances for success if you can distill the essential elements of the case and present them to the Court in a clear and concise manner.
The opposing side is entitled to see all evidence before it is submitted to the Court; therefore, if you plan to bring documents to show the Court, you need to make extra copies for the other side, and for the judge. It will save time if you can each have a copy to refer to in court.
Be sure you are on time for the trial. Although the small claims trial is informal, you must be prepared with witnesses, books, receipts and other documents needed to prove your case. If your witnesses are not willing to come to court voluntarily, you can request that the Court Clerk issue a subpoena. A subpoena is a court order that requires the witness to appear. The witness has a right to charge a fee for appearing. If you do not have in your possession the records or papers necessary to prove your case, you may request the Court Clerk issue a subpoena duces tecum in advance of the trial date, which orders the documents you are requesting be delivered to court for trial.
Many cases are scheduled for the same time, so each case is given limited time. You should describe the events clearly and concisely. Before you present to the Court any photographs, diagrams or documents, you must first show them to the opposing side. If possible, observe other small claims proceedings in the same department or courtroom where your case is scheduled, prior to the day you are to appear. You will get an idea how to proceed in an organized manner due to the limited time available for each case.
You may ask a friend, relative, or someone else to interpret for you when you go to court. Please do not ask a child (minor, under the age of 18) to interpret for you.
A Court interpreter needs to be familiar with legal terms and concepts in both English and your first language. If you decide to use a friend or relative, have the person read the instructions and duties for interpreting called Foreign Language Interpreter’s Duties-Civil and Small Claims.
To find an interpreter that speaks your language visit https://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-interpreter.htm
- You must present your case to the Judge. You may not bring your attorney, paralegal or other legal advisor to the hearing.
- You must not interrupt any party that is speaking. Each witness is given time to speak.
- Locate your counterpart and exchange all documents. If you only have one set, they are entitled to see it before court.
- No talking in the courtroom once the room is called to order.
- No children are allowed in the courtroom.
- The Court has a dress code and it is enforced. Dress as you would for a job interview in professional business attire.
- Review the Local Rules of Court for small claims prior to your hearings. Local Rules are available on the Court’s website or are available at the clerk's office for a fee.