OFFICE OF THE SMALL CLAIMS ADVISOR

Jon Nakanishi, Small Claims Advisor

 

Location and Phone Number:
Superior Court, State of California
County of Lassen
Access to Justice Center
145 South Lassen Street
Susanville, CA 96130
530-251-8353


The Small Claims Advisory is a free service provided to small claims parties in the community by the Lassen County Superior Court.    Services are provided at no charge.  Participants are responsible for all court filing fees. 

How does the Small Claims Advisor’s Office Work? 

Office visits are scheduled by appointment only.   Appointment hours are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.   Walk-ins are welcome to see the Small Claims Advisor on Friday afternoons.  The Small Claims Advisor will see walk-ins on Friday afternoons on a first come first serve basis.

 The Small Claims Advisor’s office is staffed by an attorney who is skilled and trained to analyze the issues from the facts presented by the party(ies) and explain to the party(ies) the applicable law and available legal and procedural alternatives, options or remedies.

 The Small Claims Advisor will not represent you in any court action. 

Each party has equal access to the services provided by the Small Claims Advisor’s Office.  

 

What type of assistance can I receive from the Small Claims Advisor? 

The Small Claims Advisor can provide information and counseling to litigants and potential litigants concerning all aspects of the small claims court process, including case preparation, collection, venue, appeals and more. 

 

Small Claims – General Information 

What is Small Claims Court? 

Small claims court is a special court where disputes are resolved quickly and inexpensively.  The person who sues is the plaintiff.  The person who is being sued is the defendant.  You may not be represented by an attorney in court. 

An individual cannot ask for more than $7,500 in a claim.  Governmental agencies, corporations, partnerships, unincorporated associates and other legal entities cannot ask for more than $5,000.00.  You are able to file as many claims as you want for up to $2,500.00; but you can only file two claims in a calendar year for more than $2,500.00. 

The fee for filing in small claims court depends on the amount of the claim:  $30 if the claim is for $1,500 or less, $50 if the claim is more than $1500 but less than or equal to $5,000, or $75 if the claim is for more than $5,000.  However, if a plaintiff has filed more than 12 small claims in California within the previous 12 months, the filing fee for each subsequent case is $100.

  

Who Can File a Claim? 

You must be at least 18 years old to file a claim.  If you are not 18 years old, you may ask the court to appoint a guardian ad litem.  You do not need to be a United States citizen to file or defend a case in small claims court.   

 

Where Can You File Your Claim? 

You must file your case in a proper small claims court.  This rule is called venue.  If you file your claim in the wrong court, the court will dismiss the claim unless all defendants personally appear at the hearing and agree that the claim may be heard. 

The right venue may be: 

Ø     Where the defendant lives or where the business involved is located:

Ø     Where the damage or accident occurred;

Ø     Where the contract was signed or carried out;

Ø     If the defendant is a corporation, where the contract was signed:

Ø     For a retail installment account, sales contract or motor vehicle finance sale:

§       Where the buyer (defendant) lives;

§       Where the buyer (defendant) lived when the contract was entered into;

§       Where the buyer (defendant) signed the contract;

§       Where the goods or vehicle are permanently kept 

 

How Quickly Must You File Your Case? 

Most claims must be filed within a set time limit called a statute of limitations.  If the claim is not filed within the time set by the statute of limitations, the judge may be required to dismiss the claim.  The purpose of the statute of limitations is to prevent the filing of cases that are too old.  Memories fade, witnesses die or move away and once-clear details tend to blur together.  

Examples of statutes of limitations are: 

Ø     Personal Injury:   Two years from the date of injury or two years from the date the injury is discovered.  A minor has two years from his/her 18th birthday to file a case. 

Ø     Oral Contract:       Two years from the date the contract is broken. 

Ø     Written Contract:  Four years from the date the contract is broken. 

 

What Forms Do You Need To File? 

The forms needed for a small Claims case can be located at the Judicial Council’s self-help website at www.courtinfo.ca.gov or you can contact the Access to Justice Center at 530-251-8353. 

 

Filing the Claim 

A person who sues in a small claims court must first contact the defendant('s) and ask for the money, property, or other relief that you intend to ask the judge to award you in court.  This demand may be made orally or in writing, but it is best to do it both ways.  Always keep copies of letters and other written communications.    

How Do You Name the Defendant? 

You must sue using the defendant’s exact legal name.  If the defendant is a business or corporation and you do not know the exact legal name, check with: 

Ø     State or local licensing agency

Ø     County Clerk’s Office

Ø     Office of the Secretary of State 

 

How Do You Notify the Defendant? 

After you have filed your claim with the Lassen County Superior Court, the clerk will serve the defendant by certified mail.  The charge for certified restricted mail is $10.00 per defendant.  You should check back with the clerk of the court prior to the hearing to see if the receipt for certified mail was returned to the court.  Service by certified mail must be done by the clerk’s office not by yourself. 

In addition to the service by the court clerk, you may serve the defendant by a process server.  If you serve the defendant by a process server, you may ask anyone over the age of 18 and not a party to the case.  This person must personally give a copy of your claim to the defendant.  The person must then complete a proof of service showing the defendant was served.  This proof of service must be filed with the court prior to your hearing date. 

 

What to Expect In Court 

Ø     You should not bring children to the court room.

Ø     Come to court organized and prepared

Ø     Arrive promptly at your assigned court time

Ø     Bring enough photocopies of all your evidence for each party and the judge

Ø     Bring all your witnesses

Ø     When your case is called, you will stand and present your evidence and give your testimony.  Always address the judge and not the other party.

Ø     The judge will probably ask questions to further his/her understanding of the case.

Ø     If you are not fluent in the English language, you must bring an interpreter with you. 

Ø     If you require accommodations because of a disability, please contact the Court.  The Court may require notification in advance in order to provide certain accommodations not readily available.  Please contact the Court as soon as possible to ensure the availability of the accommodation you need.

Ø     The judge will usually not tell you the decision in court.  The decision (judgment) will be mailed to you. 

 

If You Are the Defendant: 

If you have been named as a defendant in a small claims action and have received an order to appear at a small claims hearing, this means you are being sued.  If you do not know why you are being sued, you should contact the plaintiff immediately for an explanation. 

Never ignore an order to appear in court.  If you do not appear in court at the proper time and date, the court may still hear and decide the case without you present. 

If you believe the plaintiff has caused you injury or owes you money, you can file a claim against the plaintiff in the same small claims court action.  These forms may be found at www.courtinfo.ca.gov. 

If judgment is entered against you and the appeal time has lapsed, your money or property can be taken legally by the judgment creditor to pay the judgment against you.   

 

Resources and Information         

Jon Nakanishi, Small Claims Advisor, Access to Justice Center, 145 South Lassen Street, Susanville, CA 96130.  You may contact him at 530-251-8353. 

The Department of Consumer Affairs has a web site with useful information to help you file your claim.  You may contact them at www.dca.ca.gov or you can call 1-800-952-5210.   

The Legal Aid Clinic out of Northern California will also provide assistance in small claims litigation.  You may contact them at 1-800-822-9687.  A legal aid clinic is held on the 1st Friday of each month at 145 South Lassen Street, Susanville, CA 96130.  Please contact the Access to Justice Center at 530-251-8353 for more information.