Small claims court is a special court to help you resolve your dispute quickly and inexpensively. It is a simpler and more informal process than a case filed in Civil Court. The person who starts the case is called the Plaintiff and the person who is being sued is called the Defendant. Neither side can have a lawyer represent them at the hearing, however, you can speak to a lawyer before or after Court.

The Merced County Superior Court has a Small Claims Advisor who can help you with your small claims case.

Who can sue in Small Claims court?

You can sue in small claims court if you are:
     At least 18 years old, OR
     An emancipated child.
If you are not mentally competent, or you are under 18 years old (and not emancipated), a judge must appoint a “guardian ad litem” to represent you in small claims court. A guardian ad litem is an adult appointed by the court to represent you ONLY in the case in question.

How much can you sue for in Small Claims?

In general, an individual cannot ask for more than $10,000 in a claim. Businesses and other entities (like government entities) cannot ask for more than $5,000. This limit does not apply to sole proprietors, who are treated as natural persons. You can file as many claims as you want for up to $2,500 each. But you can only file 2 claims in a calendar year that asks for more than $2,500.

There are exceptions to the $10,000 limit for individuals:
     As a natural person, you can only sue a guarantor for up to $6,500 ($2,500 if they do not charge for the guarantee). A        “guarantor” is a person or company that promises to be responsible for what another person owes. (If you are an entity         other than a natural person and the guarantor charges for its services, you may file a claim for up to $4,000).
     But, you can sue the Registrar of the Contractors (the executive officer of the Contractors State License Board) as a                  guarantor for up to $10,000.

Collection agencies cannot sue in small claims court to collect on debts that are assigned to them.

What types of cases can be heard in Small claims Court?

There are many different kinds of cases you can file in small claims court. Some common types of small claims cases are about:

     Property damage or personal injury from a car accident      Landlord/tenant security deposits      Damage to your property by a neighbor      Disputes with contractors about repairs or home improvement jobs      Collection of money owed      Homeowner association disputes

Deadline to file your claim

The deadline to file a lawsuit is called the statute of limitations. Most lawsuits MUST be filed within a certain amount of time. In general, once the statute of limitations on a case “runs out”, the legal claim is not valid any longer.

The period of time you have to sue someone is different for different types of legal claims. Here are the statues of limitations for some common types of legal disputes:
     If you are suing because you got hurt, you can file a claim for up to 2 years after you were hurt.
     If you are suing because a spoken agreement was broken, you have 2 years to file after the agreement was broken.
     If you are suing because a written agreement was broken, you have 4 years to file after the agreement was broken.
     If you are suing because your property was damaged, you have 3 years to file after your property was damaged.
     If you are suing because of fraud, you have 3 years to file after you find out about the fraud. Fraud is when you lose
       money because someone lied to you or tricked you on purpose.
     If you are suing a government or public agency, you usually have 6 months to file the claim with that agency. They have
       45 days to make a decision. If no decision is made within 45 days, then the claim is considered denied. If they reject your
       claim, you have 6 months to file a claim with a small claims court. If you do not receive a rejection or acceptance of your
       claim in those 45 days, you may have more time to file your claim, but, to be safe, act within the 6 months or talk to
       the Small Claims Advisor to find out for sure how much time you have to file your lawsuit. Find out more about suing
       a government agency

Filing Fees

The filing fee is based on the amount of your claim and the number of claims you have filed within the last 12 months:

© 2021 Superior Court of California, County of Merced