Small Claims Advisor Services for Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties
Phone (831) 786-7370
Live Call-in Service
Tuesdays 1:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Walk-in Hours in Watsonville
(Only After Phone Consultation)
Tuesdays 8:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
Thursdays 8:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
1 Second St., third floor room 301 in Watsonville
Walk-in Hours in San Benito
Mondays 8:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
450 Fourth St. in Hollister
Calls and Emails returned within one week, or sooner if possible. Walk in service provided on a first come, first served basis, but please note that availability may fill up before the end of stated hours of operation.
The Small Claims Advisor provides free help preparing court forms, legal information, and procedural advice to self-represented litigants, such as:
- What to do Before Filing
- Jurisdiction and Venue
- Where to File
- How to Name a Defendant
- Service of Process
- Filing Defendant's Claim
- Requesting a Continuance of the Hearing
- Mediation Options
- Paying Judgment in Installments
- How to Collect a Judgment
There is no attorney-client relationship or confidentiality between the public and the Small Claims Advisor. The Small Claims Advisor remains neutral and is available to all parties in a dispute. The Small Claims Advisor is not responsible for the outcome of any case.
Small Claims Frequently Asked Questions:
Small claims court is a special court where disputes are resolved quickly and inexpensively. The rules are simple and informal. The person who sues is called the plaintiff. The person who is sued is called the defendant.
Any mentally competent person who is:
18 years old or older, OR
an emancipated child.
If you are:
not mentally competent, OR
under 18 years old (and not emancipated)
a judge must appoint an adult called a guardian ad litem to represent you in small claims court.
An individual cannot ask for more than $10,000 in a claim. Corporations and other entities (like, government entities) cannot ask for more than $5,000. 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 ask for more than $2,500.
You can only sue a guarantor for up to $4,000 ($2,500 if they don't charge for the guarantee). But, if you are a natural person filing against the Registrar of the Contractors' State License Board you can sue a guarantor for up to $7500. A "guarantor" is a person who promises to be responsible for what another person owes.
Yes, unless you qualify for a Fee Waiver. The fee is based on the amount of your claim and the number of claims you have filed in the past 12 months:
If you have filed 12 or fewer claims in the past 12 months:
|Amount of your claim:||Filing Fee:|
|$0 to $1500||$30|
|$1500.01 to $5,000||$50|
|$5000.01 to $7,500||$75|
If you have filed more than 12 claims in the past 12 months, the filing fee is $100 (for any claim amount).
If you are low-income, you may be able to qualify for a fee waiver and not have to pay a filing fee. Fee Waiver forms and information can be found here.
Small Claims Appeals:
Only a defendant can file an appeal; the plaintiff cannot appeal if they lose their case. However, if the defendant filed a separate claim against the plaintiff in the same case, and the plaintiff lost, the plaintiff can appeal that decision. The defendant's insurance company can also file an appeal if it's asked to pay more than $2,500.
You have 30 days to file an appeal from the date of mailing of the Notice of Entry of Judgment. This date will be on your copy of the decision. If the judge made a decision at your hearing and you have not received a copy of the judgment, contact the court immediately at (831) 636-4057.
To appeal the judge’s decision, you must file form SC-140: Notice of Appeal (Small Claims) at the San Benito courthouse at 450 FourthStreet. You can pick up this form at the courthouse or download it here.
A new judge hears all the evidence again and makes a decision. That judge doesn’t know what happened in the first trial, so this new judge looks at everything as if the case was being decided for the first time. You can have an attorney represent you at the appeal, and it is possible that the judge may award you $150 in attorney fees and/or up to $150 for your actual loss of earnings, expenses of transportation and lodging actually incurred in connection with the appeal.
If you want to ask for attorney fees and/or earnings, transportation and lodging, be sure to speak up during the hearing. You may be asked to prove your actual loss, so you may need paperwork showing the charges.
Judgment Collection:Often, the more difficult part of pursuing a claim in small claims court is enforcing your small claims judgment after you win your case. If the defendant (who becomes a judgment debtor if you win your small claims case against them) has no money or refuses to pay, it may be difficult to collect your judgment.
The Civil Self-Help Center can provide you with information on what possible options you may have to try to enforce your judgment, and can help you fill out the judgment collection forms.
You can also find valuable information on this topic at the California Courts Self-Help Website.
450 Fourth Street
Hollister, CA 95023