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Navigating legal disputes can be stressful, particularly for smaller claims. Fortunately, the San Diego court system offers a simplified process known as Small Claims Court, designed to resolve financial disagreements involving relatively modest sums. By Law Legal Services, located in San Diego, aims to empower you with this guide to understanding the Small Claims Court process in San Diego County.

What is Small Claims Court?

Small Claims Court handles civil lawsuits where the plaintiff (the person filing the claim) seeks monetary compensation not exceeding $12,500. This court offers a more streamlined and cost-effective alternative to traditional litigation for situations like:

  • Unpaid debts (invoices, loans)
  • Property damage
  • Breach of contract
  • Recovering personal property

Benefits of Small Claims Court:

  • Cost-effective: Filing fees are significantly lower compared to traditional court proceedings.
  • Simpler procedures: Small Claims Court involves less complex legal formalities compared to the formal court system.
  • Faster resolution: Cases are typically resolved quicker than traditional lawsuits due to streamlined procedures.
  • Direct participation: Individuals can represent themselves in Small Claims Court without an attorney.

Who Can File in Small Claims Court?

  • California residents: You must be a resident of California to file a claim.
  • Claim amount within limit: The amount you seek must be within the court’s jurisdictional limit of $12,500.
  • Venue: The lawsuit must be filed in the county where the defendant resides, where the contract was breached, or where the incident occurred.

The Small Claims Court Process in San Diego:

  1. Gather Information: Before filing, collect all relevant documentation supporting your claim, such as contracts, invoices, receipts, or witness statements.

  2. File Your Claim: Visit the clerk’s office of the San Diego Superior Court and obtain the “Plaintiff’s Claim and Order to Defendant” form. Carefully complete the form, detailing the nature of your claim, the amount sought, and the defendant’s information.

  3. Filing Fees: Pay the required filing fee, which varies depending on the amount claimed.

  4. Service of Process: Once the court processes your claim, they will issue a “Notice of Hearing” and “Order to Defendant” documents. You are then responsible for ensuring the defendant receives these documents formally. This can be done through certified mail, personal service by a process server, or by posting the documents at the defendant’s residence.

Important Note: By Law Legal Services can assist you with the service of process if needed.

  1. Pre-Trial Hearing (Optional): The court may schedule a pre-trial hearing to discuss settlement possibilities and clarify any procedural matters.

  2. Trial: If no settlement is reached, a trial date will be set. At trial, both parties have the opportunity to present their case, including evidence and witness testimonies.

Things to Consider When Representing Yourself:

  • Understanding Court Procedures: Familiarize yourself with the court rules and procedures to ensure a smooth process.
  • Evidence Gathering: Organize and present compelling evidence to support your claim.
  • (Clear Presentation): Clearly and concisely present your arguments and respond to the defendant’s claims effectively.

Benefits of Utilizing By Law Legal Services:

While individuals can represent themselves in Small Claims Court, navigating the legal system can be complex. By Law Legal Services offers experienced legal support to guide you through the process, including:

  • Reviewing your case and assessing its suitability for Small Claims Court.
  • Assisting with the claim filing process and ensuring proper completion of legal documents.
  • Guiding you through service of process requirements.
  • Offering legal advice and strategy throughout the case.
  • Representing you in court, if necessary.


Small Claims Court provides a valuable avenue for resolving financial disputes in San Diego. By understanding the process and seeking guidance from By Law Legal Services, you can approach your case with greater confidence and increase your chances of a successful outcome.