Small Claims is a special court where disputes are resolved quickly and inexpensively. The rules are simple and informal. You may ask a lawyer for advice before you go to court, but you cannot have a lawyer in court. United States citizenship is not required to file or defend a Small Claims case, but the parties must be at least 18 years old. Only cases for money for actual damages can be filed in Small Claims court. Your claim cannot be more than $5,000 or $7,500 if you are a natural person (not a business or public entity). Examples of disputes that can be settled in Small Claims court are:
- A landlord will not return a security deposit.
- Someone dents a car and refuses to pay for it.
- Any case involving money disputes that do not exceed $5,000 or $7,500.
Only cases for money for actual damages can be filed in Small Claims court.
For a helpful tutorial video regarding Small Claims court, click below.
Information on this page tells you about:
- Filing a Claim
- Preparation for Trial
- Collection of Judgment
- Tips for Small Claims Litigants
Filing a Claim
A Small Claims case may be filed at any Fresno County Superior Court location if any of the following applies:
- The dispute occurred in Fresno County.
- The injury occurred in Fresno County.
- The person being sued lives in Fresno County.
- The firm being sued does business in Fresno County.
A filing fee must be paid for each claim that is filed. Those who believe they are unable to pay the filing fee may request a fee waiver.
Click here to access Fresno Superior Court Fee Schedules.
You need to:
- File the original claim and one copy with the Clerk's Office. *Claim is a five-page document.
- Make two copies of your claim for each named defendant.
- Make one copy to keep for yourself.
Notice to Defendant
A copy of the Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Defendant must be served on the defendant. Proper legal notice must be given to the person being sued. This is called service of process. The defendant may be served in three ways:
- Service by a Law Enforcement Officer.
- Personal or Substitute Service by anyone who is over age 18 and not involved in the case.
- Certified Mail by the clerk of the court.
The person who served the form must complete a proof of service that states exactly when and where the defendant was served. Proof of service must be submitted to the court at least 5 days before the trial date.
Service on Defendant
You must serve every defendant you sue by one of the following methods:
- Personal service using Sheriff's Department representatives.
- Private process servers.
- Disinterested party. (A disinterested party is anyone over the age of 18 years who is not a party to the claim.)
- Certified mail by the court.
If you want the court to serve the defendant(s) by certified mail, you will be charged $15.00 for each defendant to be served. You must contact the court two weeks prior to the hearing date to find out if the service was successful..
If you are unable to serve the defendant(s), you must reschedule the hearing date and attempt to have the defendant(s) served in one of the other ways listed above.
If you choose to have the defendant(s) personally served, you must file a properly completed Proof of Service form with the court at least 5 days before the hearing date.
Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Defendant
Defendant must appear at the time and place set for trial. A failure to appear may result in the entry of a default and judgment against defendant.
Defendant's Claim and Order to Plaintiff
Defendant may file a Defendant's Claim and Order to Plaintiff in the same Small Claims court before the date and time of hearing if it is believed that plaintiff owes defendant money as a result of the dispute. If a case against the plaintiff is filed the above rules and procedures apply.
Preparation for Trial
Evidence of the claim or defense (any receipts, letters, invoices, canceled checks or photographs) should be brought to court. A Subpoena Duces Tecum may be requested to obtain evidence from a witness. This is a court order commanding a witness to bring certain documents or records to the hearing.
Each party to the case may serve subpoenas on witnesses who can give testimony to help with their case. The subpoena is a court order compelling the witnesses to appear and testify.
Interpreters for hearing impaired persons are provided. Litigants must notify the court in advance if sign-language interpreters are needed.
The plaintiff's case is presented first, followed by the defendant's case. All parties may call witnesses and present exhibits.
Failure to Appear at Trial
Either plaintiff or defendant can submit one written request to reschedule the hearing date. Requests must be made at least 10 days prior to the court date. Failure to appear at trial or make arrangements for postponement could result in dismissal of the case (if plaintiff fails to appear), or entry of default judgment (if defendant fails to appear.) There is a fee to reschedule the hearing date.
Appealing the Judgment
Only a defendant may file an appeal, however, if the defendant files a Defendant's Claim, the plaintiff may file an appeal as to that claim only. The appeal must be filed in the clerk's office within 30 days after the court's denial of the motion to vacate judgment was mailed. There is a filing free for an appeal.
Collection of Judgment
A judgment is good for 10 years. If payment is not received on the judgment in the time specified by the judge, there are many options available to collect. Forms for these actions are available in the clerk's office and must be filed with the court:
- Writ of Execution - A writ is an order to the sheriff to collect money from the defendant's paycheck or bank account. There is a fee for issuance of the writ.
- Abstract of Judgment - An abstract places a lien on any real property the defendant might own. The abstract is filed with the county clerk in the county where the property is located. There is a fee for issuance of the abstract.
- Judgment Debtor Hearing - The hearing allows the plaintiff to question the defendant as to where the defendant works and banks and what types of property the defendant owns. After obtaining the information, a Writ of Execution may be obtained from the clerk's office and taken to the Sheriff's Office for enforcement of the writ. There is a fee for the hearing.
- Suggested number copies of forms:
- Writ(s): Original plus 4 copies
- Order of Examination: Original plus 3 copies
- Abstract: Original plus 1 copy
- Note: Verify that all pages of forms are copied.
Payment of Judgment
If full payment is received before the trial date, a Request for Dismissal must be filed. If full payment is received after the judgment has been entered, a Satisfaction of Judgment must be filed. Both of these forms are available in the clerk's office. The defendant may be able to sue the plaintiff if the plaintiff fails to file these documents showing the satisfaction of payment.
Settling the Case
If your claim is settled before trial, please complete a Request for Dismissal form and file it with the court.
Tips for Small Claims Litigants
Conduct in the Courtroom
- No food, drinks or gum are allowed in the courtroom.
- Be prepared and on time. You must be present when your case is called.
- Do not ask the court staff for legal advice. The staff is not allowed to give legal advice.
- The scheduled date with which you are provided is the date set for your trial. You must come to court prepared to present your case.
- Bring all the exhibits you might want the court to see and consider, such as written contracts, repair estimates, photos, receipts, etc. You will be required to allow the opposing party to see and read your exhibits before your case is heard. If you have exhibits that will take time to read, you should make copies and give them to the opposing party either before the trial date or on the trial date, as soon as both parties have arrived in court.
- If you have any witnesses whose testimony you need to prove your case, they should come to court on your trial date. You are solely responsible for arranging the appearance of any witnesses at your trial. Remember that this is your case, and you must present the evidence for the court to consider.
- As the plaintiff in the case, you are the one requesting judgment. Be ready to answer questions the judge may ask, such as: How did you arrive at the amount of the claim?
- The court may keep the exhibits you present. If you need copies of your records to retain, you should make those copies before you come to court.
- For information on obtaining an interpreter, please contact the Interpreters' Office at (559) 457-4910.
- Click here to go to the Interpreter Information page.
Day of Trial
- If your name is on the calendar, when the courtroom is unlocked please take a seat in the courtroom and remain in the courtroom until roll is taken and the oath has been administered.
- When roll is taken, if you are representing someone else, please advise the clerk taking the roll of that fact, and give him or her your name and correct spelling. Be sure to notify the clerk of any change of address.
- If you are assigned to a courtroom where a temporary judge will be sitting, you will be asked to stipulate, which is an agreement, that he or she may decide your case. A temporary judge is an attorney who sits by assignment of the Fresno Superior Court, has been an attorney for at least five years, and has attended a small claims judicial officer training course. Any judgment issued by the temporary judge is the same as a judgment issued by a judge.
- After roll is taken, if you have not already done so, give the opposing party copies of your exhibits or let the opposing party see the exhibits you plan to present to the court. The opposing party must have a chance to read the exhibits before the judge sees them. You will delay the time of your trial if you do not give these copies to the opposing party ahead of time. Keep your original exhibits until your case is called.
- Cases may not be called in the order listed on the posted calendar.
- Mediation is highly regarded as an excellent alternative to a trial. A Dispute Settlement Center representative (mediator) will be at court on the day and time of your hearing to help you resolve your case.
- The mediator is specially trained and impartial, he or she does not give legal advice or make decisions. The parties involved in the dispute make the decisions and the mediator and the parties work together to identify the issues that are most important for each side and then to find practical resolutions. If a settlement cannot be reached the case goes to trial that same day and a judge will decide the outcome.
- Once a judgment is rendered, the time to appeal the court's decision extends for thirty (30) days. The judgment will become final after the 30-day appeal period, if an appeal is not filed.
- Original exhibits may be picked up from the Small Claims Department of the B.F. Sisk Courthouse after the judgment becomes final.
- Once a judgment is issued in your case, a notice of that judgment will be mailed to you.
- If your matter was taken under advisement by the temporary judge or judge hearing your case, you will be notified of his or her decision by mail. The court can take up to ninety (90) days to issue a ruling when a case is taken under advisement. Please do not call the court.
For access to the Administrative Office of the Courts, Small Claims Center, please click here.