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Announcement: Tulare County Superior Court Introduces Our Virtual Public Counter -

The Tulare County Superior Court is excited to announce our new service, the Virtual Public Counter.  Accessed via mobile device or computer, our virtual public counter offers real-time, face-to-face interactions with our Superior Court support team, potentially alleviating the need for a physical visit to the court. They assist with a variety of services like court records requests, payments, and self-help.  Due to procedural logistics some services may require an in-person visit.  Click here to try it now.

Small Claims

The Small Claims Court is a special court where disputes are resolved inexpensively and quickly. Small Claims cases are for damages of $12,500 or less. Small Claims is affordable and fast, with simple and informal rules. Attorneys are not allowed.

What Is Small Claims Court?

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 the plaintiff. The person who is sued is the defendant. In small claims court, you may ask a lawyer for advice before you go to court, but you cannot have a lawyer in court.

Your claim cannot be for more than $12,500.00. If you have a claim for more than this amount, you may file a limited civil case, or you may sue in the small claims court and give up your right to the amount over the limit. You cannot, however, file more than two cases in small claims court for more than $2,500.00 each during a calendar year.

Who Can File a Claim?

You must be at least 18 years old to file a claim. If you are not yet 18, you may ask the court to appoint a guardian ad litem. This is a person who will act for you in the case. The guardian ad litem is usually a parent, relative, or an adult friend. A person who sues in small claims court must first make a demand, if possible. This means that you have asked the defendant to pay, and the defendant has refused. If your claim is for possession of property, you must ask the defendant to give you the property.

Unless you fall within two technical exceptions, you must be the original owner of the claim. This means that if the claim is assigned, the buyer cannot sue in the small claims court. You must also appear at the small claims hearing yourself unless you filed the claim for a corporation or other entity that is not a natural person.

If a corporation files a claim, an employee, officer, or director must act on its behalf. If the claim is filed on behalf of an association or other entity that is not a natural person, a regularly employed person of the entity must act on its behalf.

Small Claims Court Checklists

For the Plaintiff:

  • Contact the other party to discuss the problem and try to resolve it.
  • Familiarize yourself with small claims court procedures. Determine the exact amount in dispute.
  • File a claim form (Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Defendant), and pay the filing fee; or, if you are a business, file a Fictitious Business Name Declaration, if appropriate.
  • Arrange for service of process on each defendant. (Make sure the Proof of Service form is returned to court before the hearing, and make sure minimum days of notice is met.)
  • Prepare for the hearing. (Organize your thoughts, collect evidence, talk to witnesses.)
  • Keep communication open. Try to resolve the dispute with the other party before the hearing.
  • Attend the hearing and present your case.

Note: You may download forms from the California Courts web site.

For the Defendant:

  • Contact the plaintiff and try to resolve the dispute
  • Familiarize yourself with small claims court procedures
  • If you have a claim against the plaintiff, consider resolving it at the same hearing.
  • Prepare for the hearing. (Organize your thoughts, collect evidence, talk to witnesses.)
  • Keep communication open. Try to resolve the dispute with the other party before the hearing.
  • If you owe money, try to pay it or work out a payment plan.
  • If necessary, ask the court to postpone the hearing to let you and the plaintiff resolve the dispute informally.
  • Try to avoid a court judgment from being entered against you, since it may appear on your credit record.
  • Attend the hearing and present your defense.

Where Can You File Your Claim?

You must sue in the right court and judicial district. This rule is called venue. If you file your claim in the wrong court, the court will dismiss your claim unless all defendants personally appear at the hearing and agree that the claim may be heard.

The right judicial district may be:

  • Where the defendant lives or where the business involved is located
  • Where the damage or accident occurred
  • Where the contract was signed or carried out
  • If the defendant is a corporation, where the contract was signed
  • For a retail installment account or sales contract or a motor vehicle finance sale:
    • Where the 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

Who Will Hear Your Case?

Your case will be heard by a small claims court commissioner, a temporary judge, or a judge. A commissioner has all the responsibilities and powers of a judge. A temporary judge (judge pro tem) is an attorney who volunteers their time to hear and decide cases. A temporary judge also has all the responsibilities and powers of a judge. The judge may decide the case at the time of the hearing or mail the decision to the parties later.

Notifying the Defendant of the Claim

You must make sure the defendant finds out about your lawsuit. This has to be done according to the rules, or your case may be dismissed or delayed. The correct way of telling the defendant about your lawsuit is called service of process. This means delivering to the defendant a copy of your claim. You cannot do this yourself. There are four ways to serve the defendant:

Service by a law officer

  • A fee will be charged.

Process server

  • You may ask anyone who is not a party in your case and who is at least 18 years old to serve the defendant.
  • Registered process servers will do this for you for a fee.

Certified mail

  • You may ask the clerk of the court to serve the defendant by certified mail for a fee.
  • You should check back with the court prior to the hearing to see if the receipt for certified mail was returned to the court.

Substituted services

  • This method lets you serve another person instead of the defendant under certain circumstances.
  • You must follow the procedures exactly
  • You may also wish to use the marshal or sheriff or a registered process server

No matter which method of service you choose, the defendant must be served by a certain date or the trial will be postponed. If the defendant lives in the county, service must be completed at least ten days before the trial date. This period is 15 days if the defendant lives outside the county.

Small Claims Advisor

For assistance with your small claims matter, please contact the Self-Help Resource Center by telephone at 559-737-5500 or by email at

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