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I Want To Sue In Small Claims Court - For Plaintiffs

I Want To Sue In Small Claims Court - For Plaintiffs

Small Claims Infographics

There are several steps to a small claims case. For a flowchart that shows you every step, click on the button below.

Suing in Small Claims Court

Before you can file your small claims case, you must ask the other side to pay you (unless there is a good reason why you cannot). You can ask in person, by phone, or in writing.

It is often a good idea to ask for payment in writing. To do that, you can use a demand letter. A demand letter is a short, clear letter asking for payment. Keep a copy for yourself and take it to court to show the judge. Your demand letter does not need to be sent by registered or certified mail.

For help writing a demand letter, click on the link below that best describes your case. You will be directed to a program or a sample letter on the California Courts website.


You must figure out which county is the right county for you to file your case. Legally, this is called "venue." If you file in the wrong county, the court may dismiss your case and you will have to re-file in the right county. If you file in the wrong county and the time to file your case (the statute of limitations) has run out, you may lose your right to bring a claim altogether.

You can generally always file your claim in the court where the defendant lives or does business.

If the proper venue for your small claims case is San Mateo County, file your case at:

Small Claims Clerk's Office
Hall of Justice, Room A
400 County Center
Redwood City, CA 94063

You may also have other options for where to file your case. Look at your type of case in the chart below to see if you have other options. Keep in mind that the law is complicated and even if you think your case fits into one of these exceptions, it may not. Talk to the small claims advisor to make sure you know which court to file your case in.

Type of case County where you can sue
Car accident
  • Where the accident happened, or
  • Where the defendant lives.
Broken contract or agreement
  • Where you signed the contract,
  • Where the contract was broken,
  • Where the contract was to be carried out, or
  • Where the defendant lived or worked when you signed the contract.
Consumer purchase (you are a seller and the person who bought something from you owes you money)
  • Where the buyer lives,
  • Where the buyer lived when he or she made the purchase,
  • Where the buyer made the purchase, or
  • Where the item purchased is located.
You bought something or paid for a service, primarily for personal, family or household use
  • Where you (the buyer) live,
  • Where you (the buyer) lived when the item or service was purchased, or
  • Where you (the buyer) bought or paid for the item or service.

You can also file in any of these locations if you bought something from a seller as a result of an unsolicited telephone call or e-mail from the seller to you, including situations where you, as the buyer, responded to the seller's call by phone or e-mail.

You are suing your credit card company
  • Where you live,
  • Where you lived when the contract/application for the credit card was signed, or
  • Where you signed the contract/application with the credit card company.

You can also file in any of these locations if you entered into a contract with a credit company as a result of an unsolicited telephone call from the company to you, including situations where you, as the buyer, responded to the company's call by phone or e-mail.

San Mateo County has many cities and areas in the county, so any of the following locations could serve as the basis for filing a claim in San Mateo County:
Atherton Belmont Brisbane
Broadmoor Burlingame Colma
Daly City (& Westlake) East Palo Alto El Granada
Foster City Half Moon Bay Hillsborough
La Honda Menlo Park Millbrae
Miramar Montara Moss Beach
Pacifica Pescadero Portola Valley
Redwood City San Bruno San Carlos
San Gregorio San Mateo South S.F.
Woodside Other Unicorp. Areas in County  


When you fill out and file your claim, you must have the EXACT name of the person or company you are suing (the defendant). If you do not use the correct name, you may not be able to collect any money if you win. You need to put the defendant's name on the papers that you file with the court.

Follow these guidelines:
Who are you suing? Write down: Example
Suing a person Write the person's first name and last (middle initial if known). If they have used or go by different names, use "aka" ("also known as") for the other names. John A. Doe

(If John goes by Jack at work, write: John A. Doe aka Jack Doe)

Suing spouses Write both their full names James A. Jones and Sally R. Jones
Suing a business owned by 1 person Write the owner's name and the business name. Name the owner as an individual to have a better chance of collecting if you win. Sue Smith, individually, and dba Continental Candles

("dba" stands for "doing business as")

Suing a partnership Name the partnership and the partners individually Jim Smith and John Jones, individually, and Smith & Jones, a partnership
Suing a corporation, or a limited liability company Write the exact legal name of the corporation, and be sure to include the name of their registered agent for service of process. Sally Dresses, Inc.; c/o CT Corporation, agent for service.
Suing a business owned by a corporation Write the name of the corporation and the business Lotus Corporation dba The Flower Company
Suing because of a car accident Write the name of the driver and the owners of the car, if not the same people.

If there were multiple cars involved, it is important to name each driver and owner

Lucy Smith, owner, and Betty Smith, driver.

If you made a mistake naming your defendant and already filed your claim, you may still be able to fix it. Click to find out how to change your claim.


To prepare, read:

IMPORTANT: Keep in mind that, as the plaintiff, you cannot appeal a small claims decision based on your own claim. So if you lose, there is nothing you can do. If you want to be able to appeal, you should file in the Civil Division.

Then, fill out:

  • Plaintiff's Claim and ORDER to go to Small Claims Court (SC-100)
  • If there is more than 2 plaintiffs or 1 defendant, also fill out Other Plaintiffs or Defendants (Attachment to Plaintiff's Claim and ORDER to Go to Small Claims Court (SC-100A).
  • If you need more space to describe your claim and what happened, or you need witness statements, you can use a Declaration (MC-030).

If you are a business, you may also have to fill out Fictitious Business Name (SC-103) declaration.


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    Self-Prep & File

    Click for a computer program that can help you fill out all these forms by answering simple questions. It can also help you file your forms electronically (through e-filing) if you choose. Visit our e-filing page since the instructions for step #5 will be different.


After you finish your court forms, you must give your forms to the clerk of the court to file your small claims case. To do this:
  • Make at least 2 copies of the Plaintiff's Claim and ORDER to go to Small Claims Court (SC-100) and any attachments.
  • Turn the original and copies into the Clerk's Office located at 400 County Center, Room A in Redwood City.
  • Pay the filing fee.
    • If you cannot afford the fee, submit to the clerk's office a completed Request to Waive Court Fees (FW-001) and Order on Court Fee Waiver (FW-003), with 1 copy of each form.

The court clerk will return the copies of the Plaintiff's Claim and ORDER to go to Small Claims Court (SC-100) stamped "Endorsed-Filed" and with a court date written on the front. That is your court trial.

  • If, after you file, you realize you made a mistake naming your defendant or you asked for the wrong amount, you may still be able to fix it. Click to find out how to change your claim.


"Service" is the legal way to give notice to someone in a court action. It is when someone-NOT you or anyone else listed in this case-gives a copy of your court papers to the person, business, or public entity, you are suing. Service lets the other side know:

  • What you are asking for;
  • When and where the hearing will be; and
  • What they can do.

There are 2 court forms that can help you understand service in your small claims case and make sure you follow the right steps. Read:

  • What is Proof of Service? (SC-104B); and
  • How to Serve a Business or Public Entity (SC-104C).

Service can be complicated. Get help from your small claims advisor or click to learn more about service in a small claims case.


Click here to see the Small Claims hearing schedules and location for San Mateo County.

It is very important you prepare for your trial ahead of time. It is also a good idea, if you can, to observe some other small claims trials before you have yours, to know what to expect.

Click on Go to Court to find out more about how to prepare for your trial, gather your evidence and witnesses, and understand what will happen.


See the Plaintiff's Post-Trial Checklist

Click on What Happens After the Trial »

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