Small Claims Court
Small Claims is a court where you can exercise your rights to resolve a dispute. Attorneys are not permitted to represent either plaintiffs or defendants (attorneys are allowed in Small Claims appeals). Small Claims cases are for damages of $10,000 or less. Small Claims is affordable and fast, with simple and informal rules.
Small Claims Advisor
P.O. Box 1542
Benicia, CA 94510-4542
Phone: (866) 768-9013
In your correspondence, please identify yourself as a resident of Mono County. Court Clerks are not allowed to answer legal questions. All correspondence to the small claims court must contain the case number and show that a copy was sent to all parties in the case.
Frequently Asked Questions
The first step in filing a small claims action is to make a verbal or written request for payment. If a verbal demand is made, it should be followed up with a letter. To establish jurisdiction, the action must have occurred in Mono County, or the defendant’s (the person you are filing against) principal place of business or residence must be in Mono County. The maximum claim allowed in small claims court is $10,000. A plaintiff is limited to two small claims filings over $2,500 per year.
|Filing claim for $1,500 or less||$30|
|Filing claim for more than $1,500 but less than or equal to $5,000||$50|
|Filing claim for more than $5,000 but less than or equal to $10,000 (claim by natural persons only)||$75|
|Filing claim by person who has filed more than 12 small claims in California within the previous 12 months||$100|
You can file a claim in person at the Mammoth Lakes courthouse located at 100 Thompsons Way in Mammoth Lakes or by mail to Mono County Superior Court P.O. Box 1037 Mammoth Lakes CA 93546. If filing a claim by mail, please make sure to include all pages (1–5) of the SC-100 form and an original signature as required on page 3. Please include a check or money order payable to the Mono County Superior Court for the Small Claims filing fee (see above) along with a self-addressed stamped envelope so that the court may return the filed paperwork.
If you want the Court to notify the defendant by certified mail, there is an additional charge of $15.00 per defendant. It is the Plaintiff’s responsibility to follow up with the court to make sure proper service by certified mail has been met.
Before the court can exercise jurisdiction over the person (have the power to order the defendant to do something), the defendant must be aware of the lawsuit and be given an opportunity to defend the claim. The papers must be served on the defendant by personal delivery or certified mail by the court. This is called due process, a fundamental right guaranteed in the Constitution. It means that the government will not take away rights, liberty or property without first notifying the person who is to lose those rights, and giving him or her the right to appear and object. The rules governing notice to a defendant require strict compliance.
The correct way to notify a defendant about a lawsuit is by service of process. This means that a copy of the complaint filed in the court must be given to the defendant by one of the following means:
- Personal service. You may ask anyone who is not a party in your case and who is at least 18 years old to serve (give) a copy of the court papers on the defendant. Personal services means the person personally gave a copy of the court papers to the defendant.
- Substituted service. Substituted service occurs when a person other than the defendant is served on the defendant’s behalf so long as the papers are served (i) at the defendant’s business with the person in charge; or (ii) at the defendant’s home with a competent person who is at least 18 years old. The person who receives the court papers must be told about their contents. Another copy of the same court papers must be mailed, first class, postage prepaid, to the defendant at the address where the paper was left. The service is not complete until 10 days after the copy is mailed.
- Certified mail. For small claims cases only, you may ask the Clerk of the Court to serve the defendant by certified mail. The clerk will charge a fee of $15.00 for this service. You should check back with the court prior to the hearing to see if the receipt for certified mail was returned to the court. Service by certified mail can only be accomplished by the Clerk of the Court.
The person who completes service as stated above must complete the Proof of Service form, Judicial Council Form SC-104, and have it filed with the Court.
PROOF OF SERVICE MUST BE FILED WITH THE COURT PRIOR TO THE HEARING DATE. If there is no proof of service on file the matter may be continued. The Plaintiff must then request the matter be reset.
YOU CANNOT SERVE PAPERS ON THE DEFENDANT YOURSELF. YOU MUST USE A NON-PARTY. Professional process servers are available for hire, and the sheriff’s department may also serve legal papers for a fee.
The defendant must be served at least 15 days before the trial date if he or she lives in the county, and at least 20 days if the defendant lives outside the county. If service is not completed in time, the trial will be continued (postponed). If service is accomplished by substituted service or by certified mail, you must allow 10 ten additional days.
You may prepare your own case, or consult with an attorney about the applicable law and preparation for trial. You may also receive assistance from the small claims advisor.
If you prepare the case yourself, you may wish to research the legal theory by which you are seeking relief from the court. Small claims court is informal, so you do not have to know the law; however it will improve your chances for success if you can distill the essential elements of the case and present them to the court in a clear and concise manner.
The opposing side is entitled to see all evidence before it is submitted to the court; therefore, if you plan to bring documents to show the court, you need to make extra copies for the other side, and for the judge. It will save time if you can each have a copy to refer to in court.
Be sure you are on time for the trial. Although the small claims trial is informal, you must be prepared with witnesses, books, receipts and other documents needed to prove your case. If your witnesses are not willing to come to court voluntarily, you can request that the court clerk issue a subpoena. A subpoena is a court order that requires the witness to appear. The witness has a right to charge a fee for appearing. If you do not have in your possession the records or papers necessary to prove your case, you may request the court clerk issue a subpoena duces tecum in advance of the trial date, which orders the documents you are requesting be delivered to court for trial.
Many cases are scheduled for the same time, so each case is given limited time. You should describe the events clearly and concisely. Before you present to the court any photographs, diagrams or documents, you must first show them to the opposing side. If possible, observe other small claims proceedings in the same department or courtroom where your case is scheduled, prior to the day you are to appear. You will get an idea how to proceed in an organized manner due to the limited time available for each case.
You can complete forms online for free at Find Your Court Forms.
Either party can ask for a later hearing date. If any defendant has been served, a party that wants the trial moved to a later date must ask for this in writing. There must be a good reason, and a $10.00 fee will be charged. The person asking for a later hearing date must either mail or deliver a copy of the request to all other parties in the case. The request must be received by the court at least 10 calendar days before the hearing date. Form SC-150: Request to Postpone Trial and Form SC-152: Order on Request to Postpone trial are available online at Find Your Court Forms or at the court clerk’s office located at 100 Thompsons Way Mammoth Lakes CA.
If you have not served any defendant named in the case, you may ask for a new trial date either in writing to Mono County Superior Court P.O. Box 1037 Mammoth Lakes CA 93546, or by going to the small claims counter in person at 100 Thompsons Way in Mammoth Lakes CA. Your request must be received by the court at least 3 court days before the scheduled trial date. There is no fee.
If you are a defendant in a small claims case and would like to file a claim against the plaintiff(s) in your case, please fill out Judicial Council form SC-120 and file with the court with the proper filing fee. The court will set the hearing for the defendant’s claim on the same date as the original small claims hearing to avoid excessive travel and incurred costs to the parties. Proper service will need to be filed prior to the hearing (see above).