In California, the Superior Court has aimed to streamline the process for litigants who are looking to bring suit against another. The small claims process does have certain requirements for filing, but overall, it is a quick and easy way for people in California to file a lawsuit in their local Superior Court without the expense of high legal fees or the need for extensive legal knowledge.
Small claims in California are a heard in the small claims department which is a division of the Civil branch. Physically, the small claims documents are traditionally filed in the County in which there is a qualifying factor. A qualifying factor for small claims could be where the action arose, where the defendant or plaintiff residents or other. Simply put, actions in Santa Barbara County are filed in the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Barbara. The County of Santa Barbara has 3 specific small claims departments as follows: Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and Lompoc. Typically a small claims action would be filed in the court nearest you, but some qualifying factors can have bearing on that.
While there are specific requirements to filing a small claims action in Santa Maria, most people will easily qualify into the process. Small claims actions in California are for actions with damages up to $10,000.00, up from $7,500 a few years back. The suit can be brought for almost any reason or action where a party believes that they suffered damages. Essentially after a cause of action resulting in monetary damages has occurred, the proposed victim could initiate a small claims action in their local small claims court. One primary requirement to filing is that the plaintiff has already asked for the damages to be paid, and the defendant has not done so. It is important to note, that small claims actions cannot be brought by an attorney but only by a self represented litigant, officially referred to as “Pro Per”.
After the defendant refuses to settle the matter the plaintiff can prepare their small claims complaint documents and attachments and file them with the Santa Maria small claims court. The complaint will contain information about the incident such as dates, times and a description of the incident. It will allow the plaintiff to attach related documents that support their claim. Upon filing the small claims documents and paying the applicable filing fee, the small claims court clerk will issue a case number and set a small claims hearing date, which is typically 6-8 weeks later. The hearing will be in the same court location in Santa Maria, but will take place in a formal courtroom with court staff and a Judge.
An important requirement is the notification of the small claims suit on the defendant. The court requires that the defendant is not only notified, but that they have at least 30 days to respond to a small claims complaint. This is why the small claims hearings in Santa Maria are set at least this far out. After the other party has been served (handed the filed documents), the person who completed the service will complete a “Proof of Service” and file it with the court. This is proof that the notification requirement has been met and that the defendant had proper time to respond.
At the small claims hearing, a few things could happen. The defendant does not show up in which the court will often enter a default judgment (plaintiff wins by default). If the defendant shows up the Judge may or may not hear their case as their official response is done by completing and filing a “Small Claims Answer”. Simply showing up does not guarantee a respondent will be heard. The Judge may continue the case and let the respondent file a proper answer. If both parties have filed their small claims documents, the Judge will attempt to resolve the issue, which could result in a win or loss for the plaintiff. In many cases the small claims order is made in the court hearing. From there the plaintiff can move forward to collect with popular small claims methods such as wage garnishments, bank levies or real property attachments.
While the small claims process for the Santa Maria court can seem straight forward, attention to detail and understanding of the small claims process can make all the difference. Documents incomplete or completed inaccurately can be rejected by the court staff. This would mean fixing your small claims filing and then another trip and waiting in line at the court again. A delay in serving the other party or not completing and filing the proof of service can easily delay your court date months. Not fully explaining the situation and details of the claim could make it hard for the Judge to fully understand your point of view on the matter.
We understand the requirements and the process for small claims filings in Santa Barbara County including the Santa Maria small claims court. We complete all required small claims complaint documents and all required attachments. We ensure all questions are properly answered and then we file your documents at the Santa Maria court. We not only save you time, but hassle associated with the court system. If you are ready to initiate a small claims action in the Santa Maria court or have questions about our small claims document preparation service please contact us. You can find our contact information and secure contact form here: Contact Us.