How to Sue in California

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How Do I Sue A Person in California?

In order to sue a person in California, you must do the following:

  1. Decide which court to sue in. This can be determined by examining the amount in controversy
  2. Write a well-pleaded complaint stating who the parties are, what the dispute is, and what type of compensation the plaintiff (party bringing the lawsuit) wants.
  3. Serve the defendant(s) notice that a lawsuit is pending against them.

Each of these steps is required in order for the lawsuit to proceed. Failure to follow each of these steps in the proper order and within the proper time limit can result in the court immediately dismissing your case. Remember that “persons” can also refer to corporations. If you wish to sue a corporation, and the corporation’s headquarters are in California, you can utilize the same steps described here.

Amount in Controversy

If you want to file a lawsuit in California, one of the most important early questions is the amount in controversy: how much money are you seeking in damages, or what is the value of the property in question?

If the amount in controversy is less than $7,500, you will generally sue in small claims court. In small claims court, parties are not allowed to be represented by attorneys, and the procedural rules and rules of what can be admitted as evidence are relatively simple and informal. The system is designed so that the parties can reach a final resolution of their matter very quickly.

If the amount in controversy is more than $7,500, things become more complex. In such a case, you will be filing your lawsuit in the California Superior Court. However, different types of actions have different rules associated with them. There are 2 basic types of civil cases that can be filed in the California Superior Court: limited civil cases and unlimited civil cases.

A limited civil case is basically one in which the amount in controversy is less than $25,000 but more than $7,500. An unlimited civil case is one in which the amount in controversy is over $25,000. As a practical matter, the procedure in filing either of these lawsuits is quite similar. However, in writing your complaint, you should note that the amount of money you seek can change the nature of the lawsuit between a limited and unlimited civil case. If your case is classified as unlimited, you are not allowed to seek certain forms of relief. However, if you are only seeking monetary damages not exceeding $25,000, the distinction is largely irrelevant.

Complaint

Once you have determined what type of lawsuit you are filing, you should write a complaint. In California, your complaint must include the specific facts that constitute the legal wrong you have suffered. You do not have to prove any of these facts at this stage, however. You only need to allege facts which, if taken as true, would entitle you to legal relief.

Avoid making any conclusions in your complaint, since a complaint which has too many conclusions can be dismissed by a judge. Similarly, refrain from dumping every little detail and emotion into the complaint. It is possible for a complaint to be dismissed if there is too much detail in the complaint (this usually happens if the facts contradict each other). In general, make your complaint as brief and as straight forward as possible.

Once your complaint is written, you must file it with the clerk of the court. The address of every Superior Court in California can be found here.

Your complaint must also include a demand for the relief to which you believe you are entitled. This is called the “prayer” and is the last item in the complaint.

A written complaint is not always necessary. In California, many pleadings can be made through pre-written forms, known as “Judicial Council Forms.” Complaints for many different causes of action can be filed using these forms, rather than writing one from the ground up. These forms can be found at the California Courts website.

Notice

Once you have filed your complaint with the court, you must serve the defendant with a copy of the complaint. This usually means personally delivering the complaint to the defendant at the defendant’s usual place of residence. The complaint must be delivered by a third party who is over the age of eighteen and has no direct stake in the outcome of the lawsuit. To ensure that service is done properly, you should hire a licensed process server. However, this is not absolutely necessary. But it is important to make sure that the person serving the complaint is someone you trust, since improper service can delay, or even derail, a lawsuit.

You may serve the defendant with subsequent notices by sending the notice through certified first-class mail. Notice by publication in a local newspaper is also accepted in limited circumstances.

If you are suing a corporation, the notice can be sent to the corporation’s legal department or to a corporate officer who has the legal authority to receive such notices.

Once these steps have been completed, the lawsuit has been filed, and may proceed.

Can I Sue The State of California, a City In California, or a County In California?

Yes. You can sue the state government or a local government using the same procedure for persons. However, governments have an additional legal barrier that private parties do not have. Governments have a certain level of immunity to lawsuits. The immunity is designed to prevent private parties from controlling a government through the threat of a lawsuit.

In order to pierce the immunity, you must fill out a government claims form and file it with the proper government agency. The correct agency will depend on the government you are suing and the reason for your claim. The agency will decide whether the claim can proceed to court.

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Last Modified: 01-23-2013 12:13 PM PST

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