What Happens if You Miss a Small Claims Court Date? Say Petition to Vatcate Judgment

Did you miss a Small Claims Court Date this morning? Don’t jump yet.

Small Claims civil cases are not criminal cases. Jail is not a possible outcome. Small claims is where private disputes over money are heard. Currently in California, the maximum small claims judgement is $10,000 USD (there are some exceptions and limitations). There are no million dollar judgements in Small Claims Courtrooms. (more info: Los Angeles County Superior Court Small Claims Dept.)

In a typical Small Claims civil case, law enforcement officials are not accusing anyone of anything like they do in a criminal or traffic ticket case. Rather, in Small Claims, it is a private citizen or business that is accusing a person or business of causing monetary damages.

Small Claims Court are somewhat less formal than a criminal court. The Bailiffs may not carry loaded guns. Attorneys are generally not allowed to participate, except to pursue or defend their own claim. There usually is no court reporter.

Usually there is only one court date in a Small Claims case – the Court Trial. There are no separate evidence hearings, no case management conferences, and no settlement conferences like you would see in an Unlimited Jurisdiction Civil Court.

There might be mediation attempts in the hallway 10 minutes before your trial, but no arbitration, no depositions, no warrants, no jail.

Because of this characteristic, missing a Small Claims Court date is a lot less serious than missing the Arraignment on a Domestic Violence criminal charge. No one is going to come to your work to arrest you for missing a small claims court date.

Your car will not be impounded on your way home from picking up little Messiah from school for missing a small claims court trial. You do not need to switch license plates with your neighbor again.

Even if your landlord is suing you for damages? Yes, even if your landlord sues you and you do not show up for the trial – you will not be arrested for a failure to appear.

However, there are consequences for missing a small claims court trial. The consequences depend upon which party you are: 1) Defendant or 2) Plaintiff.

It’s more common for a defendant to miss a small claims court date. When this happens, if service of process has be completed, correctly, the court will simply have the trial without the defendant. Of course, if all of the evidence is uncontested because the Plaintiff showed up but the Defendant did not, then it is very likely the Plaintiff will get a judgement for what they ask.

If the Plaintiff shows up with enough evidence to support the claim without the Defendant’s input – the court will probably issue a judgement for the Plaintiff. This is called a “Default” judgement because the Defendant did not participate.

Once that judgement is issued, the Plaintiff can begin work on collecting the judgement, including through the use of wage garnishment.

Defendants who have suffered a “Default” judgment can petition the court to “Vacate” the judgement. If this petition is done immediately following a default judgement, relief is common. Courts have an interest in making sure all parties to a dispute have a fair opportunity to be heard, even if they screwed themselves up.

Defaulted Defendants who delay in a Petition to Vacate a Judgement have less success.

The California Judicial Council has free info and a Standardized CA Form for a Petition to Vacate Small Claims Judgement.

What if the Plaintiff fails to appear at a Small Claims Trial? The normal outcome of this situation is that the court will dismiss the Plaintiff’s claim “Without Prejudice”, which means the Plaintiff can bring the claims back to court, but they have to start all over.

In some cases where a Plaintiff’s claim is a waste of the court’s resources, or there is a history of a failure to appear, the court may consider entering a judgement for a Defendant instead of dismissing the claim. A judgement for the Defendant may bring a more permanent ending to the case.

What should you do if your Small Claims Court Trial was scheduled for 2 hours ago and you did not go? Contact the court clerk’s office as soon as possible to determine the status of the case. If there was a judgement entered against you that you are not happy with, and that you actually want to show up and challenge, start working on a Petition to Vacate Judgement. Get it filed today.

Questions? Leave a Reply.

Over and out.bombe

About Attorney Christopher Dort

Public Interest Attorney. CA State Bar #196832. Licensed to practice law in California 1998, and then the US Federal District Court in 2000. Civil Litigation Trial Attorney (Insurance Defense Firms) 2000-2003. Private practice 2003 - present. First Solo Criminal Jury Trial 1998 (Santa Cruz County). First Civil Jury Trial 2002 (Orange County). Santa Cruz County Public Defenders Office 1996-1999 (law clerk). BA in Politics from UC Santa Cruz, 1995. JD, University of California, Hastings, 1998.
This entry was posted in Auto Accidents, California Legal Help, Free Legal Self Help, Going to Court, Small Claims and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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