Serving the Defendant
Once a small claims court lawsuit is filed, the next step is to notify the person or business that they have been sued. This is called "serving."
Key rule: you cannot serve your own lawsuit.
- Ask a friend
- Costs: Free (but you will probably need to treat your friend to lunch 😉).
- Your friend must be over 18 years old and cannot also be suing (aka they can't be a plaintiff).
- Process Server
- Costs: $75. The cost can be reimbursed if you win your case.
- A process server is an individual licensed to serve your lawsuit documents.
- They are experts at serving court documents and are highly successful. 🕵️
- Costs: $40 (only available in some counties). The cost can be reimbursed if you win your case.
- If you qualify for a fee waiver (you can apply for the court to waive its fees), the sheriff waives your serving costs in most counties.
- Only the Sheriff located in the county where the other party lives, works or is located will be able to serve. Not all sheriff’s offices provide this service. 👮We will let you know if this option is not available.
- Court Clerk
- Costs: Around $15 (costs differ depending on the county).
- The court clerk notifies the defendant of the lawsuit by mailing the documents using certified mail. Only the Court Clerk can serve using certified mail.
- The defendant or agent for service of process must sign the certified mail receipt clearly (if no signature, illegible signature, or someone other than the defendant/agent for service of process signs, then service is invalid). We do not recommend this option if you are serving a defendant that is an individual as it is only successful 50% of the time (and according to some sources it is only successful 5% of the time) 🛑. This option tends to be more successful when the defendant is a Corporation or an LLC.
- Note, this option is not available in some California counties (including LA County).