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. 

    How to Serve

  • 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. 🕵️
  • Sheriff 
    • 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).