The civil courts of every state are divided into tiers based on the amount of money at stake in a case. For example, the small claims court might handle cases up to $10,000. The next higher level of court might be right for claims up to $25,000. Over that amount, there would be regular trial courts with no particular monetary limits.
California eliminated the intermediate level courts but accomplished a three-tier system by creating the so-called “limited case” in the Superior Court for cases under $25,000 (see below). Note that if the judgment for a plaintiff in any case falls within the California small claims limit ($10,000), the plaintiff may not recover his costs of suit, as he would normally.
Initiating a California Limited Case
A limited case in California only is initiated by the following documents:
- Complaint: the best template is the Undemurrable Complaint and Supporting Authorities.
- Plaintiff”s Case Questionnaire.
- Defendant’s Case Questionnaire: the plaintiff includes a blank Judicial Council form for each defendant.
- Summons: the plaintiff fills out and then submits the form of summons (linked) to the clerk of the court, who issues the summons and returns it to the plaintiff.
- Civil Case Cover Sheet: the plaintiff fills in the form (linked) and files it with the Complaint.
- Addendum to civil case cover sheet (if required by the particular county): the plaintiff fills it in if required. An example is the Los Angeles County addendum.
In the plaintiff’s case questionnaire, the plaintiff sets forth names and addresses of witnesses, a list of all relevant documents, a statement of the damages, information concerning insurance coverage, and information about injuries and treating physicians. Copies of the evidence should be sent as exhibits to the questionnaire.
Discovery in a California Limited Case
Discovery is limited to any combination of 35 of the following: interrogatories, demands to produce documents or things, requests for admission. A good guide is How to Conduct Discovery in a Limited Case by CEB.
One deposition is allowed. A defense medical examination is allowed. Expert witness discovery in the form of an exchange is allowed. The court can issue an order allowing a party to conduct additional discovery. The parties also can stipulate to additional discovery rights.
Between 30 days and 45 days prior to the trial, a party can serve a request for information about witnesses, physical evidence, etc. See Code of Civil Procedure section 96. There is a form for this.
Trial of a California Limited Case
There are special trial rules in addition to all of the usual ones. The most important rule is that written testimony is admissible. A party can offer prepared testimony of relevant witnesses in the form of declarations. This written testimony could be from lay percipient witnesses, expert witnesses, and a person who would authenticate documentary evidence. To have such evidence admitted, a copy of the same had to have been served on the opposing party at least 30 days prior to trial, along with a current address of the witness that is within 150 miles of the place of trial, and the witness has to be available for service of process at that place for a reasonable period of time during the 20 days immediately prior to trial. Also, the written testimony can be in the form of all or part of a deposition.
For further information, see California Code of Civil Procedure section 92 et seq.