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Civil Cases

Civil cases involve disputes between private parties rather than the violation of criminal law.

A civil matter may involve a lawsuit in which one party sues another to recover money or property, to enforce a contract or other obligation, to collect damages for injury or to protect a civil right. Some examples of civil cases include claims for personal injuries arising from automobile accidents, alleged wrongful termination from employment, evictions from a house or commercial building or disputes regarding the use of an easement.

Civil lawsuits (other than family, juvenile, probate, unlawful detainer, and civil harassment cases) can generally be divided into three categories depending on how much money is involved:

When the dollar amount is... This case is usually called a...
Under $10,000 Small Claims case
Between $0 and $25,000 Limited Jurisdiction Civil case
Over $25,000 Unlimited Jurisdiction Civil case

Representing Yourself in a Civil Case

If you are filing a limited civil case or an unlimited civil case, it is a very good idea to have a lawyer. But you are not legally required to have a lawyer (unless you are incorporated and your corporation is the one that is suing or being sued).

If you do not have a lawyer, you will have to act as your lawyer. And, to do so, you will have to know the laws and court procedures. The court cannot help you or give you a break just because you are not a lawyer and do not know the law, however the Court Self Help Center will have most of the resources you will need. If you do not follow the many court rules and laws governing litigation, you could get fined by the court and you could even lose important rights or your entire case.

Read the California Court's section on representing yourself for more information you should know if you are going to represent yourself. Our local Self Help Center will have most of the resources you need to represent yourself.

Limited jurisdiction civil cases

Definition - A general civil case involves an amount of money of $25,000 or less.

- If You are Sued for $7,500 or Less

If you have been sued for $7,500 or less in a limited civil case, the plaintiff (the person or company that sued) either could not take you to small claims court (because of the type of case) or chose NOT to file in small claims court.
This is common in credit card debt or other collection lawsuits where you may owe less than $7,500, but the credit card company prefers to take you to court in a limited civil case and not small claims. There are many reasons companies may prefer to sue you in a general civil court, and if that happens, you have to defend yourself in civil court and cannot ask to have the case transferred to small claims court.
Talk to a lawyer for advice and help on how to defend yourself if you have been sued in a limited civil case.

Unlimited Jurisdiction Civil Case

Definition - A general civil case involves an amount of money of $25,000 or more.

Unlimited civil cases also include other types of disputes that do not involve money, like cases to resolve (or “quiet”) title to real property, cases asking for civil restraining orders, and requests to change your name or your child’s name. Basically, an unlimited civil case is any case that is not a limited civil case under the definition of California Code of Civil Procedure, Sections 85-86.1

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