County of Los Angeles
Department of Consumer Affairs
Serving Court Papers
After filing your case, a copy of your Plaintiff’s Claim or Defendant’s Claim must be delivered to the person or business you are suing. Each person named must be served.
Your claim tells the other party that they are being sued and gives the date, time and place of the hearing. You cannot serve the claim yourself. The only time you can serve court papers yourself is when you are serving a Subpoena.
Who can serve the claim?
There are four ways to serve the claim:
- Have the Sheriff in the courthouse closest to where the Defendant lives or works serve your claim. The fee is $35;
- Hire a Registered Process Server. They are listed in the telephone book;
- Have a friend or family member over the age of 18 serve your claim. The person you choose cannot be a witness or involved in the case;
- Have the court clerk serve your claim by certified mail. This method is not recommended.
- Service by certified mail cannot be used to serve a notice of a Judgment Debtor Hearing or Subpoena.
How must the papers be served?
There are two ways for a friend or family member to serve the claim:
Personal Service: The claim is given to the person(s) you are suing. This must be done at least 15 days before the court date. If the person lives outside of Los Angeles County, they must be served at least 20 days before the court date.
Substitute Service: The claim is given to someone over 18 years old who lives or works with the person you’re suing. A copy of the claim must also be sent by first class mail to the person you are suing at the address where the claim was given.
With this type of service, the claim must be served at least 25 days before the court date. If they are served outside of Los Angeles County, this must be done at least 30 days before the court date.
If the person you are suing has a private mailbox (not a U.S. post office box) the claim can be given to the person in charge of the private mailbox location.
You cannot use substitute service when serving a Subpoena or serving someone a notice of a Judgment Debtor Hearing.
Who must be served?
- An individual, serve the claim to the person. If suing a minor, the claim must be given to the minor and their parent or legal guardian.
- A business, serve the claim to the owner or a person in charge. If it’s a partnership, serve the claim to one of the partners.
- A corporation, serve the claim to the Agent for Service or an officer of the corporation. The Agent for Service receives legal papers for the corporation. If it’s a limited partnership or limited liability company, serve the claim to the general partner, manager or Agent for Service.
- A rental property owner, serve the owner. If the owner cannot be found, serve the manager.
- A government agency. A California State Government Agency, serve the Attorney General’s Office. A Los Angeles County Agency, serve the Clerk of the Board. A City Agency, serve the City Clerk.
How do I prove the claim was served?
A Proof of Service form must be filed with the clerk’s office at least 5 days before the court date. You can file the Proof of Service any one of three ways:
- In person
- By fax (fees apply)
- By mail
Can a claim be served outside California?
A claim must be served in California, except:
- For an auto accident that happened in California, when the registered owner or driver lives out-of-state. A copy of the claim also must be mailed to the California Department of Motor Vehicles;
- For a dispute involving real property located in California when the owner of that property lives out of state.
Court forms are available here and at California Courts - Forms. Select "Small Claims" from the pull down menu. Forms are also available at the Court Clerk's office.
Contact us for more information or speak with one of our counselors at (800) 593-8222. If you live outside of Southern California, call us at (213) 974-9759.
Updated Aug. 24, 2011
For more information:
County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer Affairs
B-96 Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration
500 W. Temple Street *
Los Angeles, CA 90012-2706
Telephone (800) 593-8222 (within LA County)
web site: dca.lacounty.gov