Disclaimer: This guide is intended as general information only. Your case may have factors requiring different procedures or forms. The information and instructions are provided for use in the Sacramento County Superior Court. Please keep in mind that each court may have different requirements. If you need further assistance, consult a lawyer.
Step by Step Instructions
- Sample Answer-Contract (PLD-C-010)
- Blank Answer-Contract (PLD-C-010)
- Affirmative Defenses Research Guide
- Blank Affirmative Defenses (Attachment 4)
- Blank Verification
- Fee Waiver Step by Step instructions
- Sample Request to Waive Court Fees (FW-001)
- Sample Order on Court Fee Waiver (FW-003)
- Blank Request to Waive Court Fees (FW-001)
- Blank Order on Court Fee Waiver (FW-003)
- Proof of Service Step by Step Instructions
- Sample Proof of Service by Mail (POS-030)
- Blank Proof of Service by Mail (POS-030)
- Accessing Your Case Online Step by Step Instructions
When a lawsuit is started against you, the Plaintiff will have you served with a Summons and Complaint. These documents formally notify you that a lawsuit has been initiated, and what the lawsuit is about. You will also receive an Alternative Dispute Resolution packet, which provides information about resolving your case out of court, and a Program Case Notice, which will list important deadlines you must meet in your case.
You have three basic options once you are sued:
1. Respond to the lawsuit. If you believe you have a valid legal defense to this lawsuit and wish to defend yourself, you will need to file a response to the lawsuit. There are many methods for responding to this type of lawsuit. One common method is to file an Answer. This Guide provides information about filing an Answer to a Breach of Contract case. For more information about your other responsive options, see the Responding to a Lawsuit guide available on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/responding-lawsuit.aspx.
You have 30 days from the day you received the papers in person, or the day you were "served," to file a written response in proper legal form. If you received the documents by "substituted service," that is, if the papers were left with someone at your home or office and later mailed to you, you have 40 days after the date the documents were mailed to file a written response in proper legal form. Your 30 (or 40) days start the day after service. If the 30th (or 40th) day falls on a weekend or court holiday, you have until the end of the next business day to file your papers. Your Summons will probably have a date stamped near the bottom. This is the date the documents were filed with the court, not the date you were served.
2. Allow the plaintiff to obtain a default judgment. Many people who do not have a valid legal defense to this type of case choose not to respond. (Note: not having the money to make payments is NOT a valid legal defense! See the "Affirmative Defenses" guide available on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/affirmative-defenses.aspx). If you do not respond to the lawsuit, the other party may get a default judgment against you. This means that the other party wins, and the court will not consider anything you have to say. Although this may sound bad, for many people it is the quickest, least expensive way to resolve the case. To file a response to the lawsuit, you will have to pay a court filing fee of $225-$435, based on the amount you're being sued for (see http://www.saccourt.ca.gov/fees/docs/fee-schedule.pdf for the current fee schedule), unless you qualify for a fee waiver (see Step 2 for more information on obtaining a fee waiver). Additionally, if you lose the case, you will be responsible for the other party's court and attorney fees. If you do not respond and the judgment is obtained by default, these fees are usually less because the attorney has spent less time working on the case.
Be aware that once a default judgment is entered against you, the plaintiff may begin collection efforts, such as garnishing your wages or levying your bank account. You may be able to reduce or stop the amount being taken, if you can show the court that the funds are exempt from collection. See the "How to File a Claim of Exemption from Wage Garnishment" guide on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/claim-exemption.aspx, and the "How to Ask the Court to Stop or Reduce a Bank Levy" guide on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/claim-exemption-bank-levy.aspx for more information on these procedures. You may also be able to ask the court for permission to pay the judgment in installments over time. See the "Motion to Pay Judgment in Installments" guide on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/motion-installments.aspx. The judgment will also appear on your credit report for at least seven years. The judgment can be renewed, and re-reported on your credit report until paid in full.
3. Try to negotiate a settlement. You can attempt negotiations at any time during your case. Your negotiations do not automatically stop the lawsuit. The other party can proceed with a default judgment against you unless you file a response. If you attempt negotiations prior to filing a response, you may want to ask the other party for additional time to reply to the lawsuit, in case your negotiations fall through. Be sure any agreement you reach with the other party about an extension of time to respond is in writing.
If you reach a settlement, the other party should dismiss your case using a Request for Dismissal (CV-110). The first question on this form indicates if the case is being dismissed "With Prejudice" or "Without Prejudice." This indicates whether the case may be refiled in the future. "With Prejudice" means the case is permanently dismissed; the plaintiff is waiving the right to refile. This is common if the plaintiff agrees to accept, and the defendant pays, a lump-sum payment. "Without Prejudice" means that the case is dismissed, but the plaintiff reserves the right to refile the case if necessary. This is common if the plaintiff agrees to allow payments over time. If you miss a payment, they may refile the lawsuit.
If the plaintiff agrees to dismiss the case, you can make sure the dismissal is entered with the court by checking online. In Sacramento County, you are able to access your court file online at any time from www.saccourt.ca.gov. For instructions, see the "Find Your Sacramento County Superior Court Case Online" guide available on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/case-lookup.aspx.
For more information to help you make this decision, see the "Being Sued" page from the California Courts Self Help Website at http://courts.ca.gov/1322.htm.
STEP 1. Review the Summons and Complaint.
Carefully read the Summons and Complaint you receive, to determine the specifics of the case, including who is suing you, why you are being sued, and the amount being demanded. You may not recognize the plaintiff's name; it's possible that your debt has been assigned to a third party for collection. This is legal, and very common, especially for cases related to debts such as credit cards and medical bills. The complaint will usually specify who originally held your contract.
You will then need to determine if an Answer is appropriate for your case. You may want to consider other responsive options. For more information about your other responsive options, see the "Responding to a Lawsuit" guide available on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/responding-lawsuit.aspx
STEP 2. Fill out your papers
If you decide to file an Answer, there are several forms you'll need to complete. Blank and sample forms are available at the end of this packet.
This is the official fill-in-the-blanks form to answer a breach of contract case. This form may be used in any Superior Court in California. If you need another blank PLD-C-010 form, you can download it from the California Courts website at http://www.courts.ca.gov/forms.htm.
Affirmative Defenses (Attachment 4)
In your Answer, you can present information or evidence that reduces or eliminates your liability, even if the allegations in the complaint are true. These are called "affirmative defenses." Affirmative defenses are the legal reason why, even if everything happened just as described by the plaintiff, you should not be held liable. Your affirmative defenses must be raised in your Answer, and all facts essential to supporting the particular defense must be included. If you do not raise a particular defense in your Answer, you will be prohibited from using or raising it later on. (Code of Civil Procedure §431.30(b)(2)); Ekstrom v. Marquesa at Monarch Beach Homeowners Ass'n, 168 Cal. App. 4th 1111 (2008) (available online at http://tinyurl.com/Ekstrom-v-Marquesa)).
There many affirmative defenses available. This form describes the most common defenses to a breach of contract case. See the "Affirmative Defenses" guide available on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/affirmative-defenses.aspx for more information.
Although the Sacramento County Superior Court will accept this form for filing when attached to the Answer-Contract form, every court has its own procedures and policies. Be sure to check with the court where you're filing to see if they will accept this form. After reviewing this form, you may decide that none of the affirmative defenses it describes apply to your case. If you choose not to raise any of these defenses, you do not need to use this form.
This form is only needed if you are responding to a verified complaint. Sometimes a Plaintiff will include a Verification with their Complaint, where they state under penalty of perjury that everything in the Complaint is true to the best of their knowledge. California law requires some types of Complaints to be verified, while for other types of Complaints it is optional. Read the Complaint carefully, to determine if it is verified. Sometimes a Verification will be separate from the complaint; other times it will be included at the end of the Complaint itself. Under California Code of Civil Procedure § 446, if a Plaintiff verifies an Unlimited Civil Complaint (over $25,000), the Defendant must also verify his or her Answer. If your Answer is verified, the verification becomes the last page of your Answer.
Fee Waiver forms
If you wish to ask the court to waive all or part of your court filing fees, or allow you to make payments over time, you will need to complete the Request for Fee Waiver (FW-001) and Order on Fee Waiver (FW-003). Detailed instructions for completing these forms are available from the "Fee Waiver" guide available at the end of this guide, and on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/fee-waiver.aspx. If you need another blank FW-001 or FW-003, you can download it from the California Courts website at http://www.courts.ca.gov/forms.htm.
Proof of Service by Mail (POS-030)
Complete the caption of the form with the Defendant's name and address, the court's information, and the names of the Plaintiff and Defendant. You may also complete Question 5 regarding the name and address of the person served. Your server will complete the rest of this form and sign it. Instructions for completing this form are available from the "Proof of Service by Mail" guide available at the end of this guide, and on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/pos-mail.aspx. If you need another blank POS-030 form, you can download it from the California Courts website at http://www.courts.ca.gov/forms.htm.
The Civil Self-Help Center provides assistance in completing all of these forms to Sacramento County residents and those with cases in the Sacramento County Superior Court. To receive an appointment, simply arrive at the Law Library by 8:30 a.m., Monday through Friday. Appointments are assigned in a random order determined by a lottery at 8:30 a.m. (not first-come, first-served), so there is no need to arrive earlier, but if you are not here by 8:30 a.m. you may not receive an appointment.
Plan your parking (and child care, if needed) so that you do not have to leave the Law Library during the lottery to feed the parking meter. The lottery is usually over by 9:00 a.m. Directions and parking and transit information are available at www.saclaw.org/.
For more information, call our Reference Desk at (906) 874-6012, or email email@example.com.
If you would prefer to complete the forms on your own, you can find instructions at the end of this guide, and from:
At the Law Library
Win Your Lawsuit Chap. 8. KFC 968 .Z9 D86 (Self-Help)
Electronic Access: From any computer (library or home) via the Legal Information Reference Center. Instructions are available on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/nolo-ebooks.aspx
STEP 3: Make copies of your completed forms
- Answer (PLD-C-010), Affirmative Defenses and Verification – 2 copies
One copy will be served on the Plaintiff's attorney (or the Plaintiff if he or she doesn't have an attorney). The original and the other copy will be filed with the court. The court will keep the original and return the copy to you after it is stamped. The stamped copy is for your records.
- Request to Waive Court Fees (FW-001) and Order on Court Fee Waiver (FW-003) – 2 copies
Only if you are filing a fee waiver. These will not be served to the other party.
STEP 4: Serve the Answer
Someone over the age of 18 who is not a party to the case must serve your documents. This service can be done by mail. Before mailing your documents, this person must fill out form POS-030. In Step 2, you completed several questions on this form; your server will need to finish the form by adding his or her address and the date and location of mailing. They SHOULD NOT sign this form yet.
Make one photocopy of the completed (but unsigned) POS-030. Attach this copy of the unsigned proof of service to one of the copies of your Answer. This is the packet of forms your server will mail for you. After depositing this packet of documents in the mail, your server must sign the original POS-030, and return it to you for filing.
STEP 5: Copy the Signed Proof of Service
Make one (1) copy of the signed Proof of Service. It is not necessary to copy the instruction page.
STEP 6: Assembling
After service, you will need to file your documents with the court. Assemble your packet as follows:
- Request to Waive Court Fees (FW-001) plus one copy beneath it, if requesting fees to be waived. The original will be unstapled in Sacramento, while the copy is stapled.
- Order on Court Fee Waiver (FW-003) plus one copy, if requesting fees be waived. The original will be unstapled in Sacramento, while the copy is stapled.
- Answer (with Affirmative Defenses and Verification, if used), plus one copy. The original will be unstapled in Sacramento, while the copy is stapled.
- Signed Proof of Service Form, plus one copy. This proof of service can be attached as the last page of the Answer when filing. If this is the case, then the original Proof of Service should be attached to the original Answer, and the copy of the Proof of Service should be attached to the copy of the Answer.
STEP 7: Filing/Fees
Take your completed packet to the Gordon D. Schaber Courthouse at 720 Ninth Street in downtown Sacramento.
No filing fees will be collected at the time of filing if you also file a Request to Waive Court Fees. You should receive the Order on Court Fee Waiver in about five court days.
If you are not requesting your fees be waived (or if your fee waiver is denied), your filing fee is based on the amount asked for in the Complaint. Check the current fee schedule at http://saccourt.ca.gov/indexes/fees-forms.aspx.
Your filing fee, called a "first appearance fee," is only paid with the first paper that you file in a lawsuit. Most other documents filed later do not have a filing fee, or will have a much lower filing fee.
Serving and filing your Answer are just the first steps in your case. There will be many more documents for you to file and serve throughout the lawsuit. It will likely be several months before you go to court. As a self-represented litigant, you are responsible for knowing what is happening in your case. In Sacramento County, you are able to access your court file online at any time from www.saccourt.ca.gov. Be sure to check often, to make sure you're not missing anything. For instructions, see the "Find Your Sacramento County Superior Court Case Online" guide available on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/case-lookup.aspx.
STEP 8: Discovery
The next step is usually discovery. Discovery procedures allow the parties to exchange documents, evidence, and other information before going to court. Discovery is a very important part of a lawsuit, and failure to comply with discovery rules and timelines can result in monetary sanctions.
The Civil Self-Help Center offers assistance with discovery on Thursday afternoons:
Introduction to Written Discovery Class
1:30 pm - 3:30 pm 1st & 3rd Thursday
Come to understand what discovery is, how to answer questions you received by mail and how you can use discovery yourself. Bring a USB flash drive to download sample forms.
1:30 pm - 3:30 pm 2nd & 4th Thursday
Work on your discovery requests or responses in this drop in computer lab. Bring your USB flash drive with your requests or responses. No entrance after 3:15 pm. Lab closes promptly at 3:30 pm.
In the Law Library
Win Your Lawsuit Chap. 10. KFC 968 .Z9 D86 (Self Help)
Electronic Access: From any computer (library or home) via the Legal Information Reference Center. Instructions are available on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/nolo-ebooks.aspx.
STEP 9: Case Management
The court will also require periodic status reports from the parties, called Case Management Statements. In Limited Cases (under $25,000), a court order requiring the Case Management Statement when the case is 6 months old is issued when the case is filed. You will not receive a reminder about this, so be sure to mark it on your calendar! For Unlimited Cases (over $25,000), the court will mail out a Notice of Case Management Conference, which includes an order to serve and file a Case Management Statement no later than fifteen days before the case management conference. Failure to file a Case Management Statement will result in more paperwork for you, and possibly in sanctions, including striking all or part of your pleadings; dismissing all or part of your case; entering a default judgment against you; and/or ordering that you pay reasonable costs, including attorney fees, to the Court and to the other parties. (Sacramento County Superior Court Local Rule 2.00).
For more information, as well as step-by-step instructions for completing the form, see the Case Management Statements guide available on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/case-management.aspx.
In the Law Library
Win Your Lawsuit Chap. 12. KFC 968 .Z9 D86 (Self Help)
Electronic Access: From any computer (library or home) via the Legal Information Reference Center. Instructions are available on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/nolo-ebooks.aspx.
Completing Your Case Management Statement (48:54)
This video provides background on the Case Management Program and explains how to fill out the forms.
Note: a new page has been added to the form, which is not yet covered in the video. The Law Library's "Case Management Statements" guide available on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/case-management.aspx includes the latest information.
STEP 10: The Tentative Ruling Process
In Sacramento County, Case Management Orders and most types of Motions are subject to the Tentative Ruling process. For these types of proceedings, the judge renders a decision the court day before the scheduled hearing date. The tentative ruling is available by 2 p.m. the day prior to the scheduled hearing. The tentative ruling will become the final ruling on the matter, unless either party asks for the hearing to be held. If you would like the judge to hear oral arguments on the matter, you must notify the other party, the other party's attorney, and the department clerk of your intent to appear at the hearing no later than 4 p.m. the day before the scheduled hearing. If you do not give this notice, your hearing will be taken off the schedule. The tentative ruling will become the final ruling of the court. More information about tentative rulings, including how to find these rulings online, can be found in the "Tentative Ruling System" guide available on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/tentative-rulings.aspx.
PLD-C-010, page 1 (click for full size)
PLD-C-010, page 2 (click for full size)
IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS GUIDE, OR IF YOU NEED HELP FINDING OR USING THE MATERIALS LISTED, DON'T HESITATE TO ASK A REFERENCE LIBRARIAN.
updated 9/12 mpj