Vacate a Default Judgment
If you are sued and you did not go to your trial, the court may enter a judgment against you based on the information the plaintiff provided, without hearing your side of the story. If you then want a new trial, you must ask the judge to vacate (cancel) the judgment against you. You must have a good reason for not going to your trial, like you were not properly served or you had a serious emergency.
Get help from your court’s small claims advisor!
Deadline to ask the court to vacate the default judgment
- You must file a motion (petition) NO LATER THAN 30 DAYS from the date the court clerk mailed you the Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form SC-130 or Form SC-200).
- If you were NOT PROPERLY SERVED with the Plaintiff's Claim (Form SC-100), you have 180 DAYS from the date you DISCOVERED there was a judgment against you to file a motion to vacate.
How to vacate your judgment
- Fill out a Notice of Motion to Vacate Judgment and Declaration (Small Claims) (Form SC-135).
- File it with the small claims court clerk.
- Pay the filing fee. If you cannot afford the fee, ask for a fee waiver.
- The clerk will give you a date for your hearing. At the hearing, the judge will decide whether to cancel the judgment or not.
Prepare for your hearing
If the judge vacates your judgment, 1 of 2 things will happen:
You will have a new trial immediately; or
The judge will reschedule the trial for another date.
In case you have a new trial right away, you need to be prepared:
- Take proof of why you could not go to your first trial (for example, a letter from a doctor or a hospital bill).
- Take any evidence or witnesses you need to prove your case. If your witnesses cannot go to court, ask for a postponement (a new court date). But this is up to the judge. You can take written witness statements just in case.
- Be prepared to tell your side of the story.
After the decision – Appealing the denial of motion to vacate
If the judge does not vacate (cancel) the judgment, you can appeal the judge's decision to deny your Notice of Motion to Vacate Judgment and Declaration (Form SC-135).
- You have 10 days to file an appeal after the judge makes a decision.
When you appeal the judge's denial of the motion to vacate:
- File an appeal with the small claims court clerk. Use the Notice of Appeal (Form SC-140) and make sure you check the box for appealing the “denial of the motion to vacate the small claims judgment.”
- If the court determines that you had a good reason for not showing up at your small claims trial, your appeal will be granted and 1 of 2 things MAY happen:
- The judge may hear your case right then; or
- The judge will send the case back to small claims court for a new trial. The clerk will mail you a notice with the date of your new trial.
- If the judge denies your appeal, you must pay the original judgment.