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Appeal Your Small Claims Judgment

When you appeal a small claims judgment, you ask the superior court to change the small claims court judge's decision. You will have another court hearing and must present your case again.

A small claims appeal is a "trial de novo" or "new trial." This means that the case is decided by a new judge from the beginning so you have to present your case all over again. Because this case is in the civil division of the superior court (and NOT in small claims court), you (and the other side) are allowed to bring a lawyer to represent you in the new trial. Click for help finding a lawyer.

IMPORTANT! This is different from an appeal of a motion to vacate. If the defendant did not show up at the original trial, he or she has no right to ask for a new trial. Instead, the defendant can only file a motion to vacate the judgment. If the judge denies that motion, then the defendant can appeal the judge's denial of the motion to vacate.

Only a defendant can file an appeal of a small claims judgment. BUT if you are the plaintiff, and the defendant counter-sued you by filing a Defendant's Claim in response to your Plaintiff's Claim and you lose, you CAN appeal. Since a small claims appeal is a brand-new trial, the entire case is decided from scratch.

To file an appeal of a small claims judgment

  1. You must file your appeal within 30 days of the date the small claims judgment was mailed to you. This date will be on your copy of the small claims decision.
  2. File a Notice of Appeal (Small Claims) (Form SC-140) with the small claims court.
  3. The court will mail you the date and time of your hearing on the appeal. The hearing on your appeal will be in the civil division of the superior court.
  4. Go to your trial. You and the other side will have to present your case all over again.
  5. If you do not go to the trial, the judge will not hear your side of the story.

In a small claims appeal, a new judge hears all the evidence again and makes a decision. That judge does not know what happened in the first trial, so this new judge looks at everything as if the case was being decided for the first time.

Either side can have an attorney represent him or her at the appeal. If you decide to hire a lawyer for the appeal, it is possible that the judge may award you $150 in attorney fees and up to $150 for your actual loss of earnings, expenses of transportation, and lodging incurred in connection with the appeal.

Also, if you or your lawyer (if you have one) can prove that the other side filed an appeal in bad faith with the intent to harass or delay you or to encourage to you drop your claim, it is possible that the judge may award reasonable and actual attorney fees of up to $1,000 and $1000 in actual losses in earnings or transportation/lodging expenses that you incurred due to the appeal (and that are reasonable costs).

If you want to ask for attorney fees and/or lost earnings and transportation and lodging costs, be sure to speak up during the hearing. You may be asked to prove your actual loss, so you may need paperwork (receipts, bills) showing the charges.

If you win the appeal

A judgment on appeal is final.

  • If you are the plaintiff, once the court sends you a notice that you won the appeal, you can go ahead with the collection of your judgment. There is no 30-day waiting period, like there is after the original small claims trial.
  • If you are the defendant and you completely win the appeal, you do not have to pay anything.

If you lose the appeal

If you lose, you will have to pay the original judgment. You may have to pay more if the judge decides you owe a larger amount.

You may be ordered to pay the plaintiff’s court costs such as service and filing fees. Interest will also accrue at 10 percent for each year the judgment is not paid.

You may be ordered to pay up to $150 for attorney fees and an additional $150 for travel costs, loss of earnings, and lodging reasonably incurred in connection with the appeal.

And if the judge finds you filed your appeal in bad faith, the court may award up to $1,000 in attorney fees and also $1,000 for travel costs, loss of earnings, and lodging to the other side. Filing an appeal in bad faith means that:

  1. You filed your appeal without strong support for your position;
  2. You intended to harass or delay the other party; or
  3. You filed your appeal to encourage the other party to abandon the case