The Small Claims Court in California say that they cannot collect the value awarded by any sentence that they deliver. What happens to the defendant if he/she is sentenced to pay the plaintiff but refuses to pay the claim? Is the defendant liable of further penalties? Should the case proceed to a higher court?

The Small Claims website does says about "more serious steps", but it is not clear what these are.

1 Answer 1



Say I sue you successfully, and the court delivers a judgement that awards $1000 in damages. It is not the responsibility of the small claims court to ensure that the judgement is fulfilled.

In fact, the debtor (person who lost) can outright refuse to pay the creditor (or the person who won). They are not in violation of any law at this point.

However, the creditor can ask the court for options on enforcing their judgement, and these can include, but are not limited to:

  • Garnishing wages
  • Providing a court order
  • Seizure of assets (through court sheriff, don't use this yourself or you end up getting into criminal matters)

and others to enforce the judgement. The debtor isn't liable for refusing, unless when they are in violation of a court order. Violating a court order is a criminal matter, and the debtor could possibly be found guilty of contempt of court.

Oh, and the case wouldn't move on to a higher court. Cases go to a higher court when an appeal is made, generally when there has been an error in enforcing the law. You also need to be provided leave to make an appeal.

  • I'm still confused. It is not court responsibility to enforce the judgement (I don't expect that the judge will knock the door of the debtor to collect the amount for me), but who enforces the violation of the court order? The refusal of paying the debt after the deadline to allow the defendant to appeal automatically generates the crime of contempt of court? Apr 27, 2016 at 21:31
  • @gabrieldiego Violation of a court order is a criminal matter - and I think it's one of those offences where if the judge finds you guilty, then it happens right then and there. Enforcement is similar to all other criminal matters, such as theft and murder. Refusal of paying the debt isn't contempt of court, but not fulfilling the requirement of a court order is. A civil judgement is not a court order.
    – Zizouz212
    Apr 27, 2016 at 21:32
  • This means that a small claims court order is not a court order? Apr 27, 2016 at 21:36
  • 3
    A small claims court can issue a court order - but the judgement is not a court order. Think of it as a paper that just says who won, but it doesn't say what the parties should do.
    – Zizouz212
    Apr 27, 2016 at 21:37
  • 1
    No problem! Glad I could help out! :D
    – Zizouz212
    Apr 27, 2016 at 21:41

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