The easiest way to check your case status is to search your case number online. The court in every county has a website with public information available about cases—some for free, and some for a cost.
If you are a plaintiff or defendant in the case, look at your court documents to find your specific case number. If you lost your case number, call the courthouse and ask a clerk to search your name. You can also search for yourself by name online, though there is a fee to do so. Keep in mind the court will not share any details about the case unless the caller is the plaintiff or defendant.
If you are not a plaintiff or defendant and you do not have the case number, you can search for a party by name (for a fee). Once you have a case number, go to the website for your county’s court (you can find a list of court websites below).
The wording will be different depending on which website you’re on, but you may see something like the following: online case access, follow a case, search case records.
Searching the number will bring you to a page tracking an individual case. You’ll see the case name, a list of the documents filed, and any upcoming court dates. This is a great way to monitor your case for any new developments—the court could change your court date, your courtroom, or the opposing party could file documents.
Why should I check my case status?
You’ll know right away when there are updates to your case, which could give you more time to prepare.
Let’s say you are a plaintiff who has filed and served your court forms. You expect the defendant to respond, but you hate waiting on snail mail to read what they have to say for themselves. By tracking your case online, you can monitor all documents filed to see when the defendant takes an action.
If you see a response has been filed, you have two options: 1) wait for the document to arrive in the mail, knowing service will come eventually, or 2) order a copy of the document right away for a fee. Ordering a copy of the document is not required, but some people like getting the documents as quickly as possible. It may also be helpful to order a copy when there is an issue with service in your case (more on this below). To order a copy of a document filed in your case, contact your local courthouse for the specific procedure as the steps are different between counties.
You may learn you’ve been served incorrectly.
Whenever a document is filed, that document must be “served” on the other party. This means the other party gets a copy for him or herself. Depending on what document was filed, it could be served in person (think of those movie scenes where someone says “you’ve been served!”) or by mail. After service is done, the party files a “proof of service” with the court. This is like a receipt that lets the court know the other party has seen the document and the case can move along.
So why does this matter when checking your case status? Let’s say you’ve been checking in on your case online and you see the other party filed a response. Then you see a proof of service was filed.
First, look for what type of proof of service was filed—if it says “service by mail,” your documents could be sitting in your mailbox (or on their way); if it says “personal service” and you haven’t been served, that is a tip-off to incorrect service.
If that’s the case, then go to the hearing and explain that you weren’t served. The judge will likely make sure you are officially served, then set another date and time for your hearing. If the judge does not set a new date and time, make sure to ask for one!
Searching the opposing party can also be helpful.
Because the information is public, you can research the opposing party before your hearing. The court’s website will let you search for someone using his or her name, usually for a small fee. This is not required, but it can have some benefits.
One of the benefits is making sure the party has been named correctly on the court documents. For example, if you are suing a business, it could be helpful to make sure you named the right corporation. If you didn’t, your case could be dismissed and you would have to start over.
Another benefit is seeing just how many lawsuits a party is involved in.
While this does not mean they are guilty in this case, it could look suspicious that they have a lot of conflict with money. You may want to point it out to the judge at your hearing if the defendant in your case is involved in many lawsuits.
Now that you’re ready to search your small claims case online, look to the links below for the major Southern California counties case databases.
Local County Case Databases
Sample Case File in LA: *The following case number is a random case in LA County*
Sample Case File in OC: *The following case number is a random case in Orange County*