You Can Sue for Defamation in Small Claims Court

Wow. I may actually know what I’m talking about.

In one of my earliest postings on this blog, I recommended Small Claims Court to those who have been defamed, but can’t afford an attorney. In 2012 California raised the damages limit in Small Claims Court to $10,000!  Obviously this is not the way to go if you have a case with significant damages, but often the damages are minor, or damages are simply not the victim’s purpose in bringing suit. I suggested that an action in Small Claims Court can be an effective way to stop someone from continuing to defame you, and permits you to respond to anyone who asks you about the rumor, that you sued the defamer in court and won.

I had some secondhand knowledge of defamation actions being brought in Small Claims Court, but since attorneys are not allowed to represent clients there, I will never be able to test my theory directly. I’ve also been slightly concerned because I have received a couple of emails from readers who say that they were informed by a court clerk that defamation actions cannot be pursued in Small Claims Court.

Thankfully, a reader of my original posting was kind enough to call and spend some time on the phone with me, talking about his experiences. A vicious rumor got started about him some time ago, and like the urban legends that reappear periodically on the web, every few months the rumor about this person grows legs and starts getting spread again. Fortunately, because his professional circle is somewhat small, eventually the rumor reaches people that report back to the victim. He then brings a Small Claims action against the defamer, and has a witness to the statements.

This caller has brought four such actions, and has won every time. The judgments are small, but for the caller, damages were not the goal. He has found that the suits tend to eradicate the rumor in the community pockets surrounding the person who was spreading the lie. In other words, having lost in court, that person then goes back and tells the same people about the lawsuit. No doubt, the story is not told in flattering terms. Most likely the story goes something like this:

“Joe is such an asshole. I told Dave about how I had heard that Joe was stealing from clients, Dave told him what I said, and Joe sued me in court. The judge awarded him $2,500, so now I have to write him a check for $250 every month until it is paid off.”

But despite how the story is being told, the fact is that the people hearing the story are walking away knowing that it was a lie to accuse Joe of stealing, and Joe won’t put up with the lie being told.

This caller’s successes illustrate a couple of points. First, a “republisher” of a defamatory statement – one who simply repeats what he was told – is as guilty as the person who started the false rumor. Our hypothetical Joe may never learn who started the original rumor, but going after those who are repeating the lie is like a firefighter starting a backfire to stop a fire. It can help to stop the spread of the rumor, and may get back to the person who started it and cause him to shut up.

Secondly, and more to the point of this article, you can sue for defamation in Small Claims Court, regardless of what the court clerks may be saying. As I explained in the original article, a judge in Small Claims Court cannot give any equitable relief. In other words, he or she can’t order the defendant to stop spreading the rumor, or to provide a letter of apology, for example. That is why attorneys often don’t think to suggest Small Claims Court, and may be why the clerks think defamation actions cannot even be brought there. (Actually, a Small Claims judge can grant certain limited equitable relief, mostly having to do with contracts, and can condition an award on an act. He could, for example, award $2,500 in damages, reduced to $1,500 if the defamatory statement is removed from the Internet.)

And there are other big advantages to Small Claims Court. In many defamation actions, the specter of an anti-SLAPP motion looms large. If you sue for defamation and the defendant successfully brings an anti-SLAPP motion – convincing the court that the speech was protected – you get to pay the other side’s attorney fees. You are safer from an anti-SLAPP suit in Small Claims Court, and in any event there likely would be no attorney fees. (There are almost no absolutes in the law, so although very unlikely, I am not saying someone could not come up with a way to bring an anti-SLAPP motion in small claims court, such as having the action reclassified to Superior Court, or by bringing an oral motion at the time of trial.) Further, you cannot be sued for malicious prosecution if you lose on a Small Claims action.

With all this said, you’ll be wasting your time in Small Claims Court if you think you can go in and wing it.  You’ll be suing for thousands of dollars, so it will time and money well spent if you buy and review Everybody’s Guide to Small Claims Court in California.

[Update] I had recommended to another caller that her case was perfect for my Small Claims approach. She said the defamer would not stop defaming her, so I suggested that each time she learned of another defamation, she should drag him to court again. She took my suggestion to heart, and has sued him numerous times, and has prevailed every time, with total damages approaching $50,000. As you can see, a Small Claims action is not only a very streamlined and cost effective way to proceed, it can also be very lucrative.

[Update] As I predicted in my parenthetical above, a caller advised me that he was threatened with an anti-SLAPP motion in response to his small claims case. He added that he had gone to court to observe other cases as a way to prepare for his own trial, and he observed a judge grant an oral anti-SLAPP motion in a small claims case.

60 Responses to You Can Sue for Defamation in Small Claims Court

  • Betty Briscoe says:

    Thank you for this information. It’s refreshing to see an attorney “share” information without the benefit of charging by the second for it. I don’t have the funds or resources to sue my defamer(s), so I have been researching pursuing a small claims action against them instead. I was very pleased to see such a well and informative article written to help me in my cause.

    Thank you again.

  • Mike Stanton says:

    Can you advise how these people chose their figures of $2,500 or up to $50,000, and more importantly how they (and how we) may convince a Judge that such “damages” are appropriate? If something is just libel or slander, but it has not cost us money out of our bank account, but instead has just caused severe emotional upset, stress, and loss of friends/family-in-law, how does one convince a Judge of a dollar amount for that? Obviously ideally all suits would be for exactly $10,000 (the limit of the small claims law), but is that possible/realistic in the real world?

    • Aaron Morris says:

      That is the $64,000 question in any tort claim. When you suffer a personal injury, how does the judge set a dollar amount for your pain and suffering? The answer is that there is no good answer.

      In a defamation action, there are two types of damages — actual and presumed. Actual damages are self-evident. You prove whatever actual monetary damages you suffered, and if the judge is persuaded by your evidence, that is the amount he or she should award.

      But in a defamation case, unlike any other tort, the judge is REQUIRED to award damages if you prove the elements of defamation. Those are the presumed damages. Your reputation is deemed to have value, so damage to that reputation can only be addressed with money damages.

      So, to answer your question, the judge will determine the damages based on how persuasive you are in setting forth the emotional distress you have suffered, and that requires specifics. Don’t just testify that after the defamation your friend stopped talking to you, testify to the pain you feel each time you go to the Oggi’s where you and your friend used to meet every Taco Tuesday. You get the point.

      As to how much to ask for, it’s a fine balancing act. I used to be a Small Claims Judge, and if the plaintiff asked for an amount I felt was inflated, then he or she immediately lost credibility. On the other hand, the judge cannot award more than you ask, so if you ask for too little, you are leaving money on the table.

      Fortunately, when bringing a defamation action in Small Claims Court, that weighing process is largely eliminated. Just about any serious** defamation, in my opinion, would warrant an award of the maximum amount of damages permitted in Small Claims Court. Indeed, if you ask for less than $10,000 on a defamation action, that could be taken as an indication that you really do not think your reputation took a serious hit. So I would suggest that you always ask for the full amount of $10,000, and then leave it to the judge. I don’t think any judge will be so shocked by that request that it will harm your credibility.

      From the feedback I have received, $2,500 seems to be the going amount for a defamation claim in Small Claims Court, but I would certainly award more than that if I were the judge and heard a convincing presentation on the emotional distress it had caused.

      ** I have to include the “serious” disclaimer because I get a lot of amazing calls involving very questionable “defamation” claims, and I don’t know how many of those end up in Small Claims Court.

  • Lori Martin says:

    I have solid proof of Libel Slander and retaliation, exparte communications and fraud, in order for DCFS Los Angeles County to leave my son with criminal, and mentally ill characters, so putting my son in the foster care system is easier.. I have fought DCFS Los Angeles County for more than 10 years, they even showed the court a Falsified Substantiation, which I have proof via the Grievance Officer for the CACI listings has provided, I need help filing a tort claim against these services. I know I have been red flagged due to my former ward status, I do not have convictions, rehab trips or mental health holds. DCFS left my child with someone who has had 72 hour holds convictions of controlled substances, dui’s and one person convicted of vehicular manslaughter by dui… yet my son remains in their care, and DCFS retaliating for a complaint I lodged 3 months prior to the detainment.

    • Aaron Morris says:

      It sounds as though you want to pursue what is called a collateral action. You state that “my son remains in their care” which I take to mean that you have not been able to convince the agencies in question that you should prevail. That is why collateral actions, especially for defamation, seldom make sense. If in one forum you can’t prove your position, then it is unlikely that you would prevail for defamation in a different forum.

      Go to the following websites for a more detailed discussion and information, and feel free to call me if you have any more questions.

      • Lori Martin says:

        It is up from dismissal and termination of jurisdiction plus many of the workers have been fired or put on leave

  • sofia says:

    hi i have a question an need some advice but due to an active court case i am limited to what i can post online, i will give u the basics an maybe u would even allow a phone call. my kids where taken from my jan 29,2013 with a report of “abuse” due to text messages from what HAD been my phone number to my adopted moms phone, cps came to my home an forced there way into my home demanding to speak to my kids alone i said NO but they where about 5 feet away from my kkids watching them play. the next day they came to my house with a piece of paper signed by a judge saying to tale my kids because according to cps/dhs they told the judge i was acting mental denied them access to my home an to my kids. there is now testimony from the same worker on the stand stating i did allown them access to my home i jujst refused them to speak to my kids without council. i am now in a fight for my life to get my babies back with a judge that has no thoughts of ever giving me my kids back an does this to every family that has delt with cps/dhs.. please email me back im at a dead i an cant stand the thought of never having my babies back.. thanks sofia

    • Aaron Morris says:

      Since you posted your question here, I will assume you are contemplating some sort of collateral action, arguing that CPS is defaming you. For the reasons explained at the link below, that is seldom a good idea, and will often amount to a SLAPP action. Your energies need to be devoted to presenting your case in the present context, not with a separate action. Simply stated, if you can’t convince a judge in one forum, there is no reason to believe you would be successful in another.

  • Ken says:

    I filed a small claims suit in Washington State for Libel damages to our business reputation, the defendant asked that the case be dismissed because he said the district court does not have jurisdiction. The judge was disturbed by his request and said he belived he did have jurisdiction. I asked the judge for a continuance which he grantetd and set a new date for mandatory mediation. My question is does small claims court have jurisidction in Wa State for slander and Libel cases? The defendant quoted

    RCW 3.66.030
    Restrictions on civil jurisdiction.

    The jurisdiction covered by RCW 3.66.020 shall not extend to the following civil actions:

    (1) Actions involving title to real property;

    (2) Actions for the foreclosure of a mortgage or enforcement of a lien on real estate;

    (3) Actions for false imprisonment, libel, slander, malicious prosecution, criminal conversation, or seduction; and

    (4) Actions against an executor or administrator as such.

    [1961 c 299 § 114.]

    Did I make a mistake by using the word libel in my complaint?

    Thank you for any advice you have for me.



    • Aaron Morris says:

      All my articles are specific to California (although I sometimes write about decisions from other states that illustrate a point of law). Apparently Washington excludes defamation actions from small claims court, which is unfortunate. I can\’t advise on how you should proceed, but you will probably need to dismiss and file in a different court. In California we have a limited jurisdiction court for claims under $25,000. It is far more complicated than small claims court, but less so then unlimited jurisdiction Superior Court, and is still navigable by laypeople.

  • Ken says:

    I would add that the continuance the Judge granted was for his ruling on the motion to dismiss.

    Thanks again


  • Matt says:

    Thanks for posting this. I have NEVER sued anyone before.

    I have a situation where a person made a spectacle in front of other parents (coaching situation) in what should be a professional setting and it puts my reputation in the community at risk. The situation itself demands a response from that individual to “clear the air” of any possible wrong doing on my part – otherwise it leaves the rumor mill open for business and other parents to think the worst of me. By the way this person was a coordinator representing a corporation.

    I have asked the other person to send a nice email explaining their outburst – and I have asked her boss and her boss’s boss. No action. So I want to sue. Your article explains to me (correct me if I am wrong) that I cannot force them to send the email legally through small claims court – but I can sue for defamation and seek damages which should cause them to want to “settle” for sending the email and less damages. Am I correct?

    Would my case be a good one for small claims? Since the incident – things “feel” weird in our community, and if an email doesn’t go out then there is a good chance that friends, neighbors, and potential business opportunities could think the worst of me (drugs/felony/pedophile – you name it). I have to get action right away to protect my reputation.

    Please advise! 🙂

    • Aaron Morris says:

      Yes, that is how a judgment in small claims court can apply pressure for the defendant to remove or retract the defamatory comments. Of course, if you don\’t prove your case, it can have the opposite effect. The defendant would then have bragging rights, telling all that he proved in court that you did the things he was claiming. It\’s not really true; if you lose it just means you did not prove your case, not that the statements were true, but most people won\’t chose to understand that distinction.

  • Josh Mendez says:

    Thank you for the excellent article Mr. Morris.

    I am in a situation where I received a performance evaluation with specifically false, not to mention serious and damaging to my integrity and reputation, allegations made by my superiors. I am confident I can prove the are false and that they were with done with malice. I would like to pursue this in small claims though I work for a public agency (a California County) and understand there are some additional requirements such as sending in a initial claim to the agency before filing suit. Any advice with this? Can an attorney assist with the initial claim form to the agency.

    Thank you.

    • Aaron Morris says:

      Keep things in perspective. I receive a lot of calls from people wanting to sue for things put in their personnel files, but I seldom agree to handle such cases because usually it is not the best path. I understand completely the desire to keep false information out of your file, but consider the fallout. An employee gets written up, and drags everyone to court wanting to prove the write-up was false. Even if you win, how popular have you made yourself with the company? And just because you win does not mean that anyone has to accept that win. In other words, based on your limited question, I assume a supervisor put false statements in your evaluation, and you are concerned that in the future that might cause you to be denied a promotion or raise. But in the future, when you apply for a position, you can explain to the powers that be that the statements in the evaluation were untrue. Indeed, in most companies and especially at government jobs, you have the ability to put your own summary of the facts in your file, or respond to any bad reviews. Thus, you should already have a mechanism to tell your side of the story. If you are concerned that someone in the future will not believe what you have stated and will instead believe the performance review, then what makes you think they will believe what you had to say in court. How is that even going to work? Getting a judgment in Small Claims Court will not alter the evaluation. When time comes to consider you for a promotion or raise, the evaluation will be there, but the court judgment will not.

      If all of these questions and disclaimers have not dissuaded you, and you still want to sue in Small Claims Court, then the answer is yes, you do need to file a claim with the government agency first (and only have a limited time to do so), and an attorney could assist you with that process. Since attorneys cannot bring actions for their clients in Small Claims Court, I have no experience suing government agencies there. For all I know, there could be some prohibition against suing government agencies there, but you can probably make that determination pretty easily with some Internet research.

  • Celeste says:

    I am a Vietnamese American who works for the government. I also volunteer in a non profit organization to serve the Vietnamese community. There are others who volunteer their time for free as well. For almost a year, there is an individual who has been harassing us with emails because he doesn’t get his way with us. We have been ignoring his emails. However, last month he started publishing articles in his weekly newspaper that he owns and on website that we embezzled the fund of the organization. This is clearly a lie, and he has no proofs. We tried to contact attorneys, but no one seemed to want the case because he has nothing that worth sueing for, and we can’t afford expensive fee. It’s sad because we have no way to restore our reputation. How can we stop him? Would it be possible to take him to Small Claims Court? Thank you for your answer!

    • Aaron Morris says:

      Small Claims Court is a very viable option when you can’t afford, or it doesn’t make economic sense to retain, an attorney. Do a search for “small claims court” on this site and you’ll find the articles I have written on the subject.

  • steve lambert says:

    I recently had an irrate neighbor make a public statement which was incorporated into the minutes of our home owners association (which are published online) declaring that “Steve Lambert’s property looks like a junk yard and that she received no offers on her house for sale because of it.” When the minutes were read I protested that I did not appreciate the statement and that I felt there was no correlation between her lack of offers and my property. To be honest, I do have some minor cleanup to do in my yard, a downed tree and some equipment in front of the garage but it is hardly a ‘junkyard.’ I have 7 lots and at least 6 are always kept up to standard. I believe the statement was not only made from malice but was intentionally done and recorded to damage my reputation. I would like to pursue a defamation case in small claims court. Do you think I have a case?

    • Aaron Morris says:

      From the description, it sounds as though the comment might have been made at an HOA meeting. If so, such a comment is privileged under Civil Code section 47, and you would not have a claim. Additionally, saying someone’s property looks like a junk yard is a statement of opinion, and an opinion is not actionable.

  • Anonymous says:

    What if such defamation occurred from an employee of a company? Who would be sued in small claims? For example, say a security guard who takes a photo of an individual while on the clock while subsequently posting comments on his personal yelp account defaming a business or individual?

    Would a letter of demand or the company be even appropriate or are they not fully responsible for the actions of their employees?

    • Aaron Morris says:

      You are referring to the doctrine of respondeat superior. The fact that a wrongful act is committed by an employee on company time, does not automatically mean that the company is liable. Here is how Wikipedia explains it:

      The employer-employee relationship is the most common area respondeat superior is applied, but the doctrine is also used in the agency relationship. In this relationship, the principal becomes liable for the actions of the agent even if the principal did not commit the act. There are three considerations generally:

      Was the act committed within the time and space limits of the agency?

      Was the offense incidental to, or of the same general nature as, the responsibilities the agent is authorized to perform?

      Was the agent motivated to any degree to benefit the principal by committing the act?

      The degree to which these are answered in the affirmative dictates the degree to which the doctrine can be applied.

      Apply those factors, and you’ll have your answer as to whether the employer is liable. Certainly, if a guard took pictures he was not supposed to take, and then on his own time posted those pictures, the employer would have no liability.

  • Will Thomas says:

    Another party in a dispute is pretending to be an attorney, but the state bar association has no record of him being an attorney. Is that a violation of some sort?

    Would pretending to be an attorney be considered as an act of malice or some other civil fraud?

    • Aaron Morris says:

      I would say that you get to proclaim, “liar liar pants on fire”, but that’s about it. It is illegal to PRACTICE law without a license, which would necessarily involve representing someone. But if someone in a dispute lies about being a lawyer, thinking that might somehow intimidate the other side into capitulating, I don’t see that as a violation of anything, beyond being a liar.

  • Tim King says:

    I work for a water co that is run by a board of directors. One of the board members has been sending emails to other board members and that contain false statements about my work and is deliberately lying about me causing the other board members to not think so highly of me. He has also now talked to members of the community and told them I do bad work and make to much money. Recently I was repairing a pipeline with another board member and he showed up. We discussed the pipe project and he left. I got a call from the board president to have a meeting where he said I had cussed out the other board member at the pipeline. The board member helping me said it never happened he was lying again. There are about two other instances where he has talked bad about me in the community. Do I have a case for defamation in small claim court. Thanks Tim. .

    • Aaron Morris says:

      I have a good summary of the elements of a defamation claim at I would say that you probably have a claim for defamation, because he is falsely accusing you of unprofessional conduct, but you should review the elements because there are some nuances. For example, as explained at, to some extent someone accused of defamation gets to define their own words. If everyone at the meeting confirms that you never “cussed out” anyone, that does not necessarily mean his statement is false, since he might have a different definition of cussing. Run your specific facts through the analysis on the website.

  • The Partner says:

    Thank you so much for your informative website.

    My husband and I live in a small two-story condominium complex. We live on the first floor. Our neighbor who lives upstairs has written emails to our management company saying my husband is stalking her and is spraying poison into her bathroom window and under her front door every night between 3:00 and 4:30 a.m. and that I (who she refers to as “the partner”) doesn’t know he is doing this. She has also posted these same accusations on a public neighborhood website saying he needs to be prosecuted under the hate crime statute. She has not mentioned his name specifically but says there is no mystery who is doing this because no one has access to their patio but the people living downstairs from her… meaning my husband and I. These accusations have been going on intermittently since 2010. It is beginning to become a safety concern for us. Since she has not specifically mentioned his name but mas made it clear who she is referring to in her emails and postings, do you think we would stand a chance in small claims court? We just want this to stop.

    Thank you so much for any advice.

    • Aaron Morris says:

      When a defamatory statement is made, but the person who hears or reads the statement must be in possession of additional information to understand the defamatory statement, that is called “defamation per quod”.

      Here is the actual jury instruction:


      1705. Defamation per quod—Essential Factual Elements (Private Figure—Matter of Private Concern)

      [Name of plaintiff] claims that [name of defendant] harmed [him/her] by making [one or more of] the following statement(s): [insert all claimed per quod defamatory statements]. To establish this claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:


      1. That [name of defendant] made [one or more of] the statement(s) to [a person/persons] other than [name of plaintiff];

      2. That [this person/these people] reasonably understood that the statement(s) [was/were] about [name of plaintiff];

      3. That because of the facts and circumstances known to the [listener(s)/reader(s)] of the statement(s), [it/they] tended to injure [name of plaintiff] in [his/her] occupation [or to expose [him/her] to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or shame] [or to discourage others from associating or dealing with [him/her]];

      4. That [name of defendant] failed to use reasonable care to determine the truth or falsity of the statement(s);

      5. That [name of plaintiff] suffered harm to [his/her] property, business, profession, or occupation [including money spent as a result of the statement(s)]; and

      6. That the statement(s) [was/were] a substantial factor in causing [name of plaintiff]’s harm.

      Actual Damages

      If [name of plaintiff] has proved all of the above, then [he/she] is entitled to recover if [he/she] proves that [name of defendant]’s wrongful conduct was a substantial factor in causing any of the following actual damages:

      a. Harm to [name of plaintiff]’s property, business, trade, profession, or occupation;

      b. Expenses [name of plaintiff] had to pay as a result of the defamatory statements;

      c. Harm to [name of plaintiff]’s reputation; or

      d. Shame, mortification, or hurt feelings.


      So, in answer to your question, would you stand a good chance in small claims court, the answer depends on whether you can satisfy the above elements. (Although it’s a jury instruction, it sets forth the elements of the claim, so the small claims judge will be looking for evidence to show these elements are met.) Keep in mind that the statute of limitations for defamation is just one year.

      • The Partner says:

        Thank you so much for your response. We are in the process now of gathering all the information and evidence we need. The saga continues.

  • admin says:

    Only you can decide.

    Successfully suing for defamation does not necessarily \”clear your name.\” With a proper judgment, you can persuade the major search engines to de-index the information, so in that sense it clears your name. But a verdict in small claims court results only in a verdict for money. That has tremendous value in the event anyone asks you about the defamatory statements. You can respond that a bad person said those things, but that you went to court and sued and the judge found that the statements were false. However, in terms of your internet reputation, a small claims victory won\’t do much to restore your reputation.

  • Apparently the statute of limitations on libel is two years. But if the false claim is still posted on the internet, does it matter that it was posted over two years ago? The attack against me started when I was pregnant and close to my delivery date. I was busy with caring for my new baby when the post was made about me on she also disputed charges with her credit card and was wrongly refunded money, so I was never paid for the service I gave her. Since I was busy with my baby I was not aware of her credit card dispute until I had missed the opportunity to respond. The refund was only $60 and I didn’t think the ripoffreport would have any real impact since I’ve been tutoring in my area for about ten years with a great reputation. But now I’m realizing I have a harder time getting clients since her post has been online. So it is still causing damage. Am I past the 2 years statute since the post was made more than two years ago? Or does the fact that it is still up on the internet keep it active as currently causing libel and keep me within the two years? Thank you.

    • Aaron Morris says:

      Here is a good summary of the law from a colleague:

      Simply stated, although it makes infinite sense to the rest of us that internet defamation is an ongoing wrong, the courts have treated it under old defamation laws, and apply the single publication rule. The SOL begins to run at the time the statement is first published, whether or not the defamation victim sees it.

      I need to add that the SOL in California is just one year, so the fact that you say it is two years means that you may be writing from another state (the SOL is up to three years in some states). Defamation laws vary from state to state, so be sure to check whether your state applies the single publication rule.

  • Larry says:

    I like your style Aaron, and I appreciate the time you’ve put into your website. To make a long story short, I am a well known anti-vaccine activist in social media (Facebook) and there are a number of people, including some very specific individuals, who are deliberately engaged in *daily* character assassination, which even includes an entire Facebook group devoted to the “cause.” Fortunately, I also have a loyal following who refute the ongoing rumors, but it is true that people new to our activities are being swayed by the ongoing defamatory comments.

    To make matters worse, they have an attorney who is also engaged in this social media frenzy who himself already has two restraining orders against him for this behavior, but he continues anyway towards others.

    Interestingly, 13 years ago or so I had to prepare for small claims court because our landlord sued us. I spent two months preparing. We were the first tenants to ever win in small claims court against him (he sued all outgoing tenants) and I wound up creating a website for others:

    Which brings me to you are your web page. It just occurred to me that maybe I could sue in small clams court for defamation, and I am delighted to see that I can!

    A couple questions: What is your hourly rate to review any documents I prepare for such a case?

    Let’s pretend that I am able to satisfy all requirements for a defamation lawsuit and I wanted to retain you, what would be an average typical cost for you to file a lawsuit in superior court and go through the trial process?

    Finally, any thoughts on if the defendant appeals a small claims verdict in my favor?

    Thank you for your help.


    • Aaron Morris says:

      It’s been awhile since you posted your questions; hope my response is still useful.

      >> What is your hourly rate to review any documents I prepare for such a case?

      $3,000,000,000. I learned a long time ago that assisting a self-represented party is a bad idea. Picture telling someone how to drive a car, but having no control over what happens when they take the wheel. Inevitably, the driver will blame you for the accident, claiming you never told them about stop signs. So I don’t offer the service of assisting with trial preparation (but for three billion dollars I might make an exception).

      >> Let’s pretend that I am able to satisfy all requirements for a defamation lawsuit and I wanted to retain you, what would be an average typical cost for you to file a lawsuit in superior court and go through the trial process?

      I always hate that question because it forces me to answer like an attorney. The answer is: It depends. A case where the defendant immediately caves and wants to talk settlement is far cheaper than one where he fights all the way through trial. A case where you want to recover damages is far more expensive than one where you just want the defendant to quit defaming you. With all those provisos, a case could cost you anywhere between $5,000 and $150,000.

      >> Finally, any thoughts on if the defendant appeals a small claims verdict in my favor?

      More lawyer talk. It depends on how successful you are. If the judge awards $1 (which is not uncommon in defamation actions, when the court just wants to find that you were defamed, but doesn’t see any damage), then the defendant probably won’t appeal. If the judge awards the full $10,000, then the odds of appeal are much greater. Whether the defendant knows he lied will also be a factor.

  • Hi Ken
    great that your site shows up practically first on Google if one enters “Defamation” and “Los Angeles Small Claims Court”.

    My case: firm i interviewed with stated that I did not pass the Series 7 securities test (I stated I had on my resume). They shared their view I had lied on my resume to the employment agency representing me. I proved I had past the test.

    • Aaron Morris says:

      Assuming you are in California (why else would you be contacting a California attorney) your situation would fall under California’s common interest privilege (Civil Code section 47). Thus, to have an action, you would need to show that when the prospective employer reported back to the employment agency that you did not pass the test, that information was no only false, but that the prospective employer acted with malice. That normally requires a showing that they KNEW what they were saying was false. As you can imagine, that is a tough standard to meet.

  • William Burgess says:

    There are a few people gooing after me on FB spreading horrible mistruths (beat my dogs to death” “meth and heroin in the shop”)…very damaging to my reputation…got it screenshotted…is it worth filing a suit?

    • Aaron Morris says:

      >> is it worth filing a suit?

      Only you can decide, depending on your goals. I ask every caller at some point, “if I could waive a magic wand and get you whatever you want, what would it be”? A surprising percentage of the time, they have no answer. As the old cliche goes, if you don’t know where you are going, you won’t know when you get there. You must have a goal. If your goal is to recover damages, then it is a simple economic analysis. Figure out how much it will cost to pursue the action, estimate the damages you could recover, and make a cost/benefit analysis. If your goal is to stop the defamation or have comments removed from the internet, then decide if the defendant is the sort who will stop or take down the comments when faces with a lawsuit, and decide if you are willing to pay the cost of the action in order to achieve that goal.

  • Sarah Reid says:

    Hello. My mother made up a rumor that I am a porn star and prostitute because I make a good living (not as a porn star or prostitute) and I will no longer pay her bills because of her alcoholism. I have written evidence via an email from her stating that she is going to spread this rumor and now I am starting to hear from family members that she is spreading the rumor. I’ve had people call me and ask me if I am doing porn. This is extremely embarrassing and stressful to deal with. I now have to go to counseling to deal with the stress. I know the rumor is false but it effects me very much. Do I have enough evidence to sue her, and win, for defamation of character?

    • Aaron Morris says:

      >> Do I have enough evidence to sue her, and win, for defamation of character?

      Evidence of defamation typically comes from witnesses or written documents such as emails. I can’t speak to whether you have “enough evidence”, but just consider what you can offer to prove that your mother is making these statements. With that said, I would never recommend suing your mother. It makes Thanksgiving get togethers really uncomfortable. Just make it a family tradition. “Mom thinks I’m a terrorist, what does she say about you?” “Oh, she tells everyone I’m a porn star.”

  • Gokhan says:

    Well if there is a lawyer that would like to represent me I would love it. My previous employer called me employer and told him I a wanted convict and I should be fired. Well I got fired. I have no criminal record of any kind. She did this twice. Also started a Yelp page on my name posting all my personal information and reviews. I actually got a 3 year restraining order against her back in December 2015 and she just violated it yesterday so I filed charges with the police to be sent to the DA. Any lawyer likes to take this on in SF Bay Area feel free

  • Luis C says:

    My sons mother accussed me of child abuse and the allegations were proved false. I had to retain counsel and defend myself. Though the public damage was not large, can i still sue for my attorney fees and travel expenses?

    • Aaron Morris says:

      Your brief summary makes it difficult to respond, but I’ll try.

      When you say that you were “accused” and had to retain counsel to defend yourself, it sounds as though this was a criminal matter. Generally speaking, you cannot sue for defamation for false statements made to the police. If you prevail, and can show that the report was made with malice, then you could have an action for malicious prosecution.

  • From what I can glean it would appear that small claims court is an option fro us. We were defamed (libel) on Google and Yelp from a person who went after us maliciously. We asked her to remove the false statements and asked Yelp and Google to remove the false/fake review and the basically told us to go pound sand but both offered to sell us advertising that would basically remove the fake review by burying it. We did not buy advertising but then saw that our good reviews were being filtered (no longer showing up) which made our star rating drop. We would like to sue this individual.

    From what I can glean it appears that the best course of action is to ask for the maximum award and then let the judge know we are fine to exchange the amount for a cease and desist agreement, to remove any current reviews and to not review in the future in regards to our services. Am I looking at this correctly?

    Thank you for your time …

  • A. Rogers says:

    Yesterday a someone falsely accused me of breaking into and going through lockers, and it led to a humiliating questioning in a full, public hall by a staff member that made it obvious I was not believed. I have a witness that saw everything.

    Is this something that would be considered defamation/damaging automatically due to being accused of something criminal?

    • Aaron Morris says:

      Circumstances are everything. Generally speaking, falsely accusing someone of criminal activity is defamatory. But there are various privileges that could apply. If the report was to the police, that is covered by a privilege. If the report was to staff members in charge of the lockers, that would likely be protected by the common interest privilege, but that privilege is limited. The speaker can lose the privilege if you could show that he acted with malice; for example, that he did not believe what he was saying.

  • Jojo says:

    I stumbled on your blog and the specific entry while researching the subject of online defamation. I appreciate you taking the time to respond in your blog.

    I have received a California Small Claims a $10,000 defamation/libel claim recently.

    This started a couple of months ago, where after having a negative experience with a small business, I posted a one star Yelp review detailing my experience. This upset the proprietor, who subsequently sent me via USPS mail two letters. The first letter claimed I was an angry person and that he was requesting the I take down my negative review. I replied publicly that I had no intention of doing so. Subsequently, the proprietor mailed his second letter again accusing me of being “angry: and telling me that he would sue me for defamation and libel if I did not take down my review. I again publicly replied on Yelp that I believed everything I wrote was true and accurate and was willing to stand and say so in court.

    So now I have received this Small Claims order. I have no experience with Small Claims court and in fact, have never been sued by anyone.

    My question is:

    In part 3a. of the California Small Claims order, “Why does the defendant owe the plaintiff money” the plaintiff writes “Defendant knowingly and willfully made libelous and defammatory (sic) false statements about me and my business”.

    This is a very minimal declaration. Given that my Yelp review was lengthy and detailed, is it not incumbent upon the plaintiff to detail what parts of my review he considers to be defamatory and libelous? Or is a blanket statement like this acceptable.

    • Aaron Morris says:

      >> Given that my Yelp review was lengthy and detailed, is it not incumbent upon the plaintiff to detail what parts of my review he considers to be defamatory and libelous? Or is a blanket statement like this acceptable.

      In Superior Court, the answer would be yes. The plaintiff must set forth the exact statements he or she contends are defamatory. But in Small Claims Court, things are much looser. The point is just to put you on broad notice of the nature of the claim. The allegations can be more focused at trial.

      Sorry I didn’t see this question sooner. Let me know how it turns out.

  • L. sanchez says:

    can I sue for slander in small claims court in california. I will like to know

    • Aaron Morris says:

      I say yes, and the law certainly supports my position. I have had reports from readers who encountered resistance from some judges, thinking such actions were barred in Small Claims Court. I think the misunderstanding of the judges comes from their understanding that a Small Claims Court generally does not issue injunctive relief (although even that is not entirely true), and therefore they assume that a defamation action can’t be brought in Small Claims Court since they typically seek to have the defamatory information removed. You just need to stand strong and educate the judge if necessary. Do a search for “small claims court” on this website, and you’ll see the articles I have written on the topic.

  • Dan says:

    Can I file a small claims action against a defendant in another state for defamation?

    The case involves a document produced by the National headquarters of a social fraternity (based in Indianapolis) asking its board to close a chapter in California. Several statements in the document about the chapter’s alumni advisor were false; including the facilitation and covering up of hazing activity. There are numerous facets to the case, but from what I’ve read, it doesn’t appear I can sue them, even though they have several chapters in California. Is that the case?

    PS. Thanks for the amazing website!

    • As a general proposition, California has jurisdiction over out-of-state defamation defendants, because the tort causes injury here in California. So, if there is a legal basis for jurisdiction here, I don’t think it will make a difference that you elect to pursue it in small claims court. But you’ll need to research whether the procedural rules of small claims court somehow bar such an action.

  • J says:

    Ok, I have considered small claims against an individual that continues to post things online that has ruined my reputation. Things that are not factual, however no proof of any of the post comments being factual. I have spent roughly $5000.00 to have these websites remove this post as well as all comments and have an additional $1500.00 for another two sites that I need to have removed. These sites have assured me that if it is re-posted it would be removed for free however she can post a “same” comment in different wording which would be ok! I am beyond frustrated as this is affecting my life, my children’s life and my career. She is a complete crazy person and has stated multiple times that she will continue to post and ruin my reputation forever. I have proof of what was posted and by her. I also have proof of what it cost to have the pages removed as well as the credit card receipts of it being paid by my credit card. What would my chances in small claims truly be?

    • >> I have proof of what was posted and by her. I also have proof of what it cost to have the pages removed as well as the credit card receipts of it being paid by my credit card. What would my chances in small claims truly be?

      The costs of removing the sites will be relevant only if you can first show that the statements are defamatory. But if you can show that the statements are verifiably false and satisfy the other elements of a defamation claim, your chances of prevailing are excellent.

  • CANB says:

    I had come home at about 1:30 after hanging out and eating dinner with friends, 6 drinks over the course of 8 hours. I get dropped off home and realize I left my keys but my ride is already gone (friend of a friend). I try to get into my apartment repeatedly over the course of two hours including sitting and then I ring my managers doorbell but no answer.. It was 57 degress with winds at 6 miles an hour. I bang on MY back door once to try and pop the top pin out but no luck. So I was cold. Fingers numb, shivering, stiffness and tried to huddle to warm up. I go back to managers door and they tell me to got to a locksmith; none are open, classmates hadn’t answered and ubers weren’t available when I had checked earlier). I go back, try to pop my lock once more and sit on my back porch to check for ubers. One popped up and I reserved it. At that moment, my neighbor (who we called friends, who’s child I’ve babysit about 30 times, who’s been in my home, who’s had us over for game night) opens his back door and starts talking to me. I go over to talk to him and explain I need sleep and if I could stay at his place for a couple hours until I can call a locksmith. He says yes. Next morning he seeks out the manager to tell her he cant get me off of his couch and that I was COMPLETELY WASTED (while im asleep and hasn’t tried waking me up and also not true about being wasted) but fails to tell her our relationship. This causes her to give us a 60 day notice because she was under the assumption that it was severe as I was a “stranger” and threatened their safety. We spend the next 3 days preparing a case for the manager explaining how hypothermia was the case but we were blindsided when she denied us and said our neighbor came, hours after the verbal complaint, and wrote out a physical complaint. The neighbor in question knew he had written a statement but failed to tell us and led us on a goose chase against the manager (who we were led to believe by said neighbor that they had nothing to do with the 60 day notice).

    I believe (and got confirmation from the manager) that his false statements (both verbal and written statement), along with noise complaints (from the banging that just would’ve gotten us a write-up) is what led to our 60 day notice. We don’t know why he went out of his way to say this. And we have pictures of our families relationship. The manager wont let us read his false confession and I’m thinking of presenting her with a subpoena.

    Will this case classify strongly as a defamation case?

    • >> Will this case classify strongly as a defamation case?

      This isn’t legal advice, but based on your summary it appears to be a wobbler at best. Two points jump out at me. First, a statement is not necessarily defamatory just because it is false. If I say you drive a red car and you really drive a blue car, I have told a lie about you, but since there is nothing wrong with driving a red car, it is not defamatory.

      Also, statement must be subject to precise definition in order to be verifiably false.

      When you sue for defamation, you list the statement you are deeming to be false and defamatory. What is the statement here? Is it that you were “completely wasted”? What does that even mean? Is the implication that you were drunk (which is legal), on drugs, or just tired?

      So I don’t think what you have thus far will support a strong case. If you can get the written statement, then you can see if there is a stronger basis. But be sure to educate yourself on any potential privileges. Here in California, your neighbor’s report is covered by the “common interest privilege,” which would require a showing that the statements were not only false, but that they were made with malice.

  • Anon Defamation says:

    I have filed a small claims action in California for defamation thanks, in part, to discovering this information here. Thank you!

    The defendant lives in Washington and has sent a letter protesting the jurisdiction. My understanding jurisdiction will now be discussed at the date set for the hearing (in a few weeks) instead of the defamation issue. The defendant has a few other connections to California related to her business that I will describe, but it would be helpful to cite the previous cases you have described here from out-of-state defendants. I do not see an easy way to search small claims actions for this information. Are you able to disclose public party names? Or is there a database with small claims action information than granular?

    • Morris & Stone, LLP says:

      Happy to hear that you found my blog helpful, and that you are having such success in small claims court (based on the separate email you sent).

      Your questions all relate to finding other small claims cases, but I think that is not a good use of time. Even if you found them, they would have no precedential value. Just do some hard research on California’s Long Arm Statute. I have an outstanding research attorney I can recommend who might be willing to work with you at a paralegal rate. Let me know if you want me to have him contact you.

      Turning to your specific questions:

      >> The defendant has a few other connections to California related to her business that I will describe, but it would be helpful to cite the previous cases you have described here from out-of-state defendants.

      Since I don’t handle small claims matters, I don’t have any personal knowledge of the cases or how they got around any jurisdictional challenges.

      >> I do not see an easy way to search small claims actions for this information.

      I’m not aware of any way to do so. I think you can review the docket of small claims matters, but I don’t think that would provide any useful information.

      >> Are you able to disclose public party names?

      I would never give out the name of someone who emailed me, unless they indicated I could do so. As to the names of those leaving comments, some people choose to use real names, others don’t. That is the full extent of my knowledge of those individuals. 

  • Victoria says:

    I learned a lot from this article. Can public school teachers sue for declaration of character? My principal has repeated rumors about me in my presence, with another person in the room.

    • Aaron Morris says:

      In true lawyer fashion, the answer to your question is . . . it depends.

      Typically in any workplace situation, the common interest privilege will apply. The common interest privilege is very broad, and basically provides immunity from a defamation action for any communication made to a third party, with reason to believe that person would be interested in the subject matter. (See Civil Code section 47.) If the privilege applies, then it is not enough to prove that the statement is false, you must also show that it was made with malice.

      So let’s say that a student reported to the principal that you stole her wallet. The principal then calls you in and, in front of the Vice-Principal, accuses you of stealing the wallet. Assuming you could prove that the allegation was false, you still would not have an action against the principal, because he or she heard the accusation from the student, and thus is not acting with malice. Conversely, if it was the case that the student had recanted the story before the principal spoke with you, then that might be sufficient to show malice, because the principal made the accusation knowing it had been recanted. A statement made with no reason to believe it is true is a sign of malice.

      I will add one more point based on the wording of your question. This is a point I could not get a particular judge to understand, and had to take it up on appeal.

      You state that your principal “has repeated rumors about me.” If the rumor is that you abuse puppies, and the principal states that you abuse puppies in front of a third party, you’d have a strong defamation action. It would be a false statement, and would not be covered by the common interest privilege, because there would no reason to believe that the third party would have any interest in your relationship with dogs, unless it is relevant to your teaching.

      But here is the part the judge could not be made to understand. What if the principal calls you in and says, “There’s a rumor going around that you abuse puppies. Do you?” That’s not defamatory, because (assuming there is such a rumor) it’s a true statement. He’s not claiming that you abuse animals, he’s only claiming that there is such a rumor. And generally it is never defamatory to ask a genuine question. Any statement that ends with a question mark is by definition not an assertion of fact. Are you a murderer? Do you cheat on your taxes? Neither question offers any conclusion. To the contrary, the question makes clear that the speaker is trying to determine the truth. (Some smart aleck in the back will come up with a question that implies a fact, but I’m speaking generally here.)

      Hope that helped.

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Aaron Morris
Morris & Stone, LLP

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(714) 954-0700

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View Aaron Morris, Trial Attorney and Partner at Morris & Stone, with emphasis on Free Speech and Defamation Law.

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