Taking them to court - when I am far away from the court
September 25, 2021 1:28 AM   Subscribe

How to deal with the court system in California, when I live in the EU?

I am highly considering taking Flickr/SmugMug to court.

They defaulted on an arbitration case I opened (they never responded) which leaves the road open to avail myself of the court system. I am assuming that this means a court in California as their corporate address is "Mountain View", but I have no idea.

Which brings me to my larger point. I am an EU citizen with *no* experience in any court system, much less the US. I can read that "small claims", in California at least, means that I cannot get a lawyer to represent me. But I don't even know if "small claims" is even what I am looking for. Also, I don't know if I will have to travel to personally show up - although I am willing to do that as I feel I have a case, and a willingness to see this through. I have attempted to reach out to a few lawyers (found online) but get either "we don't handle small claims", or no response.

How do I engage here? How can I move forward?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
(I'm not sure about juristriction , so this comment assumes what you stated above is true, fyi)

If you want to look at more how small claims operates here is the website to the Santa Clara County Court info. There are faq and self help and a bunch of helpful links there. There are also links and resources for free help in navigating this system. There is some public data available, you may want to look through and see what has been done before, if anything. I didn't try to look through the database so I don't know if it will be helpful to you or not, just that it is there.
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:32 AM on September 25

Small claims court is generally for when the size of your claim (amount that you are asking for) is small. Sometimes the cutoff is $5000 or $6000, sometimes higher - that will depend on the state. The link above may give the cutoff limit for California.
posted by eviemath at 4:50 AM on September 25

Side note: you can always ask a lawyer for advice beforehand. The prohibition on lawyer representation means that you can’t have a lawyer talk for you in court or be sitting right beside you interactively telling you what to say and how to respond to everything as it comes.
posted by eviemath at 4:54 AM on September 25

What is the amount of money at issue? What are you looking to win?

I don't know anything about the Santa Clara County Court, but, in most US courts, somebody will need to physically show up to prosecute a claim. If you cannot show up on your own behalf, then you will most likely need to hire someone to show up for you -- in most courts, the person you hire must be a lawyer authorized to practice in that particular court (i.e, you can't send a friend or a relative to show up for you). If the amount of money is too small to justify hiring somebody to show up for you, then this is probably not a claim that it makes sense to pursue from overseas. While some lawyers work on a contingency fee basis (i.e., they take ~1/3 of any amount you win), if the claim is small then it isn't worth it to them.

All of that said, have you considered whether you can bring some type of legal action where you live? I don't know anything about the facts of the claim, but if your allegation is that they did something to harm you while you lived in the EU, then perhaps you can bring some type of action in the EU. You don't necessarily have to sue a company where the company is headquartered.
posted by Mid at 7:41 AM on September 25 [2 favorites]

In the courts I'm familiar with, you can - in general - sue either wherever you are, or wherever the defendant is, or wherever the damage was done. In your case it sounds like the EU is both where you are, and where the damage was done (if the damage was done to you.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:55 PM on September 25 [1 favorite]

As above, most likely you can file where you live. If for some reason you do have to file in California I don’t know that small claims court would work, as you would have to personally appear for the hearings.

How practically enforceable any small claims judgment in your favor would be is another meaningful question. Let’s say Flickr/SmugMug ignores you, doesn’t respond to your complaint or appear at a hearing, and when you get a default judgment continues to ignore you and doesn’t pay. What are you going to do? How much effort and money would you be willing to spend pursuing this?
posted by slkinsey at 5:10 PM on September 25

First, if they are a corporation, check SecState's website to see if they're still active.

Keep in mind a business can incorporate in a different state, but if they have a California address they should be at least domesticated (operate in) California so SecState should have a record.

Also, who ordered the arbitration? Is this in EU or the US? If this is in the EU, there's a question of enforceability in the US, esp. civil cases of small claims nature.

I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV.
posted by kschang at 8:56 PM on September 25

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