How to name a defendant in your forms

You need to put the exact legal name of the person or company you are suing on the small claims forms you fill out. This person, business, or government office is the defendant.  If the name isn’t right, you may not be able to collect any money if you win.

If you're suing a person

Write the person's full name including middle initial if you know it.

  • If the person uses different names

    Separate all of them with “AKA” (meaning “Also known as”). For example, “John Ruiz AKA Johnny Ruiz AKA John Anthony Ruiz”.
  • If you are suing more than one person

    Include each person’s name in a separate name/address section on the form. If you're suing married people, you'll name them as separate people.

If you're suing a business

How you name the business in your papers depends on how the business is owned.

How to name a business owed by a person or partnership

  • If a person owns the business by themselves this is called a “sole proprietorship” or “DBA” (“doing business as”).  
  • If two or more people own the business (and the business isn't registered with the Secretary of State), it's a partnership. For example, a company may be called Smith & Jones Plumbing. 

When you sue a sole proprietorship or a partnership, you list their official business name and you can list the owners as individuals.

  • Example: How to name sole proprietor
    • The business name is Ace Copy & Shipping.
    • The business owner is a person named Chris Cole. 

    On your forms, you will write Chris Cole, individually, and DBA Ace Copy & Shipping. This way you are suing Chris Cole as a person and you’re suing their business. 

How to name a corporation or limited liability company

If the business is not owned by a person, you will need to do more research on the California Secretary of State website to find out what kind of business owns the business you want to sue. 

  • example: Naming a Corporation

    You want to sue your apartment complex. It’s called Meadow Creek Apartments on the complex entrance and in the Fictitious Business Name look-up you just did. 

    On your lease and through the California Secretary of State, though, you find that the complex is owned by Meadow Group Apartments, Inc. You will also find on this site that the agent for service of process is Alpha Beta Gamma, Inc.

    On your forms for defendant you will write Meadow Group Apartments, Inc. DBA Meadow Creek Apartments. Then for agent for service of process write Alpha Beta Gamma, Inc.

Get help

If you need more help understanding how to name the defendant correctly, you can talk to a Small Claims Advisor or get other legal help.

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