In California, if the defendant fails to answer or otherwise respond to the complaint within the prescribed period of time after service, the plaintiff may request the entry of default and a default judgment.
California Clerk Judgment
California law allows a court clerk to enter a default judgment against the defendant without a court hearing or judicial action (California Civil Procedure § 585 et seq). However, § 585 limits the power of the court clerk to enter a default judgment under vary narrow circumstances.
A court clerk may enter a default judgment in the following situations:
- The judgment is "an action arising upon contract or judgment for the recovery of money or damages only..."
- The damages are a fixed or determinable amount contemplated in the contract
- The defendant was not served by publication. In other words, the defendant was served by a process server or through the mail.
If the amount of the judgment is uncertain or unclear, the clerk may not enter a default judgment
A clerk may enter a default judgment involving attorney's fees:
- "...if the contract provides that attorneys' fees shall be allowed in the event of an action thereon, or
- "if the action is one in which the plaintiff is entitled by statute to recover attorneys' fees in addition to money or damages. "
California Court Judgment
A judgment is a court's decision regarding a legal question. Unlike a clerk judgment, a court's judgment is the result of a hearing or trial where the judge (and sometimes jury) hears the evidence presented by both sides, and reaches a decision. In debt law, a judgment is a document that grants the plaintiff, also called the judgment-creditor, the ability to request a legal remedy.
Remedies vary by state, and can be wage garnishment, account levy, seizing personal property, or a lien on real property. See the Bills.com resource California Collection Laws to read a longer discussion of California remedies.
See the California Judicial Council Web site for a list of court forms Californians may download, complete, and file with a court. This is where to find the form requesting a clerk's judgment, among many other forms.
For a general discussion of the debt collections process, see the Bills.com resource Collections Advice. See also the California Dept. of Consumer Affairs document After the Judgment ... Collecting or Satisfying the Judgment.
In California and in all other jurisdictions I am aware of, a creditor must get a judgment, whether it be a clerk judgment or a judgment from a court, before the creditor can use the debtor's state's remedies. The laws of remedies are very precise and are strictly construed. The slightest error can scuttle a wage garnishment, lien, and so on. Find a lawyer who has experience in remedies to be certain you follow your state's laws to the letter.
I hope this information helps you Find. Learn & Save.