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California Clerk Judgment

What is the difference between a clerk judgment and a court judgment?

What is the difference between a creditor requesting a "clerk judgment" vs a court judgment? At what point can the creditor begin collection? Does the creditor have to get a court judgment?

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Highlights

  • California allows two types of default judgments.
  • A creditor must obtain a judgment before using civil remedies to collect a debt.

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:

  1. The judgment is "an action arising upon contract or judgment for the recovery of money or damages only..." 
  2. The damages are a fixed or determinable amount contemplated in the contract
  3. 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:

  1. "...if the contract provides that attorneys' fees shall be allowed in the event of an action thereon, or
  2. "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.

Your Questions

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.

Best,

Bill

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8 Comments

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  • SM
    Jul, 2013
    Susan
    Richmond, CA
    My brother was the defendant in a CA unlawful detainer (eviction) case and was the winner. The Judge awarded him $12,500 in costs. But no one can find the official, original court judgment and when my brother went down to Long Beach to get an official "certified copy" of the original judgment he was denied.

    He asked the attorney who handled the case what he did wrong and was told he needed to ask for the Judicial Judgment copy. He told the clerk exactly what he needed and why (to obtain a writ of execution) but does the use of certified instead of Judicial make such a difference? He had an unofficial copy of the judgment with him.
    0 Votes

    • BA
      Jul, 2013
      Bill
      You ask if there's a difference between a certified copy and a judicial judgment copy of a court's judgment. I confess I have not heard of a "judicial judgment" copy, and neither have two California paralegals with civil litigation experience I posed your question to. Tell your brother to ask his lawyer for clarification on exactly what he needs to do or ask for at the court clerk's office to replace the lost copy of the court's judgment.
      0 Votes

  • BW
    Mar, 2013
    Bert
    Sherman Oaks, CA
    Is there a motion in California that I can file to oppose plaintiff's request for clerk's judgment? The company suing me is claiming I didn't file a response - I served them by mail. I don't want this to go as far as a judgment being entered against me. Thanks.
    0 Votes

    • BA
      Mar, 2013
      Bill
      Yes, there is motion you can file.

      Consult with a California lawyer who has civil litigation experience to learn how.
      0 Votes

  • MM
    Jun, 2011
    marth
    San Leandro, CA
    I am confused. I was hit by a liable party from behind and I suffered damages. We filed a complaint, with proper service of summons. Defendant public entity has NEVER responded in any manner. We have served the statement of damages and requested entry of default. Can we get a clerk's judgment on this, or must it be court judgment? The language of 585a is confusing, but it sounds like clerk judgment is acceptable for 'recovery of money.' Is this correct, or do we need a court judgment?
    0 Votes

    • BA
      Jun, 2011
      Bill
      It would be foolish to give you a yes or no answer without knowing more about the facts in your case. Consult with a lawyer who has civil litigation experience. He or she will review the facts in your case in person, and will advise you accordingly.
      0 Votes

  • RU
    Feb, 2011
    Roger
    San Francisco, CA
    On 01/28/2011 a creditor filed a REQUEST FOR DEFAULT OR CLERK JUDGMENT No further notices have been received by me. Before the creditor starts collection efforts DO I NEED TO RECEIVE A NOTICE OF THE JUDGMENT BEING ACTUALLY ENTERED?
    1 Votes

    • BA
      Feb, 2011
      Bill
      It may be the polite thing for the plaintiff to send a copy of the judgment to the defendant, but there is no place I can find in California statutes where either the plaintiff or the court is required to give the defendant notice of a clerk judgment. Under California Rules of Civil Procedure § 585.5, a defendant has the right to file a notice of motion to set aside the default or default judgment within 60 days of receiving notice of levy under a writ of execution, or notice of any other procedure for enforcing the default judgment.

      Consult with a California lawyer who has experience in civil litigation to learn more about filing a motion to vacate a judgment.
      0 Votes

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