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California Clerk Judgment

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Mark Cappel
UpdatedJun 20, 2024
Key Takeaways:
  • California allows two types of default judgments.
  • A creditor must obtain a judgment before using civil remedies to collect a debt.

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?

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 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 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.



Dealing with debt

If you are struggling with debt, you are not alone. According to the NY Federal Reserve total household debt as of Quarter Q1 2024 was $17.69 trillion. Student loan debt was $1.60 trillion and credit card debt was $1.12 trillion.

A significant percentage of people in the US are struggling with monthly payments and about 26% of households in the United States have debt in collections. According to data gathered by from a sample of credit reports, the median debt in collections is $1,739. Credit card debt is prevalent and 3% have delinquent or derogatory card debt. The median debt in collections is $422.

The amount of debt and debt in collections vary by state. For example, in Florida, 29% have any kind of debt in collections and the median debt in collections is $2137. Medical debt is common and 14% have that in collections. The median medical debt in collections is $915.

To maintain an excellent credit score it is vital to make timely payments. However, there are many circumstances that lead to late payments or debt in collections. The good news is that there are a lot of ways to deal with debt including debt consolidation and debt relief solutions.



SStella, Jul, 2020

Can a clerk enter a default judgement for possession of real property in an Unlawful Detainer (eviction) case in Ca?

DDaniel Cohen, Jul, 2020

Hi, Stella. I am not a lawyer so the information I share is not to be considered legal advice.

Looking at this page at the website of The Superior Court of California, The County of Santa Clara, the answer to your question aappears to be yes. There is an entry for "Clerk's Judgment" that references "Unlawful Detainer" about 2/3 of the way down the page.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

MMONA DAVIS, Jun, 2020

Ventura County Default form is confusing (CIV-100), check entry of defualt, clerk's judgment or court judgment. May I check just entry of default only? The plaintiff is asking for $25,000 for damages. He filed a writ of possession for his case filed which have not been returned in 8 years.

DDaniel Cohen, Jun, 2020

Mona, please go ask a local attorney. You need someone who can ask the right questions of you and review the complete fact set to offer you good advice. I can't advise you which box to check, but I can tell you that if you check the wronng one, then claiming you were confused may not fix the problem you create.

SSusan, Jul, 2013
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.
BBill, Jul, 2013
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.
BBert, Mar, 2013
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.
BBill, Mar, 2013
Yes, there is motion you can file.

Consult with a California lawyer who has civil litigation experience to learn how.
mmarth, Jun, 2011
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?
BBill, Jun, 2011
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.