Mr. Kirschbaum is correct. You do not need to go to small claims because you will already have a judgment. The trick will be collecting, especially since there will be many creditors trying to collect against a limited pool of money, if any.
Collection of a judgment from a debtor who is somewhat savvy can be a real challenge. It often takes additional lawsuits to capture assets moved out of the dying company into a different company, or to go after the individual shareholders of the dying company on the basis of an alter ego claim.
While the DLSE offers some assistance with collection, it will generally not go to the lengths necessary to go after other entities.
Good luck to you.
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There is no need for you to go to small claims court because the award you received from the DLSE will become a judgment, if it has not already done so. You will need to check with the court of local jurisdiction to make sure this happens. However, collecting on the judgment can often be a real problem with small employers that close up shop.
An option you have available to you is to serve the owner of the company with a judgment debtor examination which must be scheduled with the court. Your local court should have the forms on-line to do this. If you have the owner personally served, they must appear at court on the exam date or a warrant can be issued for their arrest. You can ask questions about the nature of the business (i.e., was it a corporation, partnership, sole proprietorship) because this is very important in determining whether the owners are personally liable for the business debts. You can also ask questions about where the business assets went, bank accounts, physical property, etc.
If you can locate assets or bank accounts that belong to the business, you can have a writ of execution served to seize the asset or account. But if there are no assets, you will have to explore whether the owners can be personally liable for the business debts. This is a very complicated area of law, so i will not attempt to explain it here. You may need the assistance of an attorney or do more extensive research to try to go after the individual owners. Perhaps, if enough people put pressure on them, they may try to settle these cases. That means you may have to compromise your claim and accept less than the judgment. But getting something may be better then nothing, which is a possibility with a business like this.
They say you get what you pay for, and this response is free, so take it for what it is worth. This is my opinion based on very limited information. My opinion should not be taken as legal advice. For true advice, we would require a confidential consultation where I would ask you questions and get your complete story. This is a public forum, so remember, nothing here is confidential. Nor am I your attorney. I do not know who you are and you have not hired me to provide any legal service. To do so would require us to meet and sign written retainer agreement. My responses are intended for general information only.
The DLSE award you received will eventually become a superior court judgment, so there is no need to file a separate small claims lawsuit.
Although the DSLE will offer to collect the judgment on your behalf, it is usually more effective if you had your own attorney to enforce the judgment.
If the former employer transferring its assets to a new or different entity to avoid paying the judgment(s) against it, then you might need an attorney to file a lawsuit for fraudulent conveyance.
Frank W. Chen has been licensed to practice law in California since 1988. The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice for a particular case. This Avvo.com posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, please consult with your own attorney.
The previous attorneys have correctly answered your question. I will simply add that, as an employee to whom wages are owed, you will enjoy priority as a creditor in the event that your employer's business declares bankruptcy. Essentially, this means that you will be first in line to have your judgment satisfied, ahead of businesses and creditors to whom money may also be owed.
Here is an informative link regarding debtors exams and how to go about collecting your judgment. http://www.courts.ca.gov/11187.htm
This answer is a general interpretation of the law and is not fact specific to your case. Likewise it does not create an attorney-client relationship. You should seek an attorney for a review of your specific facts and documents.