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What is the statute of limitations in California to sue for an unpaid invoice for freelance design work? Thank you.

Los Angeles, CA |

I did work for a magazine and they told me it would take awhile to get paid. It has been 2 years now and I have never been paid for the work. Filled out the w-9 etc at the time and I have emailed them repeatedly throughout this time, receiving no response. Can I sue them for this outstanding invoice?

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Attorney answers 3


Disclaimer: The materials provided below are informational and should not be relied upon as legal advice.

It depends on the nature of the relationship. If you had an oral agreement, the statute of limitations is 2 years from the time of breach. If you had a written agreement, the statute is 4 years from the date of breach. You need to immediately consult your own lawyer to preserve your legal rights.


The statute of limitations on an oral contract is 2 years. The statute of limitations on a written contract is 4 years. The statute of limitations on an open book account, which called a common count, is 4 years. If there was an account stated between you and the magazine, then you would still have a viable cause of action to collect the money owed to you. You didn't give the exact dates, so there also might be time to file an action for breach of an oral agreement. Of course, if there was a written agreement, you would have the four year statute of limitations.

A statute of limitations is a legal doctrine that requires that an action be filed within a certain time of a particular occurrence or the action will be time barred. However, if the defendant does not raise the statute of limitations, the action could still proceed.

You did not state the amount owed. If it is around $5,000.00, small claims would be a good option. In fact, even if you had to waive some of the money owed to you small claims court offers a quick and inexpensive forum for resolving disputes like yours.

Small claims is designed for the average lay person and the rules of evidence are informal. To file a small claims is easy. You go to your local court where the contract was entered into, a court where the work was to be performed or a court whose jurisdiction include the area where the defendant's business is and fill out a form, pay a small fee, and give the complaint to the marshal for service.

For the hearing, have all emails, letters, and copies of the magazine, and your work product relating to the job. Make sure you have the letters demanding payment as well.


Mr. Abel's answer is correct.

Note that the statute of limitations runs from the date of breach, not from the date you did the work or the date you sent the magazine the invoice for your work. You may also be able to argue that since you were told it "would take awhile" to get paid," that whatever time they told you it would take did not count toward the statute's running, since the breach would not have occurred until after this time during which you did not expect payment.

Disclaimer: Please note that this answer does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied on, since each situation is fact specific, and it is impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue. This answer does not create an attorney-client relationship.