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Justice Court

INSTRUCTIONS AND INFORMATION FOR FILING JUSTICE COURT SUITS
(Except Eviction Suits and Debt Claims of Certain Financial Institutions and Debt Collectors, as these types of suits are governed by separate sets of rules)

  1. A suit may be filed for any amount up to and including $20,000.00, including attorney fees but not including court costs, in justice court. The dispute must involve disputes over money, services and/or personal property issues. The justice court can award you only money or personal property. It cannot, for example, order XYZ Car Repair to fix your car properly, nor can it order foreclosure on any real property. Remember, if you are suing under specific statutes, such as the Deceptive Trade Practices Act or the Property Code (for security deposit return), you may be able to recover two or three times your actual damages. Therefore, your actual damages would have to be less than $10,000.00 or $6,666.00 respectively. Call this office if you have questions in regards to the amount of your damages. Moreover, most justice courts require a written demand by you before you can even file suit.
  2. As of 2018, the cost of filing a suit is approximately $124.00. Check with the clerk of the small claims court for your exact amount.
  3. A lawsuit must be filed in the proper Justice of the Peace Court. The options on where to file are as follows:
    1. Where the defendant resides
    2. Where the incident that gave rise to the lawsuit occurred
    3. Where the contract or agreement was performed; or
    4. Where the property in dispute is located
    5. If there is more than one Justice of the Peace in the same city, or in the same precinct, you should consult the Court Clerk of that precinct or call this office for more advice.
  4. The time limit allowed by law in which you must file suit varies. Generally, for wrongs involving a personal injury, or a deceptive trade practice, you have two (2) years from the date of occurrence to start your lawsuit. If the wrong involves an agreement, you usually have four (4) years in which to start your lawsuit. If you have not already discussed the statute of limitations problems with this office, contact us, since time limits can be complex.
  5. A partnership or corporation may file in justice court.
  6. You are the PLAINTIFF… the person you are suing is the DEFENDANT. YOU MUST HAVE THESE DETAILS ON THE DAY YOU FILE YOUR SUIT:
    1. The correct name, address and telephone number (if known) of the person you are suing.
    2. The exact amount of money for which you are suing and a description and claimed value of any personal property you are seeking.
    3. The details of the incident or service and the date it occurred.
    4. The amount of the filing fee.
    5. Some courts require the green card from the demand letter you mailed return receipt requested. Check with the court’s clerk to see if this is needed.
  7. As plaintiff, it is important that you understand that for any potential judgment you may receive to be valid, it is necessary for you to sue the defendant in their proper legal capacity, of which there are typically three. They are as follows:
    1. Personally: Where an individual is responsible to you for damage he may have caused you as an individual. You should use his/her full name – John A. Doe, not Johnny Doe.
    2. Proprietor or partnership: A business that is not incorporated, but does have on file with the county clerk as assumed name, e.g., John Doe d/b/a Handyman Services. To determine whether or not this person has filed an assumed name, you will need to contact the county clerk of your county.
    3. Corporation: If the business which has allegedly caused you damage is incorporated or a corporation and, therefore, it is necessary to know the individual’s name who is able to accept service on behalf of the business, e.g., Handyman, Inc., by serving its registered agent, John Smith. The registered agent for service would be listed with State Comptroller, whose phone number is (800) 252-1386. For written inquiries, send requests for information to COMPTROLLER OF PUBLIC ACCOUNTS, CAPITAL STATION, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78774. There may be a fee required for written inquiries. You may also receive additional information from: SECRETARY OF STATE, CORPORATION DIVISION, P.O. BOX 13697, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711, (512) 463-5555. It is also possible for an incorporated entity to have an assumed name, e.g., Handyman, Inc. d/b/a Handyman Services.
  8. The citation will order the defendant to appear in the court to answer the suit (generally by filing a written response) on or before the end of the 14th calendar day from receipt of the citation. When your petition has been completed (forms are often available at your local justice of the peace office), stating the facts and circumstances of your suit, a citation, along with a copy of your petition, will be served by deputy constable to the defendant notifying him that a suit has been filed against him in this court. Tell the clerk where the defendant may be found and the approximate time they are likely to be found at that location. Some courts may serve notice by mailing a copy of the petition by certified mail return receipt requested. Check with the clerk to determine which method of service should be utilized.
  9. Contact the court in one (1) week to determine when the defendant was served with the citation. A judgment cannot be taken against a defendant unless he/she has been served with citation. If the defendant has not been served after ninety (90) days, ask the clerk if a new citation needs to be issued.
  10. If the defendant chooses to ignore the citation and not appear in court, then you may appear before the court and ask for a default judgment.
  11. If the defendant answers the suit and enters a general denial, the case will be set for trial. You will need to contact the court in order to set the suit for trial. At that time, ask the clerk if you need to notify the defendant. If so, mail the notice certified mail return receipt requested.
  12. Either party to the suit may request a trial by jury by filing a written demand with the court at least 14 days before the trial date. The party that makes this request must post a jury fee with the court clerk. The case will be set for jury trial at the first available date.
  13. Regardless of whether the case is tried by a judge or jury, YOU MUST PROPERLY PREPARE YOUR CASE FOR TRIAL – THE BURDEN OF PROOF IS UPON YOU, THE PLAINTIFF:
    1. Determine if there are any witnesses who can come to court with you. A witness who has “first hand” knowledge is usually the most reliable witness. Avoid those who only have secondhand information or “hearsay” evidence. Have your written evidence and photographs, if any, organized and ready to present to the court in an orderly manner. If a witness will not appear voluntarily, then you have the right to subpoena them. You must contact the clerk to determine the additional charges and time frame in which a subpoena can be obtained. Some courts require at least five (5) working days’ notice before trial to issue the subpoena.
    2. ALWAYS ASSUME THAT THE OTHER PARTY WILL CONTEST YOUR CLAIM and that he/she may file a counterclaim. When this happens, the DEFENDANT then becomes the CROSS-PLAINTIFF, and the CROSS-PLAINTIFF may sue you for his attorney’s fees and for court costs, in addition to his alleged claim.
  14. At the trial, the judge or jury will hear the facts and evidence from both sides. When both sides have rested their case, the judge or jury will enter a judgment that the plaintiff recovers from the defendant all, part, or none.
  15. If either party decides that the decision was unfair, either party may appeal the case to the county court at law. You will have a new trial in the county court. In order to appeal, you must file an appeal cost bond within 21 days from the date judgment was entered. The cost of the appeal bond is $500 for an appealing plaintiff or twice the amount of the judgment for an appealing defendant. You must give notice of the appeal by certified mail, return receipt requested, within seven (7) days from filing the appeal bond, to all parties to the suit who have not filed an appeal bond. If you do not have the money necessary to post an appeal bond, you must file a Sworn Statement of Inability to Pay within 21 days after the judgment is signed. Within seven (7) days of filing the statement, notice must be given by certified mail to the other parties to the suit, and then they have seven (7) days to contest the statement of inability to pay.
  16. Once the 21 day appeal period has passed, if you are unable to collect judgment, you can file an Abstract of Judgment. Check with the clerk regarding the cost or fee for the Abstract of Judgment. The Abstract of Judgment is a lien on real estate owned by the defendant in a county, but you must file the Abstract of Judgment in the county clerk’s office for its purpose to be of any use to you. For an Abstract of Judgment to be effective, it must be filed in each county where the defendant owns real estate.
  17. A Writ of Execution may be issued thirty (30) days from the date of judgment. It authorizes the seizure and sale of the defendant’s nonexempt property for the purpose of paying the judgment against him. The fee for the execution varies, and it is often prepared for you in the judge’s office. Check with the clerk for instructions on executions.
  18. The judge or jury cannot try your lawsuit for you. To remain impartial, the judge will not discuss the case with either party until the trial.
  19. You must also understand that the court cannot act as a collection agency for you. There is no law which enables the court to force the person to pay you the amount they owe. You are responsible for executing each action.