Small Civil Claims

Effective September 1, 2020, Texas law will change to allow parties to bring civil actions for up to $20,000 in our justice of the peace courts.  Prior to that, the limit was $10,000, and had not changed since 2007.  Television shows like “The People’s Court” and “Judge Judy” have popularized the concept of small claims courts like our justice of the peace courts in Texas.  Generally, these courts dispense “rough justice” resolving a wide range of disputes quickly, efficiently, and inexpensively.

Do You Need an Attorney

A distinct advantage of filing your case in a JP court is you do not need an attorney.  JP courts provide simple forms which an average person can fill out describing the nature of the dispute in common, everyday language.  The procedures and proceedings are less formal, and most JP courts provide pamphlets explaining the process in simple, easily understandable terms.  The filing fees are lower, and the clerks will handle the formal aspect of initially serving the other party with your lawsuit.  There are rarely pretrial proceedings, and your case usually will proceed to trial within a few months.

What if You Are a Business Owner

Even business entities are not required to have an attorney in our justice of the peace courts.  Some small business owners are surprised when they learn that the law requires them to hire an attorney in county or district court.  In JP court, a business entity can appear through a representative who is not a licensed attorney.  The representative should bring evidence that he or she is authorized to act on the entity’s behalf.

How Do You File a Claim in JP Court

To begin a case in JP court, you must personally go to the civil clerk of the correct JP court and complete a form.  That form will require you to provide your complete name and address, the other party’s or parties’ complete name(s) and address(es), the amount of your claim, and the basis of your claim stated plainly and without technicalities, and the date your claim arose.  You will have to swear under oath that the contents of the form are true.  You will have to pay a small filing fee and the cost to have the other party(ies) served with your lawsuit.

It is extremely important that you provide the correct name and address of each other party whom you are suing.  If the other party is a business like a corporation or limited liability company, you must state its exact name and the name of the officer, manager, or registered agent of that business to be served.  This information can be obtained from the Texas Secretary of State by calling 1-800-252-1386 or online through its website.  If the business is a partnership, the partnership itself should be named by its correct legal name and each of its general partners should be named individually. Be very careful to name the correct entity as businesses often have very similar names.

What is the “Correct” JP Court?

In general, the correct JP court is the one located in the county and precinct where one or more of the opposing parties resides.  Some counties only have a single JP court.  More populous urban counties are typically divided into separate precincts.  For example, Dallas County has five individual precincts.  County websites typically provide a map showing the boundaries of its precincts.

A suit against a private corporation, association, or joint-stock company may be brought in the county and precinct in which (1) all or part of the cause of action arose; (2) it has an agency or representative; or (3) where its principal office is located.

There are two exceptions to the general rule.  An eviction suit must be brought in the county or precinct where the rented property is located.  A suit by a creditor on a contract for goods, services, or loans intended primarily for personal, family, household, or agricultural use must be brought either in the county and precinct in which the contract was signed or in which the defendant resides.

What Relief Can You Get?

With a few exceptions, the JP court can only award you a sum of money if you are successful.  It typically cannot order the other party to do something.  So, for example, if an automobile mechanic damaged your car while performing a repair, the JP court can award you the sum of money necessary to repair the damage, but it cannot order the mechanic to fix your car.  So you will need evidence of the cost of repair, like an estimate.

There are two common exceptions to that rule.  In an eviction case, a JP court can award a landlord a writ of possession which directs the local constable to physically remove a tenant from the landlord’s premises.  In a suit to recover personal property, a JP court can order one party to turnover the item in dispute to the other party.

Particular Types of Disputes Most Suitable for JP Court

Texas Justice of the Peace Courts have experience resolving a wide range of disputes, including:

  • Consumer complaints
  • Non-payment for goods delivered or services rendered
  • Non-conforming goods or work (i.e. you did not get what you ordered)
  • Dishonored checks
  • Improper or incomplete motor vehicle or appliance repairs
  • Motor vehicle collisions (typically with damage to vehicles only)
  • Disagreements between co-tenants
  • Disputes involving bailments
  • Damages to personal property
  • Civil theft liability
  • Landlord’s failure to repair
  • Landlord’s failure to refund security deposit
  • Residential evictions
  • Other residential landlord-tenant disputes

Our firm does not handle many litigation matters in justice of the peace court.  Usually, the additional cost of an attorney is unnecessary in such courts.

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