How to File a Defamation of Character Suit in Small Claims Court in Texas

By Grayson Charles
Small claims courts have limited jurisdiction.
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Defamation is the harm suffered by an individual for the false statement of another. You can sue in small claims courts to recover damages without the expense of hiring an attorney. In Texas, small claims courts will hear cases of up to $10,000. These courts also are limited in that you can only win money. They cannot issue injunctions.

Determine whether you have a worthy claim for a defamation suit. Defamation is called slander when it is verbal and libel when it is written. Defamation cases are a risky undertaking as the chances of prevailing are generally low and the damage awards are not very large. An individual who brings defamation action draws attention to the false statements about himself and if he loses the lawsuit, he faces the risk that the statements in controversy may be given undue credence.

Verify that your damages are under the Texas small claims court limits of $10,000. If you believe that your damages are greater than $10,000, you should consider other options than small claims court. You may even lose your rights to a future claim for the difference that was not awarded. Damages can be difficult to quantify in a defamation suit because they are for a loss of reputation. If the court recognizes the harm but it is not quantified in monetary terms, the award will tend to be a small nominal figure. In the event that you have a business and it loses income as a result of the defamation, it may be feasible to quantify the damages.

Prepare and file a claim. In Harris County, you can make the claim in one of two ways. You can appear in person at the office of the Justice of the Peace and make a statement of the claim under oath. You also can file a small claims petition with the local Justice of the Peace or the clerk of the court. You also must pay the applicable filing fees.

Serve notice of the claim on the defendant. The defendant must be notified of the suit so that he has an opportunity to defend himself. You can either pay a fee to have a sheriff or a constable serve the citation or serve it via certified mail with return receipt requested.

Prepare your case for a hearing. Collect and organize any evidence that may be available to you. Seek out potential witnesses that will be willing to testify in support of your case. Either party may request a jury trial up to one day before the hearing. The fee is set by state statute at $5. If the defendant does not appear on the day assigned for the hearing, you will prevail by default.

About the Author

Grayson Charles has been writing and editing since 1986. He enjoys writing technical articles in the areas of government, law, public policy, computers and the impact of the Internet on society. He was previously a freelance writer for "Panacea Magazine." Charles holds a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from the State University of New York at Albany.