Small claims courts informally and quickly resolve certain civil cases. In Texas, you can file a suit in Justice Court if the disputed amount is $10,000 or less. The small claims court issues judgments only for specific amounts of money -- it won't order someone to do or not do a specific act. For example, you can't ask the court to make your neighbor cut down a tree, but you can ask for an overdue security deposit from your landlord. You can get a judgment against a friend who failed to repay a loan or an order for your mechanic to give back the money he overcharged you. Procedures and fees can vary in each county, so contact the court clerk in the relevant county for specific instructions.
Filing a Small Claims Suit
- your complete name and address
- the complete name and address of each defendant
- the amount of your claim, and
- the basis for your claim, including relevant dates
Submit the form to the clerk and swear an oath that all statements are true. Pay the filing fee and the fee for service of citation on the defendant. If you win your case, these fees will be added to the amount of money due to you in the judgment.
You can request a jury trial for your small claims case in Texas. You can do this when you file your suit or later within the time limit, which varies by court. For example, Harris County Justice of the Peace courts require notice that you want a jury trial at least 14 days before your court date, while Dallas County courts allow you to file up to the day before the trial.
Call the clerk two weeks after you file your case to find out when the defendant received the citation. Some courts use this date to calculate the trial date or to set an appearance date -- the date by which the defendant must file a written response with the court. This deadline is typically set for the Monday following the 10 days after the defendant received the citation, and the defendant must file an answer by 10 a.m. of that day. If he fails to respond within the time limit set by the court, you will win your case by default, but you still must prove that the defendant owes the precise amount for which you are suing.
Going to Trial
Contact the county court clerk to find out when to appear for trial. Arrive on time with all the evidence you need to support your case and make sure your witnesses are present. The judge may dismiss your case if you are late or unprepared.
Collecting a Judgment
The court is limited on what it can do to help you collect a judgment if the losing party is reluctant to pay, but the law offers four useful devices:
- The "Abstract of Judgment," once filed with Texas' County Deed Records, gives you a lien on the defendant's nonexempt real estate, such as rental property.
- The "Writ of Garnishment" allows you to collect money, such as from the individual's bank account or wages.
- The "Writ of Execution" allows the sheriff to seize and sell the defendant's nonexempt property to pay your judgment.
- The "Turnover Order" allows the judge to order the defendant to turn over nonexempt property to you to satisfy the judgment.
Homesteads are exempt from seizure in Texas.
Filing a Counter Claim
If you are the party being sued in a Texas Justice Court, you can file a counter claim. This procedure is similar to filing a small claims suit, but you complete and file a Counter Claim Original Petition instead of a small claim statement form. The judge hears both claims at the same time. If you win your counter claim, the plaintiff must pay any money awarded to you, including filing and attorney fees, if applicable.