The procedures for filing a lawsuit in a Texas small claims court -- known as the Justice of the Peace Court -- apply to all actions statewide. If you need to file your claim in Houston, or in the greater Harris County area, you’ll have to determine which of the 16 Courts is the appropriate venue. Once that's determined, you can take several actions to prepare for their small claims case court date.
Make Sure Claim is Still Valid
Before you do anything else, assess whether the case isn’t barred by the statute of limitations -- the maximum length of time you have to file the lawsuit. For cases arising from property damage or personal injury, a petition must be filed within two years of the underlying event. The statutory period increases to four years for claims regarding breach of contract -- both oral and written. Furthermore, the damages you seek in a Texas small claims courts must not exceed $10,000.
Choosing Proper Justice Court
Once you confirm that your claim isn’t time-barred, you have to figure out which Houston court you can sue the defendant in. Since there are a number of courts within Houston, and even more throughout Harris County, file in the court whose precinct covers the area that the defendant resides in. Venue may be proper in more than one Harris County precinct in certain cases, such as when the event giving rise to your claim occurs in one precinct and the defendant lives in another. In this case, you can choose between the two precincts.
Preparing the Petition
The filing of your petition in the Justice of the Peace Court officially commences the lawsuit. Before sitting down to draft the statement of facts, you’ll want to gather all evidence that supports your claim, such as documents, contracts, records of transactions and anything else that would persuade the court to rule in your favor. Since you only can sue for money, your evidence should support the damages amount requested in the petition. After extracting all relevant facts and evidence, putting together an outline of the case can help frame your statement of facts -- which should be accurate and concise.
Filing the Petition
File the petition in the appropriate Houston court and pay a small service fee, plus an additional $45 for each named defendant. After the defendant is served with notice of the pending lawsuit, the Court will select a hearing date. A lawyer can represent you at the hearing, though this is uncommon in most Texas small claims actions. When representing yourself, be prepared to present all evidence and witnesses to the judge, or if requested in the petition, to the jury.
Michael Marz has worked in the financial sector since 2002, specializing in wealth and estate planning. After spending six years working for a large investment bank and an accounting firm, Marz is now self-employed as a consultant, focusing on complex estate and gift tax compliance and planning.