In Texas, a party in a civil lawsuit should usually hire a civil law attorney to write a general denial. A general denial is a denial of each and every allegation in the plaintiff’s petition, or lawsuit. A general denial can be a defendant’s answer to a civil suit filed against them.
General denials are discussed in Rule 92 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. In a consultation session, a civil attorney can provide legal advice about how a defendant can represent themselves.
Attorney Help Recommended
A party may write a general denial themselves, but may find the task quite difficult. They need to check formatting requirements to ensure that the denial is written properly and will be accepted by the appropriate justice court. A general denial usually demands strict proof of the plaintiff’s allegations, as required by the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
Details About General Denials
The point of a general denial is to make certain the burden of proof remains on the plaintiff. A party does not need to make a general denial under oath.
When a defendant pleads, or files, a general denial, and the plaintiff later amends their initial pleading (paperwork to begin the civil suit), the defendant’s original denial is understood to extend to all matters the plaintiff shared in the amendments.
The next section requires an explanation of certain terms to better understand events that can occur following the defendant’s filing of a general denial. A counterclaim is a claim that a defendant brings against a plaintiff in the plaintiff’s civil suit.
For example, when a landlord sues a tenant for unpaid rent, the tenant might respond with a counterclaim that the landlord had breached their warranty of habitability.
Texas Defendant Cross-Claims
A cross-claim is a claim brought by one defendant against another in the same proceeding. For example, a homeowner sues both a general contractor and a subcontractor alleging that work performed on their home was done so in a faulty manner.
Then, the general contractor makes a claim of breach of contract against the subcontractor. In this example, the general contractor’s claim is a cross-claim.
When a counterclaim or cross-claim is served upon a party in the action, the court will consider that party to have made a general denial of the counterclaim or cross-claim. The exception is if the party has filed a responsive pleading, or answer, admitting the facts of the counterclaim or cross-claim.
No Waiver Will Be Deemed
The party served will not be deemed to have waived any special appearance or motion to transfer venue (change the court in which the proceeding is held).
Tips for Writing a General Denial in Texas
- Check to ensure every claim of the plaintiff's original petition is denied.
- Include language such as "the defendant denies each and every allegation in the plaintiff’s original complaint and any and all additions or amendments to the original petition" to cover claims that may be added later.
- Include language to request that the plaintiffs bear the cost of the proceeding, such as "Defendants pray the Court to enter judgment in their favor and award them court costs, attorney's fees, and relief as to which they may entitled in law or equity."
General Denial in Texas Divorce
A defendant usually files a general denial in a Texas divorce case to contest that they are at fault for the divorce. Alternatively, they may file an answer to argue that the court should award them the amount of property that the defendant views as equitable.
A general denial ensures that the burden of proof remains on the plaintiff, to prove an allegation such as that the defendant committed adultery.
What Are Affirmative Defenses?
An affirmative defense is a set of facts different from those set forth by the plaintiff. One or more affirmative defenses may lessen the defendant’s culpability and lower or negate their liability for harm such as trespass. Information about affirmative defenses in civil court is found in Rule 94 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
A party with an affirmative defense should state the defense and provide evidence to support it. Affirmative defenses in a civil claim include:
- Accord and satisfaction: The party owed money was already paid and accepted the amount as full satisfaction of the debt.
- Arbitration and award: The parties agreed to arbitrate an issue in the event of a dispute; arbitration resulted in an award to the party owed.
- Assumption of risk: Party who was owed money agreed to assume the risk of loss before the loss occurred.
- Contributory negligence: Party claiming they are owed money committed an act of negligence that contributed to their loss. This negates or reduces the defendant’s debt.
- Duress: Defendant acted under harm or threat of a harm that they would suffer if they did not commit the act. For example, if a defendant failed to perform a contracted-for service for the plaintiff, the defendant might claim that the plaintiff said they would harm them if they performed the work.
- Estoppel: The plaintiff claimed something else before filing the lawsuit and then went back on their word. The plaintiff is therefore estopped from filing the lawsuit. For example, if the plaintiff signed a contract not to sue the defendant and then did so, the defendant could claim estoppel as an affirmative defense.
- Fraud: Wrongful deception to further financial gain. For example, if an individual told a person they were signing a contract for services, but the document was not in fact a contract, such action would constitute fraud.
- Laches: An unreasonable delay between the harm that the plaintiff suffered and their filing of a civil suit.
What Is a Default Judgment?
If a defendant does not respond to the plaintiff’s complaint within a certain time period set by statute, the plaintiff has the right to request a default judgment, an order of the court finding that the plaintiff is in the right and entitled to damages.
Rule 502.5 of the Texas Rules of Civil Rule Procedure provides generally that the defendant’s answer is due by the end of the 14th day after the day the defendant was served with the citation and petition.
Rule 503 provides that if the defendant fails to file an answer by that date, the judge must ensure that service was performed correctly. The judge can hold a hearing on the issue. If the judge determines service was proper, they must render a default judgment, typically by issuing an order that the defendant pay the amount stated in the claim based on a written document.
Types of Texas Courts
There are six types of trial courts in Texas. All of them allow jury trials. A civil case involving a plaintiff’s claim and a defendant’s general answer can be heard in any of these courts.
Constitutional County Court
Statutory Court at Law
Statutory Probate Court
Justice of the Peace Court
Hear felony criminal cases, divorce cases, cases involving title to land, election contest cases, civil matters in which the amount of money or damages involved is $200 or more, and any matters in which jurisdiction is not placed in another trial court.
Hear all criminal cases involving Class A and Class B misdemeanors. Also hear appeals for cases appealed from justice of the peace and municipal courts, except in counties where county courts at law have been established.
The types of cases heard vary considerably. Usually hear appeals of cases from justice of the peace and municipal courts.
Hear cases involving counties' probate matters, guardianship cases, and mental health commitments.
Hear Class C misdemeanor criminal cases, minor civil matters and small claims cases.
Hear violations of city ordinances. Within the city limits, have concurrent jurisdiction with justice of the peace courts over Class C misdemeanor criminal cases where punishment upon conviction is by small fine only. These courts are in incorporated cities of the state, such as Houston.
- Always consult with an attorney if possible before proceeding pro se.
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.