In Texas, as in other states, vacating a judgment makes the court order legally void. Getting a judgment vacated means the party may not have to pay the money as ordered by the original court. An appellate court, or appeals court, typically renders a vacated judgment.
A vacated judgment can overturn, reverse or set aside the judgment of a lower court. Setting aside a judgment means annulling or negating it by another court order. An appellate court can vacate its own decisions.
Why Would a Texas Court Vacate a Judgment?
A court is likely to vacate a judgment when the party ordered to pay certain costs were not served with notice of the lawsuit or notice of the proceedings, such as a court hearing or trial date. A court can also vacate a judgment if a party or their attorney engaged in fraud, misrepresentation or misconduct. Reasons to vacate judgment include:
- Mistakes in the judgment, such as a miscalculation by the court of the amount of the judgment.
- Omitted cost requiring the court to vacate the judgment, correct the amount, and make a new order.
- Newly discovered evidence shown that will make a difference in the amount of the judgment or the verdict of the court.
- Debt was void or satisfied before court order.
- Party owing money died before judgment was completed.
There are many reasons a debt could be void. One such reason is that the party who owed money and the party to whom they owed the money decided to cancel the debt through a mutual contract.
How to Request a Vacated Judgment
A party can file a request for vacating a judgment, usually called an order to show cause to vacate the judgment. One type of judgment that a party may request to vacate is a default judgment. A default judgment awarded to the plaintiff based on the defendant’s failure to argue their side of the story.
A plaintiff usually gets a default judgment when the defendant does not come to court for the hearing or trial. A defendant who proves they had a valid excuse not to appear at the court hearing date, such as a severe illness, may have the judgment vacated based on excusable default.
Removing a Judgment by Filing an Appeal
A party to the case can also request the removal of a judgment by filing an appeal. The party will have to follow the appropriate procedures to file the appeal, as outlined in the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
If a party is successful in winning the appeal, it is possible to have the “judgment go away.” This means that the party will not have to pay the money they were originally ordered to pay.
Basics of Filing an Appeal Under Texas Law
In order to appeal a judgment, a party must complete the proper paperwork. They must also file a bond or make a cash deposit with the court clerk’s office. They can file a statement of inability to afford payment of court costs with the justice court within 21 days after the trial court signs the judgment.
Alternatively, the party can appeal the judgment after the court denies a motion to reinstate it, a motion to set aside judgment, or a motion for a new trial, if a party in the case files one of these motions. A plaintiff must file a $500 post-judgment bond; the defendant is required to file a bond twice the amount of the judgment.
The bond must be supported by a surety who is a person who agrees to pay the money, if the defendant cannot. The bond must be payable to the person who is not appealing and be conditioned on the appellant’s prosecution of the appeal to the completion of the case and payment of all costs that the court orders it to pay on appeal.
Cash in Lieu of a Bond
This means that the appellant, or person appealing, must pursue the case until the court completes hearing it and must pay any costs that the court orders it to pay in the process.
In lieu of filing a bond, the appellant may deposit cash in the amount required of the bond, with the clerk of court. This cash amount is conditioned on the same facts as the bond.
Consequences of Not Paying a Judgment
When a person or entity does not pay the amount ordered by the court, the plaintiff can request that the court issue a writ of garnishment. A writ is a formal command from the court. Garnishment is the seizure of money or property of a debtor to a creditor.
Typically, the plaintiff is the judgment creditor, and the defendant is the debtor. If there are multiple parties in a case and circumstances warrant it, one plaintiff may be ordered to pay a debt to another plaintiff.
This could occur if a second plaintiff was found to have engaged in contributory negligence in an accident and was ordered by the court to pay money to the first plaintiff.
In Texas, a writ of garnishment is available when:
- Court has issued an original attachment (order to seize money or property).
- Plaintiff sues for debt owed and makes an affidavit (written statement confirmed by oath or affirmation) stating that: the debt is equitable, due and unpaid; within the plaintiff’s knowledge, the defendant does not own real estate or personal property in Texas subject to seizure sufficient to satisfy the debt; and plaintiff is not seeking garnishment to injure the party being garnished.
- Plaintiff has a valid, existing judgment and makes an affidavit stating that: within the plaintiff’s knowledge, defendant does not own property in Texas subject to execution that is sufficient to satisfy the judgment.
Courts of Appeal in Texas
Texas has 14 courts of appeal with intermediate appellate jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases that are appealed from district or county courts. Jurisdiction is the legal authority to hear cases.
The term “intermediate appellate jurisdiction” means the legal authority to hear lower than from the court of last resort, which is the Texas Supreme Court. Each court of appeal has jurisdiction in a specific geographical region of the state.
Every court of appeal is presided over by a chief justice and at least two other justices. The specific number of justices on each court is set by statute and ranges from three to 13. An appeal is usually heard by a panel of three justices except when the court orders an en banc hearing (full quorum) in a particular case. Then all the justices of the court hear and consider the case.
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.