Texas Judicial System
The judicial system in Texas is said to be one of the most complex in the country, and possibly the world. It can be a challenge to simply determine which court you should file your case in.
The Texas judicial system has 5 levels (as opposed to 3 in most other American jurisdictions) and most of those levels have several different courts set up to handle different types of cases, with many instances of overlapping jurisdiction.
At the lowest level, there are Justice Courts. Each county in Texas is required to have at least one. They have exclusive jurisdiction over small claims matters (less than $5,000 at stake). They also have jurisdiction over traditional civil matters with under $10,000 at stake. The judges in these courts are not required to be lawyers, so it is not a good idea to file a complex case in one of them. Also, they are only allowed to give monetary relief – they cannot issue injunctions or determine title to property.
At the second level of trial courts are the County Courts, which are divided into 2 categories for civil matters: Constitutional County Courts, and County Courts at Law.
The Constitutional County Courts are allowed to hear cases with an amount in controversy between $200 and $5,000. The judges in these courts are not required to be attorneys, so, again, it is not a good idea to bring a complex case in one of these courts. They are allowed to issue injunctions, however. Additionally, they can hear appeals from the local justice courts.
Some (but not all) counties in Texas have County Courts at Law. These courts are created by the Texas Legislature on an as-needed basis, for a specific purpose – usually to hear probate matters. If a County Court at Law has been created and empowered to hear probate matters, it is automatically allowed to hear some other types of cases which involve estates, such as personal injury resulting in death or incapacity.
All of the courts discussed above are trial courts of limited jurisdiction, meaning they are only allowed to hear certain types of cases.
The trial courts of general jurisdiction are allowed to hear virtually all types of cases. These are the state trial courts, referred to as “District Courts.” They can hear any civil matter with more than $500 at stake, and can hear any other type of civil case over which the other courts do not have jurisdiction. This includes cases where title to property is in dispute. Judges in these courts are required to be licensed attorneys, so this is where you should file a more complex lawsuit.
Not every Texas county has a District Court – all of the larger counties have at least one, but some of the smaller counties share District Courts.
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Last Modified: 11-30-2009 11:35 AM PST
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