How to Sue in Texas

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 What are the Steps for Filing a Lawsuit in Texas?

There are many steps and requirements that must be followed when you file a civil lawsuit in Texas. For instance, there are the standard procedures, such as filing necessary paperwork with the appropriate state court, responding to an opposing party’s legal documents (e.g., discovery requests, counterclaims, etc.), preparing an in-court argument, and deciding whether to move forward with a trial or to settle the issue out of court.

In order to file a lawsuit in Texas, you must first make sure that you have a valid and viable legal claim. If so, then you may file a petition with the proper state court, which is a legal document akin to a complaint in other states that requests a court provide a certain remedy. After all paperwork is submitted to the court and the filing fees are paid, copies of those documents must be served on the opposing party (i.e., the defendant or respondent). 

From that point onward, the defendant will file a response and potentially submit a Counter-Petition. Once this process is complete, if the court determines that the original claim should move forward and not be dismissed, the parties will proceed to the pretrial stages of the case (e.g., exchanging discovery, filing motions and requests, attending pre-trial conferences, etc.). The parties may also decide to settle out of court before trial.

If the parties cannot reach a settlement or refuse to settle with one another, the case will advance to the trial stages. This will include presenting oral arguments, examining witnesses, submitting additional evidence, preserving objections, and explaining to the court why the law applies to the facts of a specific case.

After the trial stage is finished, the judge will make a ruling that can typically be appealed by a party who is not satisfied with the outcome of the trial or the parties may just leave the decision as is and follow the judge’s order (e.g., by paying damages, dropping the case, etc.).  

As is evident from the above information, there are many different steps and legal strategies that a party filing a Texas lawsuit can take to settle an issue. Thus, it may be in your best interest to contact a Texas lawyer for more advice about how you should proceed with your case and to find out whether your claim would hold up in a Texas court under the relevant state laws. 

Lastly, if your case is contested (as opposed to uncontested), it is strongly recommended that you retain an attorney. Do not attempt to represent your own interests unless it is absolutely necessary. If you need financial assistance, try searching for a local pro bono firm or legal aid service and contact them for additional resources. 

How Do I Know If I Have a Valid Legal Claim?

As is the case in most states, the first step is to determine whether there is a valid and supportable legal claim. This is referred to as a “cause of action” and is considered a substantive question of law that usually requires an attorney’s legal guidance to answer it. An attorney can do this by conducting legal research, interpreting Texas state laws, and ensuring that the claim a person is filing is able to satisfy all of the necessary legal requirements. 

For example, if a Texas worker is suing because their employer is refusing to pay them for work they completed, then the Texas worker must be able to prove as much. A Texas lawyer can help the worker do this by showing there is a valid contract, that the worker performed in accordance with the terms of that contract, that their employer breached this contract by not paying them for the work they completed, and that as a result, the Texas worker suffered damages.

In other words, every legal claim will have a set of elements that must be proven in order to recover damages. Furthermore, in Texas, every claim also has a prescribed time period in which an individual must file a lawsuit. In fact, the time period is legally enforceable and is known as a “statute of limitations”. In general, the statute of limitations in Texas for most civil claims is two years from the date a dispute occurred.

How Do I File a Verified Petition?

After a Texas lawyer determines that a party has a valid cause of action, they must draft and file a “Plaintiff’s Petition” with the appropriate Texas court. The Petition must be written in clear and succinct sentences, must state what the defendant is alleged to have done, and the type of relief that the plaintiff is seeking from the defendant or respondent. In most civil cases, the primary form of relief is usually monetary damages. 

The plaintiff must also provide contact information for both themselves and the opposing party. In the event that the plaintiff is suing a business, they can find this information in the business records database, which is controlled by the Texas Secretary of State.

Additionally, the Petition must assert a specific and valid legal claim along with facts that support it. It should be noted, however, that the plaintiff will not be required to plead or present any evidence at this time. Once the Petition is drafted, it must be filed in the proper Texas county and court. The plaintiff must pay the requisite filing fees and then serve copies of the documents filed on the respondent. 

Specifically, in Texas, the plaintiff must serve the defendant with a copy of the Petition and Citation, which can be obtained by requesting it from a court clerk. These documents inform the defendant about why they are being sued, what legal violation they are being sued for, and put them on notice that they must respond and appear in a particular Texas court. The plaintiff can ask that the clerk arrange to have a process server give the respondent these documents.  

Finally, after the respondent is served, the plaintiff must file an affidavit called a “Proof of Service”, to notify the court that this step is complete. Then the ball is in the defendant’s court to either respond to the petition, file a counter-petition, or make a special appearance. The defendant will need to do this within the amount of time prescribed by the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. A Texas lawyer can explain more about these laws.

What Is a Justice Court?

The state of Texas refers to small claims courts as, “Justice Courts”. In Texas, most lawsuits brought by private individuals against other private parties will be resolved in a Justice Court. Justice Courts were created as a venue in which nonlawyers could easily represent themselves and have somewhere to settle legal disputes that do not warrant the expense that formal litigation sometimes poses. 

According to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, the most a person can recover in Justice Court is $20,000; an amount that includes attorneys’ fees. However, individuals who meet the requirements to be heard in Justice Court will typically represent themselves. Again, the purpose of a Justice Court is to streamline the legal process and give laypersons a place where they can settle smaller issues themselves at a reduced cost.

Not all cases can be brought in Justice Court. If a lawsuit involves complex legal issues or is for an amount that is more than $20,000, then a plaintiff must file their claim with another court and will most likely need to hire an attorney to represent them. Additionally, a Justice Court can only award monetary damages, not equitable relief. Thus, if a plaintiff is seeking an injunction or specific performance, a Justice Court cannot grant this type of remedy.

What Types of Cases can be Brought to Justice Court?

As discussed above, only disputes for monetary damages that are under $20,000 can be heard by a Justice Court. 

Some common types of cases that may be brought in Justice Court include when a plaintiff is requesting that a friend repay them for money they borrowed (under $20,000 of course), when a landlord refuses to return a plaintiff’s security deposit despite meeting all the requirements of a lease, and if a plaintiff has been charged for services they did not agree to or receive. 

Additionally, aside from private individuals, only certain entities may appear in Justice Court. For example, it is possible to sue a company in Justice Court and for an association, partnership, limited liability company, or corporation to file a claim in Justice Court. In Justice Court, the requirement that entities appear with an attorney does not apply like it does in other civil courts.

Also, while individuals may file a claim against a collection agency or bank in Justice Court, collection agencies, banks, and other lending institutions may not bring a suit themselves in Justice Court.

Can I Sue the State of Texas?

Suing the state of Texas is only possible in certain situations. Due to the doctrine of sovereign immunity, an individual may not sue the state of Texas unless there is a constitutional or legislative waiver in place against the doctrine.

There is also one other instance where a party may be able to sue the state and that is through a limited waiver procedure that was enacted by the Texas Tort Claims Act. Under the Act, an individual may sue the state or a local state government for personal injury, death, or property damage caused by an act of negligence, omission, or other wrongful act committed by a public employee and occurred within that public employee’s scope of employment. 

For example, if a private individual gets into an accident with a public employee while they are doing their job, then the private individual may sue that public employee for damages. It is important to note that while the Act does allow private individuals to sue for specific tort claims, it does place a limit on the amount of damages that a plaintiff can collect.

How Much Does It Cost to File a Lawsuit in Texas?

The costs of filing a lawsuit in Texas will depend on the facts of a specific case, the county and court it is filed in, and whether or not it is necessary to hire an attorney for representation. For example, in Travis County, it is $106 to bring a lawsuit against one defendant in Justice Court, but $101 for an eviction case. In Harris County, however, it is $34.00 to file a claim in Justice Court.

In most Texas civil courts, however, it is over $200 to file a claim. If an individual cannot afford to file and falls below the Federal Poverty Guidelines, the plaintiff may ask the court to waive or reduce their filing fee. 

Other costs that must be calculated into the total include the process server fee, how much it costs to make copies of the documents that must be served, the amounts set by a particular courthouse or state statute, and whether there are additional motions that must be filed (e.g., Amended Petition). 

Should I Hire an Attorney for Help with a Texas Lawsuit?

The answer to this question will depend on your situation. Is your case scheduled to be heard in a Texas small claims court? Or is it a multi-million dollar business deal that requires extensive negotiations and a trial? If you are uncertain or need more advice about your civil law issue, then it may be in your best interest to contact a Texas lawyer in your county to obtain further legal advice.

A lawyer who is admitted to practice in Texas and has experience with trying cases in the state can help you determine whether you have a viable claim, can assist you in the process of navigating the Texas court system, and can prepare any necessary legal documents for your case. Also, if you need to appear in court or settle a matter outside of the courtroom, your lawyer can provide representation on your behalf in either scenario as well.

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