Filing a lawsuit in the state of Texas involves various steps. Besides preparing your arguments for court, there are a number of procedural requirements that must be met with the court. In order to file a lawsuit in Texas you must have a valid legal claim, file a verified petition in the appropriate court, pay the associated filing fees, and serve the defendant.
Similar to most other states, the first step is to determine whether you have a valid legal claim, otherwise known as a “cause of action”. This is considered a substantive question of law, and typically requires the advice of an attorney to answer. Simply put, you must satisfy all of the legal requirements for the claim that you are asserting.
For instance, if you are suing because someone is not paying you for work that you performed, then you must prove that there was a valid contract, you tendered performance under the contract, the defendant breached the contract, and you suffered damages. Each type of claim has different basic elements you must prove.
Further, in Texas, every claim also has a deadline in which you must bring the lawsuit, this is known as a “statute of limitations”. Typically, the statute of limitations in Texas for most claims is two years after the dispute arose.
Once you have determined that you have a valid cause of action, you or your lawyer must write a “Plaintiff’s Petition.” In this document, you must tell a Texas Court in clear and concise language what you think the defendant has done to you, and what the relief is that you are seeking, typically money. This means that you will need to fully identify yourself and the defendant, including both of your full names and addresses.
If you’re suing a business, you may utilize the Secretary of State’s business records in order to find their registered name, address, and agent. In your petition, you must assert a specific and recognized legal claim, and provide facts to support it. However, you are not required to present or plead any evidence supporting these facts at this stage.
Once you have prepared the petition, you must figure out which county and court to file it in. For most private lawsuits filed by individuals, you will typically file your claim in a “Justice Court,” which is discussed further below. Further, you may file your claim in the county in which the dispute arose or the county in which the defendant resides. After determining the court and county to file the lawsuit in, you must pay the appropriate filing fees and serve the defendant.
In Texas, you must serve a defendant with a copy of the petition and citation. The purpose of doing so is to put the defendant on notice that they are being sued in Texas, as well as inform them of what they are being sued for. The citation is issued by the court to let the defendant know that the lawsuit is backed by the power of the state.
Typically, service of citations is performed by personal service, certified mail, or a third party process server. Commonly, a process server, a third party with no relation to the lawsuit, delivers a copy of the petition and citation to the defendant.
Once they do so they will file an affidavit known as a “proof of service,” stating that service has been accomplished. Finally, the defendant will have a period of time to answer your petition and the lawsuit process will continue.
In Texas, small claims are handled in what is known as Justice Court. Typically, most of the lawsuits that are brought by private individuals against other private individuals will be brought in a Justice Court. Justice Court is essentially a reformed version of small claims. It adheres to a set of rules that was created with the purpose of making a more simple process for non-attorneys to represent themselves in court.
Generally, those who are appearing in Justice Court do not have an attorney to represent them, and are not presenting disputes in which large amounts of money are involved. Enough money involved would warrant the larger expenses of formal litigation. The most a party can recover in Justice Court is $10,000, which includes any applicable attorney’s fees.
Justice Court is meant to be an alternative for those who need legal intervention but cannot necessarily afford an attorney’s services. Justice Court is not meant for larger or more complex cases.
As previously mentioned, all disputes involving monetary claims must be under $10,000 to remain in Justice Court. Although this stipulation includes any applicable attorney’s fees, it does not include court costs and statutory interest (interest that is determined by local regulations and laws).
Additionally, Justice Court can only award monetary damages; this means you cannot file a claim and hope to receive orders to make someone do something, or stop doing something (“injunction”). Some specific examples of appropriate cases that may be brought in Justice Court include:
- Lending money to a friend, and that friend refuses to repay what he borrowed;
- Your former landlord refuses to return your security deposit although you met all contract requirements upon your move; or
- You have been charged for services you did not receive, or did not agree to beforehand.
As for who can sue in Justice Court, anyone over the age of eighteen may bring a suit. If the plaintiff is under the age of eighteen, their parent, relative, or “next friend” (an adult over the age of eighteen) must file the claim on their behalf and attend the trial.
Further, legal entities, such as corporations and partnerships, may file a claim in Justice Court without an attorney. Although attorneys are not required to appear in Justice Court, they are allowed.
Although not a requirement for initiating a lawsuit in Texas, consulting with a well-qualified and knowledgeable Texas attorney may still be in your best interests.
An experienced attorney will help you determine if you have a valid legal claim, help you prepare your petition, and assist you throughout the process of navigating the Texas court system. They can even represent you in front of a court of law, if necessary.