The judicial system in Texas is one of the most complex in the United States, and maybe even in the world. Even determining which county court to file your lawsuit may be a challenge
Five Levels of Judicial Review
The Texas judicial system consists of five levels of judicial review, while there are only three levels in most other American jurisdictions. Further, at each level, there are specified courts to handle different types of cases. Some of the cases may be filed in more than one, overlapping court.
Lowest Level: Justice Courts
The Justice Courts is the lowest level of court in Texas. Each county in Texas is required to have at least one Justice Court. These courts have exclusive jurisdiction over small claims matters, which are cases that have less than $5,000 in controversy.. Also, Justice Courts have jurisdiction over traditional civil matters with less than $10,000 in controversy. Unlike traditional courtrooms, Justice Courts judges do not need to be lawyers and they are only allowed to give monetary relief. Thus, petitioners should not file complex cases in Justice Courts and cannot obtain injunctions or determine title to property.
Second Level: County Courts
At the second level 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 hear cases with an amount in controversy between $200 and $5,000. Like the Justice Courts, the judges here are not required to be lawyers. However, these judges are allowed to issue injunctions. Additionally, they can hear appeals from the local justice courts.
Third Level: County Courts at Law
Some counties have County Courts at Law. The Texas Legislature, on an as-needed basis, creates these courts 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 cases that involve estates issues, such as personal injury resulting in death or incapacity.
Texas also have district courts, which are courts of general jurisdiction and are allowed to hear virtually all types of cases. They can hear any civil matter so long as there is more than $500 in controversy, or if it is a civil matter in which the other courts do not have jurisdiction. This includes cases where title to property is in dispute. District court judges are required to be licensed attorneys.
Not every county in Texas has a district court – all of the larger counties have at least one, but some of the smaller counties share district courts.
Consulting an Attorney
Since it is difficult to navigate the Texas legal system, a Texas lawyer can help you determine where to file. He can speed up your case, prevent misfiling, and even represent you.