Learn about justice court and how to file a lawsuit in justice court.
Special thanks to Texas Young Lawyers Association for its contributions to this article.
What is Justice Court?
Small claims courts, also known as “Justice Courts,” provide an informal and easier place for disputes involving smaller amounts to be resolved ($20,000 or less). Such cases don’t require all the expenses of formal litigation.
What type of case can be brought in Justice Court?
Cases involving no more than $20,000 in damages can be brought in Justice Court. Justice courts cannot order a party to do something they can only award money.
What is the maximum amount of money you can be awarded in Justice Court?
Where do you file suit?
Generally, you must file a suit in the county where the party that is being sued lives, where the incident that brought about the claim occurred, and where the services involved in the claim were performed. The Justice of the Peace in each county is the judge for the Justice Court. If a county has more than one Justice of the Peace, your claim must be filed in the court whose precinct covers the area where the defendant resides.
Who do I file a lawsuit against?
You must file the lawsuit against the person or business that is responsible for your damages.
Is there a time limit on when I can file my suit?
Yes. There are legal time limits such as statutes of limitations that provide a time limit within which a lawsuit must be filed. It is important to find out the statute of limitations pertaining to your claim and state.
How do I file a lawsuit?
Prepare and collect all the necessary documents and information (contracts, agreements, complete names and address of each person or business involved in your claim) that you need to bring to the Justice Court to file your lawsuit.
Contact the correct justice of the peace to confirm that you are going to the correct court, the fees necessary to file your lawsuit, that you have all the necessary information, and the exact procedure to follow.
Ask the clerk for an instruction sheet to assist you with filing your lawsuit as fees and procedures vary from court to court.
You may also file your lawsuit online with the help of a guide and e-file. Visit EFILETEXAS self help.
What if I cannot afford the filing fees?
If you cannot afford the filing fees, you may file a sworn statement of inability to pay the fees. You can call the court and request an Affidavit of Inability to Pay Costs or Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs. This document will need to be notarized and filed with your lawsuit. Visit Texas Justice Court Training Center and read more information on Statements of inability and filing a small claims case.
How do I pay the filing fees?
You may pay the filing fees in cash, money order, company check, many counties allow online payments. You cannot pay with a personal check.
What if I want a jury trial?
If you want a jury trial, you must request one no later than 14 days before trial and pay an additional fee.
Do I need to serve the defendant?
Yes. First the Court will generate a citation (the notice from the court to the defendant that they have been sued). The petition and citation must be served on the defendant. This can be done by certified mail, registered mail, or in person. It is important that if it is done by mail be sure to add a return receipt request.
Can I serve the paperwork myself?
No. You are not allowed to serve the paperwork yourself. You may hire a private process server, pay for the constable, sheriff, or clerk of the court to serve the paperwork, but fees may vary.
This article explains the basics of civil lawsuits in Texas.
This article contains a link to a video that provides some background on the civil litigation system in Texas.
How eviction works and what to do if you are facing eviction.