The idea behind Small Claims Court is to provide an informal, straight forward legal proceeding to resolve disputes that may not involve enough money to warrant the expense of formal litigation. Most people do not hire lawyers to appear in Small Claims Court. For that reason, a brief overview of the process might be helpful.
What type of a Case Can Be Brought in Small Claims Court?
Small Claims Court can not hear disputes involving more than $10,000. Small Claims Court can only award money. You cannot ask the Court to order the other party to do anything, or to refrain from doing something. If you win in Small Claims Court, you can only win a judgment for a dollar amount (up to $10,000 plus court costs).
Who Can Sue in Small Claims Court?
Any person who is over 18 years old can file a suit. A minor can use the court by having a parent, relative, or "next friend" over 18 years old go with them to file and later attend trial. An association, partnership, or corporation may also file a claim in small claims court.
Are There Alternatives to Small Claims Court?
You can and should attempt to settle a dispute without going to court. If you do file a lawsuit you will spend time preparing your case. You will also have to pay certain fees to have your case processed. A trial can be a time-consuming and emotionally draining experience.
Where Do You File Suit?
Normally, you must file suit in the county where the party that is being sued resides or where the services you are complaining about were performed. The justice of the peace in each county is also the Judge for Small Claims Court. You can look in the telephone directory for justices of the peace near you. You can also search for "Justice Courts" at ww.courts.state.tx.us. If there is more than one justice of the peace in your county, like there is for Jefferson County, then a small claim normally must be made in the court whose precinct covers the area where the Defendant resides.
How Do You File Suit?
Gather all the information you need before going to the courthouse. Gather your records, including copies of contracts and agreements. In addition make sure you have: (1) your complete name and address; (2) the complete name and address of each person or business your claim is against. Correct names and addresses are vital to your case because the judge cannot grant a judgment against a defendant that was improperly named; (3) the amount you intend to claim in damages ($10,000 or less); and (3) a brief statement of the basis for your claim in plain, common sense terms. Include in this statement the date the claim arose and other relevant dates. Prepare this statement in advance so you do not waste your time or the Court's time.
You can expect to pay a fee to start the law suit and you should call in advance to find out what the court's fee is. Ask to speak with the clerk in charge of Small Claims and fill out the forms they require. You can also expect to have to swear under oath that your statements are true. If you want a jury trial you can expect to pay an additional fee and you must specifically request this. The fees generally have to be paid in cash, money order, or company check. You should also be able to tell the clerk where the defendant can be found and the approximate time of day he or she is likely to be found at that location. The defendant has to be served before the court can grant you any relief.
If you need more information our office has a 28 page pamphlet it can provide you at no charge which explains the process in more detail.