Texas Small Claims Court
The purpose of small claims court in Texas is to offer a simple, informal mechanism to resolve small disputes that do not have enough money at stake to warrant the expenses, deadlines, and requirements of normal litigation.
Limit for Texas Small Claims Court
In Texas, you cannot sure for more than $10,000 in Texas Small Claims Court. No matter how persuasive you are or how sympathetic your case is, the small claims court judge in Texas cannot award you more than $10,000. If you are trying to recover more money, you will not be able to file your case in small claims court.
Additionally, a small claims court judge can only give you a monetary award. A judge cannot issue an order for a contractor to fix your brick driveway. However, you could get an estimate for another contractor to fix the driveway and ask for the judge for that as your amount of damages (assuming it is under $10,000).
Types of Cases in Texas Small Claims Court
Here are examples of the most common types of cases in small claims court in Texas:
- You loan a friend money, and he or she refuses to pay you back.
- Your landlord refuses to return your security deposit or give you a statement regarding what it was used for.
- After your vehicle is repaired, you learn the auto repair shop charged you for repairs and work that were not performed on your car.
- An appliance, under warranty, breaks and the seller refuses to honor the warranty.
Who Can Use Small Claims Court?
Alternatives to Small Claims Court in Texas
We also recommend trying to settle a dispute without going to court. Generally, most disputes should be settled without a lawsuit.
In every year, the court sees numerous cases that are filed in small claims court which could have been resolved outside of court. If you do file a lawsuit, you will find that you must spend time preparing your case for trial. Additionally, you will have to pay certain court fees in order for the court to hear your case (these court fees can be added on to your judgment if you prevail at trial). Because of the time and costs, a small claims court case can be a time-consuming and emotionally draining experience, which is why we recommend attempting to resolve your case before filing an action in small claims court.
Additionally, there are a number of alternatives available to you as a small claims litigant. Each case may present unique alternatives to small claims court. For example, in a dispute with a business, the Better Business Bureau may be a useful resource. In a dispute with your employer over wages or involving deceptive trade practices, a call to the attorney general’s office may be worthwhile.
Steps to Take Before Filing your Claim
As we said above, a small claims court case is an emotionally taxing process. We recommend you follow these steps before filing your case as it will help you prepare for your case, if it is ultimately filed.
- Analyze what your damages are. When your case is ultimately filed, you will have to state how much you are asking for. Each case is different. For example, if your security deposit was $500 and the landlord isn’t returning it or telling you how much was used to clean the place, you would ask for $500. But if the landlord charges $75 for cleaning, and you agree with that, you would only ask for $475. If you loaned your friend $500 and he returned $100, but refuses to return the rest, you would ask for $400. Each case is different. You need to think about this carefully.
- Once you know how much you want, you should begin to attempt a settlement. Contact the manager or person with decision making authority if your claim is against a business. Explain to them in a calm, clear fashion what your issue is and why you feel you are entitled to this amount. If you don’t feel comfortable on the phone, we suggest writing out what you want to say word for word or just some bulletpoints to help you keep on topic. Note: the calmer and more polite you are, the easier it will be for the other side to agree with you. Additionally, point out if you are a longstanding customer or client of the business. Again, if you are aggressive, it will set the tone for the rest of your case. Even attorneys who handle litigation regularly try to have a cordial relationship with opposing counsel.
- Ask for something specific. If it is an issue with a purchase, ask for a replacement or for it to be returned. Without having this step, your phone call is simply a complaint.
- If you are unable to reach someone in charge, write a letter. Again, the letter needs to be simple, to the point, and polite. There is no need to throw in legalese or every single detail regarding the issue. Only include relevant facts. The letter should be two to three pages (tops). The letter should include a timeline for when you would like a response (be realistic). The letter should be sent via certified mail, return receipt requested.
- If the letter and phone call were unsuccessful in resolving the dispute, consider filing your claim in small claims court.
Do I need a Lawyer?
Texas law allows you to consult and retain an attorney to represent you. We recommend looking at your case and how much is at issue before deciding if a consultation with an attorney is worthwhile.
In some cases, you are even allowed to recover attorneys fees in your action (meaning it would make sense to hire one). In these types of cases, you may even be able to retain an attorney on contingency meaning you would pay nothing up front.
Who do I sue?
Before you sue, you need to determine the property party to file your action against. If your claims is against a person in their individual capacity, you simply name them as an individual. However, it becomes more complicated if your claim is against a business. If the business is a sole proprietorship (commonly known as a “doing business as” or d/b/a), we recommend checking the “assumed name” department in your county clerk’s office. To sue a partnership, you need to obtain the names of the partners. Under Texas law, each of the partners is responsible for the obligations of the partnership. If your claim is against a corporation, you should contact the Secretary of State to find out who the agent for service of process is.
Note: We recommend double checking the spelling of an individual’s name or business as even a small typo could delay proper service by several weeks or even months.
Where do I file my case?
Your action is filed in the county where the defendant is being sued resides or where the service you are complaining of where performed. In Texas, the justice of the peace in each county is also the judge for small claims court.
If there is more than one justice of the peace in a county, then a small claim normally must be filed in the court whose precinct covers the area where the person you are suing resides.
Who is the Judge?
In Texas, the justice of the peace in each county is also the small claims court judge.
Statute of Limitations for Texas Small Claims Court
In most cases, you need to file your claim within two years of when the problem arises. Some cases offer a four year statute of limitation. We recommend filing your action within six months to a year after your problem arises. This will provide you ample time to try and settle your action. This will also give you additional time to refile if you need to add an additional party or file in a different court.