Justice Court Suits
Q. How much does it cost to file a lawsuit in Justice Court?
A. The Justice of the Peace must collect fees for the filing of a Petition in the Justice Court. A summary of court costs and service fees is available for download.
Q. What information do I need to file against a business?
A. You will need to determine who owns the business. Is it a corporation, a partnership, or a sole proprietorship? It is your responsibility to make sure that you are suing the proper party and that you have named an appropriate person as agent for service of process.
If the business is a corporation, you will need the correct name of the corporation, and the name and address of the corporation's registered agent, or its president or vice-president.
If the business is a partnership, you will need the name and address of at least one of the partners.
If the business is a sole proprietorship, you will need the name and address of the owner of the business.
Business ownership may be determined from the Harris County Clerk's Assumed Name Records.
Information about corporate entities may be obtained from the Corporation Division of the Office of the Secretary of State at 512-463-5555, or the Office of the State Comptroller at 1-800-252-1386.
Q. What is the maximum amount for which I can sue in Justice Court?
A. The maximum amount of a claim in Justice Court is $10,000.00, exclusive of interest and court costs, but including attorney fees, if any.
Q. For what can I sue in Justice Court?
A. You can sue for most civil matters in which the amount in controversy is not more than $10,000, exclusive of interest. You cannot ask for a divorce in Justice Court, nor can you sue for slander or defamation, or to recover title to land, or to enforce a lien on land. You may sue to recover a specific article of property if the value of the property is less than $10,000. The Justice Court is not able to require another party to do or refrain from doing any act. Know the value of your claim. If you are represented by an attorney, you may be able to recover attorney's fees, but the total amount of your claim, exclusive of interest, may not exceed $10,000.
Q. If I am sued in Justice Court, what should I do?
A. You must follow the instructions within the Citation with which you were served, and file a written answer with the Court on or before the end of the 14th day after the date you were served with the citation. You must send a copy of the answer to the Plaintiff, and include your name, address, and telephone number and e-mail address if you consent to notice by e-mail.
The Rules of Civil Procedure for Practice in the Justice Courts govern proceedings in the Justice Courts. A copy of the rules is available for download.
Q. How do I ask for a jury trial?
A. You are entitled to a jury trial if you file a written request with the court no later than 14 days before the date a case is set for trial. You must pay the jury fee of $22 at the same time. It is helpful to ask for a jury trial well in advance of your trial date.
Q. What happens in court?
A. Announce your presence
When you arrive in the Justice Court, it is a good idea to announce to the clerk that you are present. If the Justice of the Peace calls the "docket," that is each case scheduled to be heard at that time, you should answer "present" when your case is called.
Pick a jury
If you have demanded a jury, a jury panel will be available from which you will select six jurors to decide your case. Both the plaintiff and the defendant will be able to ask the potential jurors questions to learn about the jurors, their prejudices, and their sympathies. You may tell the Justice of the Peace if you think that a certain juror cannot be fair and ask that the juror be excused for cause. You may disqualify three (3) jurors using your peremptory strikes for any reason or for no reason.
Swear to tell the truth
When the trial begins, the Justice of the Peace or the clerk will ask each party and their witnesses to swear to tell the truth.
Meet your burden of proof
As the plaintiff, you will have the opportunity to begin. You have the burden to prove your case by a preponderance of the evidence. You may proceed by testifying about the facts of your claim, presenting any physical or documentary evidence you have, and asking questions of your witnesses.
The defendant will have an opportunity to cross-examine the plaintiff and each of the plaintiff's witnesses, by asking questions.
Defendant's side of the story
At the end of the plaintiff's presentation, the defendant will explain the circumstances from his or her point of view. The defendant may take the position that the plaintiff or the plaintiff's witnesses are wrong in their perception or interpretation of the transaction, or that the plaintiff is not entitled to as much money as claimed, or to any money.
Defendant's failure to appear
If the defendant does not appear for the hearing after being properly notified, the plaintiff may be entitled to a default judgment if the plaintiff is able adequately to prove his or her damages.
At the conclusion of the evidence, the Justice of the Peace or the jury will decide the outcome of the case. The judgment will become final after 21 days, if no appeal is taken.
Q. When should I file a lawsuit?
A. File a lawsuit only as your last resort. Try to resolve your dispute by talking it over calmly with your adversary, or using a mediator. But, do not wait too long to present your claim. You must file your claim within any applicable statute of limitations. For example, a suit to collect money owed on a contract must be brought within four (4) years. A suit for personal injury or damage to property must be brought within two (2) years.
Q. What do I need to prepare for a trial?
A. Gather all of the information you need to prove your claim. Collect all records, such as copies of contracts, invoices, or other agreements. Compile a list of witnesses, with their addresses and telephone numbers.
Prepare a short and concise statement of the basis for your claim. Use plain language. Be sure to include the date the claim arose and all pertinent information.
This information is furnished to you to provide basic information relative to the law governing procedures for civil cases in the Harris County Justice Courts.
The Harris County Justices of the Peace and the Clerks of the Harris County Justice Courts are not allowed to give legal advice. You are urged to review the applicable laws and to consult an attorney of your choice for further information or answers to specific legal questions.
You have the right to a trial by a jury and to be represented by an attorney of your choice, or to represent yourself.
Disclaimer: The law is constantly changing and there may be times when the information on this web site will not be current. This information is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. This information is not a comprehensive treatment of the subject and is not a substitute for advice from an attorney.