What is the difference between Small Claims Court and Justice Court?
While small claims court and justice court both occur in the same courtroom, are presided over by the justice of the peace, and have the same monetary limits, they are in fact two very different courts with different rules. While both courts have a maximum "amount in controversy" of $10000.00, there are several jurisdictional differences. The small claims court may award only monetary damages. The small claims court cannot order the other party to do or refrain from doing anything, or award possession of property. It can only require the party to pay an amount of money as a judgment. The following may not file in small claims court, and must file in justice court:
n A monetary judgment is sought
n An assignee, or a person bringing action on an assigned claim
n A person whose primary business is lending money at interest
n A collection agency
Remember, Justice Civil Cases are formal proceeding and must adhere to all pre-trial and trial rules and procedures.
The Rules of Civil Procedure, Discovery Rules, and the Rules of Evidence govern justice court, and must be adhered to. In small claims court, the Rules of Evidence and Discovery do not strictly apply, and the trial procedure is handled in an informal manner. Judges in small claims court have the duty to develop the case, question witnesses, and render judgment as the case requires. A judge in justice court listens only to the facts as presented by the parties and renders judgment based solely on those facts. Only the parties or their attorneys may question witnesses or develop the case in justice court. It is therefore recommended that those parties in justice civil court have representation by an attorney. Although you may certainly represent yourself, you will be expected to know and follow the Texas rules, just as an attorney would, and conduct yourself accordingly. (See Informationon Pre Se Litigants)
How do you file in Justice Court?
A person, or that person's attorney or agent, may file a Plaintiff's Petition for Justice Civil, along with a money order for the appropriate Filing Fees. Note: Service fees are pre individual, so if multiple defendants are to be served, multiple filing fees must be included. If service is to be performed outside Montgomery County, please contact the Constable's Office in the county in which service must be performed to determine their appropriate service fee.
What happens next?
Once the defendant has been served with citation in the case, the defendant must file a Defendant's Original Answer by the appearance day. If the defendant does not appear, and the plaintiff is able to prove the claim, then a default judgment for the plaintiff will be rendered. If the defendant does appear, then the case will stand for trial. The case will be set on a trial docket, and parties will be notified of that date and time. At any time prior to the setting of the trial, either party may request a jury trial by making written notice to the court requesting a jury trial. Note: If you move or have a change of address or phone number, you must notify the court of that change.
What about Appeals?
The County Court has jurisdiction of appeals in civil cases over which the justice court had original jurisdiction when the judgment appealed from, or the amount in controversy, is more than $20.00, not counting court costs. An Appeal Bond must be filed, and the appellant must ensure that the proper transcript and papers are filed in the County Court within the time frame required by law, or risk dismissal for want of prosecution. The appeal band must be filed with the justice court within TEN (10) days from the judgment date.