Small Claims and Debt Claims
Generally, a suit should be filed in the county and precinct where one or more of the defendants reside; however, there are two exceptions to this rule. The court clerk can inform you if either of these exceptions apply in your case. (Small Claims, Debt Claims)
While small claims court and debt claim court both occur in the same courtroom, are presided over by the same justice of the peace, and have the same monetary limits, they are in fact two very different courts with different rules. Small claims court can award only monetary damages. The small claims court cannot order a 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. Also, an action in small claims court may not be brought by:
- An assignee of the claim or other person seeking to bring an action of an assigned claim
- A person primarily engaged in the business of lending money at interest
- A collection agency or agent
Filing a suit
You, the plaintiff, are responsible for filling out your petition. The court clerk can assist you with procedural questions. The total fee for small claims and debt claim court is $121, which consists of a $46 filing fee and a $75 fee for serving the defendant in Taylor County. Notify the court clerk if you are filing on a defendant that resides outside of Taylor County, as there may be a different service fee.
Once the suit has been filed with the court, a citation is sent to the constable for service on the defendant in Taylor County. Out-of-county service is sent to the appropriate constable or sheriff, depending on the information provided to the court. Please be aware that out-of-county service could delay serving the citation.
The defendant in a small claims suit must be served personally by the constable or sheriff of the county. However, a defendant sometimes avoids service and an alternative method of service becomes necessary. The constable or sheriff may request this alternate service which allows him/her to serve anyone over the age of sixteen at the defendant’s usual place of abode or business, or in a method the judge believes will be reasonably effective to give the defendant notice of the suit.
Should this occur, you will be asked to report to the court and sign a request for alternate service. If your request is approved, the judge will sign an order and the citation will be returned to the constable or sheriff for service.
Answering a Citation
The defendant in your suit is commanded to answer in writing to the court on the Monday following the expiration of ten days from the date the citation was served.
If the defendant in your suit fails to file a written answer with the court, only the court for an appearance on the default docket will notify you, as plaintiff. You will be asked to state the facts of your case and present any written documentation you might have to support your case.
Trial by Jury or Judge
In most instances, the judge will hear civil cases. However, either party is entitled to a jury trial at their request. If you elect to have a jury trial, please notify the court clerk when you file your suit, or as soon as possible thereafter. This will help expedite the process of summoning a jury.
If the defendant in your suit files a written answer, the court will set a trial date. You and the defendant will receive a notice in the mail stating the date and time to appear in court. All motions for continuance (resetting your court date) must be in writing and received by the court no later than three working days (weekends and holidays excluded) prior to your court date.
Bring all of the information you need to support your claim when you appear in court. If you have witnesses to your suit who will not come to court voluntarily, you may ask the court to subpoena those individuals prior to trial. The fee in Taylor County for filing and service of a subpoena is $65.00 per subpoena. Allow at least a week for service of the subpoena.
Civil justice court, like most courts, is governed by the Rules of Civil Procedure, Discovery, and the Rules of Evidence. In small claims court, the Rules of Evidence and Discovery do not apply, and the trial procedure is handled in an informal manner. Because of the absence of formal rules, parties are more likely to be able to represent themselves successfully. Persons may represent themselves (appear pro se) in any court, unless they are a corporation. Corporations are no longer required to have an attorney to represent them.
Judges in small claims court have a duty to develop the facts, question witnesses, and render judgment, as the case requires. A judge in justice court may only listen to the facts and render judgment. Only the parties or their attorneys may question witnesses for development of the case, not the judge.
The judge shall render judgment on the case at the conclusion of the hearing. If the judgment is against the defendant, the defendant must pay the judgment immediately.
Be advised that this court does not collect the judgment for you, nor can we force the defendant to pay the judgment.
Should the defendant pay any portion of the amount owed after you receive a judgment, you must notify the court of the credit, or that the judgment has been satisfied in full if the defendant pays the entire amount. You must also notify the court if your address changes within the ten-year period following the judgment.
If you receive a judgment against the defendant, the defendant may make a motion for a new trial within five days, or appeal the case within ten days after the court date. If the defendant takes neither of these actions and does not pay the judgment, your remedies to collect your money are:
Abstract of Judgment
You may obtain an Abstract of Judgment for a fee of $5 on the eleventh day after judgment. You must file the abstract with the county clerk’s office in the Taylor County courthouse. The fee for the filing the Abstract of Judgment in the County Clerk’s office is $26.00 for the first page and $4 for each additional page. The purpose of filing an abstract of judgment is to put a lien against any real property in the defendant’s name. Should the defendant sell any real property in Taylor County within ten years from the date of judgment, the amount of the judgment plus interest (for small claims) must be paid.
Writ of Execution
If you are granted a judgment against the defendant and if the defendant does not appeal within the ten-day period following the court date, you may obtain and file a Writ of Execution after the 30th day from the date of judgment. A Writ of Execution allows a sheriff or constable in the State of Texas to try to seize certain non-exempt property from the defendant. If property is seized, an auction is held and the proceeds for the sale satisfy the judgment. The cost of filing a Writ of Execution is $130, which includes a $5 filing fee and $125 for service in Taylor County. We suggest that you visit with the proper constable or sheriff before the execution is issued, because exception do apply. The writ of execution may be obtained without obtaining an Abstract of Judgment.
If you prefer another avenue of collecting your judgment, please consult an attorney for any legal questions, as other more complicated remedies not contained herein may be available.
Suit on a Corporation
When suing a corporation, you must name the defendant in the proper legal capacity for any potential judgment to be valid. Contact the Secretary of State (512-463-5555) or the State Comptroller (800-252-5555) and ask for the name and address of the registered agent, president, or vice-president of the corporation. When you file your suit, you will file against the corporation and serve one of the officers named above who are able to accept service on behalf of the corporation. Example: Greenhouse, Inc., serve John Doe, President.
Suit on a Company
If the party you plan to sue is an individual doing business under an assumed name (sole proprietor of the business) or a partnership, call the county clerk’s office in the county where the business operates to determine who the owner(s) is/are. Direct your letter (notice of suit) to the owner(s) of the business. Example: John Smith d.b.a. Greenhouse Supplies.
You have the right to contact your own attorney for any legal question you may have.