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What are Texas Small Claims Cases and Class Action Lawsuits?

In the State of Texas, small claims cases are lawsuits brought before specific civil courts for the recovery of financial damages, personal properties, and civil penalties that are no more than $10,000. On the other hand, class action lawsuits are legal actions filed by more than one person against a particular individual, entity, or government. Small claim cases are primarily handled by the Justice of the Peace Courts, while class-action lawsuits are certified and approved by the district courts, county courts, and the appellate-level courts. Essentially, Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 42 set forth specific criteria that must be met before a class action can go to trial in the state.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the document or person involved

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party websites may vary.

What Cases are Heard by Small Claims Courts in Texas?

Texas small claims courts or the Justice Courts hear a variety of civil disputes in which the contested amount is not more than $10,000, including court costs and lawyer fees. However, as of September 2020, the justice of peace courts accommodates civil cases with claims of up to to $20,000. Examples of cases that fall under the jurisdiction of the Justice Courts include:

  • Bad debt or loan cases
  • Failure to return a security deposit
  • Landlord-tenant disputes such as eviction cases
  • Car repair frauds
  • Breach of warranty disputes
  • Defamation (libel/slander)
  • Nuisance
  • Tort cases involving personal injury, product liability, property damage, and professional malpractice

What is a Class Action Lawsuit in Texas?

In Texas, a class action lawsuit is a civil claim filed by a group of people with common grievances against a person, business, or governmental entity. Cases eligible to be filed as class suits include product liability, labor and employment, consumer fraud, securities fraud, sexual harassment, and workplace discrimination. According to the Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 42, some prerequisites must be satisfied before a class action may be certified and legally allowed to proceed. For instance, every class action must have issues of law or fact common to the class representatives.

How do I File a Claim in a Texas Small Claims Court?

Eligible parties may file small claim lawsuits at the appropriate Justice of the Peace Court. Generally speaking, these lawsuits must be directed to the courthouse in the county where the incident took place, where the defendant lives or is regularly employed, or where the defendant owns a property. After determining the applicable courthouse, interested parties may then proceed in the following steps:

  • Gather relevant information needed to begin the case: Before visiting the Justice of the Peace Court, intending claimants are required to collect relevant records, including copies of contracts and agreements. Also, they must have ready the amount in controversy, a brief and clear statement detailing the basis of their claims and the full and correct name and address of the potential defendant. To reduce court wait time, claimants may download and complete the Justice Court Civil Case Information Sheet.
  • Contact the clerk of the specific Justice of the Peace Court of interest: It is recommended that the plaintiff contact the clerk of Justice court beforehand to ensure the court is the correct court for the case and also to enquire about filing fees, court costs, and other local filing requirements. Most court clerks provide instruction packets to facilitate the filing process. A claimant may confirm the availability of this packet by contacting the clerk of court. Those that cannot afford to pay filing fees should also request that a “Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs Form” be mailed together with the instruction packets. Note that this form must be notarized and filed at the same time as the petition.
  • Visit the courthouse and pay the necessary filing fees: During regular business hours, complainants are required to proceed to the courthouse with all the required documents and information. Note that requesters are expected to pay the adequate filing fees before submitting the civil case information sheet and other required documents. Acceptable payment methods include cash, money order, or business check. Those in need of jury trials are required to request one no later than 14 days before trial and pay additional fees.
  • Get a trial date: The process of getting a trial date varies from one justice of the peace court to another. While some courts set trial dates and require the petitioner to serve the defendant’s citation, other courts may notify both the petitioner and defendant when the trial date is set.

Do I Need a Small Claims Lawyer?

No, the plaintiff and defendant in a small claims case do not need to hire an attorney to represent them in the Justice of the Peace Court. This court is popularly known as the “people’s court.” It is so-called because those comfortable enough to represent themselves are within their legal rights to do so. However, it is advisable to seek the advice of an experienced small claims attorney, especially when the amount in controversy is significant. In some instances, a complainant is entitled to recover lawyer fees by law. Such a claimant may be able to hire a legal representative who will charge a contingency fee.

How do Class Action Lawsuits Work in Texas?

Although many people are involved in class actions, its filing procedures are almost the same with single party suits. The major difference is that Rule 42 mandates the courts to hold certification hearings to certify and approve both the representative litigant and other members of a class.

Even after trial court certification, class actions may be decertified at the appellate-level courts. This means that if a trial court certifies a class action, the defendant may not agree to settle with class representatives. Many defendants further appeal to have the class action decertified and reversed. In Texas, approximately 33% of class actions successfully get settlements, and practically none go to trial.

Is a Class Action Better Than a Single Party Suit?

Generally, injuries involved in class action lawsuits are usually somewhat minor. Deceptive practices where one person lost a few hundred dollars is practically not worth spending time and resources on civil action. However, if many other people feel injured in the same way, the additive power of numbers can quickly aggregate and result in a class-action lawsuit that is worth it.

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