I. SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION IN TEXAS TRIAL COURTS
a. Overview of the Texas Court System
b. Fundamental Requirement
i. All cases without SMJD are immediately void.
1. Cannot be waived or stipulated.
2. May be asserted at any time.
3. If the face of your pleading negates SMJD, then court must dismiss the case. CONNELL v. SHANAFELT, Tex.App.—Fort Worth, 1969.
ii. Court must still have PJD over all parties.
c. Texas Courts
i. Constitutional Requirements
1. Each Texas County must have:
a. 1 Justice Court
b. 1 Constitutional County Court
c. 1 District Court
2. Additional courts may be created by an act of the Legislature
ii. Process of Selection
1. Amount in Controversy
2. SMJD (cause of action)
3. Statutory authority
4. Where SMJD exists across multiple courts, it’s the Π’s choice.
d. Constitutional and Statutory Provisions
i. Justice Courts
1. Amount in controversy
a. AMT = $0.01 – $5,000
b. Exclusive original JD over civil cases where amount in controversy is $200 or less.
c. Concurrent original JD with county courts where amount in controversy is between $200 – $5,000.
d. Concurrent original JD with district courts where amount in controversy is between $500 – $5,000.
2. Subject Matter
a. Original JD over forcible entry and detainer cases.
i. Right of possession is sole issue.
ii. Value of property is immaterial.
b. Original JD for foreclosure and lien enforcement on personal property when the amount in question is within the acceptable amount in controversy.
a. Ø authority to issue injunctions – Ø power of contempt
b. Ø power to issue penalties, forfeitures, divorce, defamation or to enforce liens on property.
4. Additional Information
a. “People’s Court”
i. Ø requirement that judges be lawyers.
ii. Rules of procedure relaxed.
b. Doubles as small claims court.
c. Ø court of record – Ø court reporter. All appeals are de novo.
ii. Constitutional County Courts
1. Amount in controversy
a. AMT = $200 – $5,000
b. Concurrent original JD with justice courts where amount in controversy is between $200 – $5,000.
c. Concurrent original JD with district courts where amount in controversy is between $500 – $5,000.
2. Subject Matter
a. Civil appellate SMJD over cases originating in Justice or small claims court, when judgment exceeds $20.
b. Ø SMJD
i. Contested Probate cases
ii. Damages related to defamation
iii. Lien Enforcement
vi. Property claims more than $500 in value
vii. Eminent domain
viii. Recovery of land
3. While constitutional authority for SMJD does exist, most County Constitutional Courts exist as county administrative bodies. In large counties, dockets are transferred to County Courts-at-Law. In small counties, they do both.
iii. District Courts
1. Primary trial courts in State of Texas – have SMJD over all courts except those reserved exclusively to other courts.
2. Amount in Controversy
a. AMT = $500 → Infinity
a. “Residual JD”
b. District court’s JD is determined by the process of elimination
4. Only court where injunctive relief is possible.
iv. Legislative County Courts
1. Based on Statute
2. Constitution allows legislature to create County Courts-at-Law, on an as-needed basis (created specifically by statute). Each has its own enacting statute.
3. Generally of universal JD.
a. Legislative County Courts
b. Legislative District Courts
c. Legislative Special JD Courts (Probate, Family, etc…)
4. More aligned with district courts.
5. Unless specific statute says something different, then County Courts-at-Law created are empowered to mirror Constitutional County Courts [civil cases ($500 – $100,000), appeals of TWC]. (Per Gov’t Code § 25.0003)
v. Shared Jurisdiction and Jurisdiction Varying from County to County: Effects on Filing and Transfer
1. Adjudicative Responsibility and Transfer Between District Courts and Legislative Courts Exercising Concurrent Jurisdiction with District Courts
a. Judges of constitutional county courts, statutory county courts, justice courts and small clai
i. Π widow attempts to file survival and wrongful death suit in Probate Court.
ii. The court held that because survival and wrongful death actions are not mentioned in the Probate Code, they are not considered within the subject matter jurisdiction of Probate Courts.
iii. Probate courts able to pull cases from other courts when issues of probate law are involved.
iv. “Pull Down” Authority
1. A judge of a statutory probate court, on the motion of a party to the action or on the motion of a person interested in an estate, may transfer to his court from a district, county, or statutory court a cause of action appertaining to an estate pending in the statutory probate court or a cause of action in which a personal representative of an estate pending in the statutory probate court is a party and may consolidate the transferred cause of action with the other proceedings in the statutory probate court relating to that estate.
b. The Probate Code confers SMJD on statutory probate courts to hear matters appertaining to or incident to a guardianship estate. IN RE: GRAHAM, Tex. 1998
i. Statutory probate court transferred divorce action from another court into its court because one party was a ward of the court.
ii. The court held that because a divorce proceeding against a ward of the probate court appertains to the distribution of the ward’s estate or guardianship, the probate court had SMJD over the divorce.
iii. The divorce action appertained the guardianship of Graham because he was a ward of the probate court, and because the divorce action would affect Graham’s property, it was held to be “appertaining to the estate.”