TX Pretrial Procedure
I. Chapter #3 – Subject Matter Jurisdiction –
In TX – courts have general jurisdiction unlike federal courts that have limited jurisdiction
The TX scheme is convoluted and is because of the political process and the Constitution defines SMJ of the courts originally and equals the power essentially.
—Multiple level trial courts have been done away with in most states and in TX there is 4 levels of trial courts that can possibly have jurisdiction over a case.
***If a court does not have SMJ to hear a case or action and they render judgment then it will be void and can be annulled; meaning collaterally attacked at anytime.
1) Steps of Process –
a. (P) gets to initially pick the venue and it goes like this-
1) Where is venue proper and
2) What is the ct. scheme within that county and every county has access to all of these specific courts by definition of the constitution-
a) Justice of Peace Court – JP Ct. – Amount in controversy Limits = 1Penny not to exceed 5000
b) Constitutional County Ct. – 200.01 not to exceed 5000
c) District Ct. – 500 up to Infinity Limit Amount
***This means a person can file in any of these courts as long as venue is proper.
Why file in different courts? –
1) JP Cts. – because the rules of evidence and procedure are relaxed more and the judges are not required to be lawyers – 85% of them are not lawyers in TX; and the judges can marry people and take cash for it.
If you have a complex case then you will want other judges to hear case.
These courts are also not courts of record because there is no court reporter and thus one can appeal a JP Ct. judgment to a county court by trial de novo if there is at least 20.00 dollars on the table; meaning as if heard for the first time.
Another reason is that JP courts are fast, cheap, and they are current on the docket.
***JP courts cannot injunctions also because it is not within their jurisdiction.
JP Courts have NO jurisdiction to hear actions of:
a) A suit on behalf of the state to recover a penalty, forfeiture, or escheat;
b) A suit for divorce
c) A suit to recover damages for slander or defamation of character
d) A suit for trial of title to land or
e) A suit for the enforcement of a lien on land
2) Constitutional County Courts –
The judge is the county judge and they also do not have to be lawyers either like the JP Ct. judges.
Amount in controversy to have jurisdiction is 200.01 not to exceed 5000.
They also have limited probate jurisdiction in some counties
***They do NOT have jurisdiction over actions of:
a) a suit to recover damages for slander or defamation of character
b) a suit for the enforcement of a lien on land;
c) a suit in behalf of the state for escheat
d) a suit for divorce
e) a suit for the forfeiture of a corporate charter
f) a suit for the trial of the right to property valued at 500 or more and levied on under a writ of execution, sequestration, or attachment;
g) and eminent domain case or
h) a suit for the recovery of land
***Major difference from JP court is that they can issue injunctions.
Access here does not mean that they always hold court, though they do usually preside over the commissioner’s court by doing administrative and business type things, that is why they usually transfer cases to county courts at law in large counties such as Harris County.
3) District Court – jurisdiction is given to these courts under constitution and is given over matters except those given to other courts; meaning tha
these are known as Family Law District Cts. In Harris County and they have full jurisdiction and power meaning they can hear personal injury cases as well as divorce.
“As amended under section 74.094(a) – of the ct administration act – provides that district and county court judges may hear and determine a matter pending in any district or statutory court in the county and may sign a judgment or order regardless of whether the case has been transferred.
***Section 74.121 – provides that judges of constitutional county courts, statutory county courts, justice courts and small claims courts in a county may transfer cases to and from the dockets of their respective courts, as long as the judge of the court to which it was transferred and the case is within the jurisdiction of the court to which it transferred.
One can also bring a visiting judge to hear their cases also and a person gets one objection to a visiting judge’s ruling.
B) Under certain situations that amount in controversy will NOT determine or control if a court has SMJ but it will solely determined by the basis of the lawsuit.
Ex. Eminent Domain Cases – when private property is condemned for public use the district courts have jurisdiction concurrent with county courts at law if it exists or sits in that county. In Harris county jurisdiction is exclusively in the county courts because the population was over 2 million and we have statute