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Texas Pretrial Procedure
South Texas College of Law Houston
Steiner, Mark E.

Introduction to Texas Courts
Overview of Texas Pretrial Procedure
Once a decision to pursue litigation has been made, the plaintiff must determine the following:
1.       Which courts have subject matter jurisdiction
2.       Which venue to use
3.       File pleadings – “plaintiff’s original petition” (instead of complaint)
a.      Defendant identified/defendant given notice of claims being asserted
4.       Defendant responds – denies allegations/sets forth defensive allegations
5.       Discovery
a.      Oral depositions/written interrogatories/requesting documents
Overview of Texas Trial & Appellate Procedure
Before an appellate court will reverse a trial court’s actions, it will want to see:
1.       That counsel clearly pointed out what the court was doing wrong (or was about to do wrong)
2.       That counsel gave the “grounds” for the complaint (the rule or precept being violated)
3.       That counsel told the court how to avoid or correct the error (unless clear from the nature of the protest)
4.       The court clearly rejected the protest (ex. Overruled an objection)
Texas Trial Courts
Court Structure of Texas
**See book page 7**
Civil Subject Matter Jurisdiction of Texas Trial Courts
–         Constitutional Courts (created by the Texas Constitution)
–         Statutory Courts (created by legislative enactment)
Local Trial Courts of Limited Jurisdiction
Justice Courts
–         Lowest ranking civil courts
–         Amount in controversy jurisdiction: max $10,000 (exclusive of interest)
o    Exclusive $200 or less
–         Concurrent original jurisdiction with district and county courts in civil cases involving more than $200 (county) or more than $500 (district) up to the $10,000 limit.
–         Small claims courts
–         Exclusive original jurisdiction over FED (forcible entry and detainer)
o    Usually landlord-tenant disputes
o    Unpaid rent/damages are not included
o    District court has exclusive jurisdiction if title to real property is at issue
–         May grant relief as follows:
o    Foreclose mortgages and enforce liens on personal property
o    Issue writs of attachment, garnishment, and sequestration
o    CANNOT:
§  Issue injunctions or writes of mandamus
§  Hear suits on behalf of the state for penalties, forfeitures, and escheats
§  Hear suits for divorce, defamation, declaration of title to land, or enforcement of liens on land
Municipal Courts
–         Lowest ranking municipal courts
o    Exclusive jurisdiction over:
§  Criminal cases that arise under the ordinances of the municipality, &
§  Are punishable by fine not to exceed $2,000
o    (In all cases arising under ordinances that govern fire safety, zoning, or public health and sanitation or $500 in all other cases arising under a municipal ordinance)
–         Concurrent jurisdiction with the justice court in criminal cases punishable by fine only
Constitutional County Courts
–         Amount in controversy: $200-$10,000 (exclusive of interest)
o    Concurrent jurisdiction with justice courts & district courts
–         May have probate jurisdiction (depending on county)
–         Appellate jurisdiction over cases originating in justice or small claims court (amount exceeds $20)
o    All appellate review is by trial de novo
–         May grant the following relief:
o    Injunctions, mandamus, certiorari and all other writs necessary to enforce their jurisdiction
o    CANNOT hear suits for:
§  Defamation
§  Divorce
§  Eminent domain
§  Forfeiture of a corporate charter
§  The right to property valued at $500 or more levied on under a writ of execution
§  For sequestration or attachment
§  For recovery of land
§  To enforce liens on land
§  Suits by the state for escheat
District Courts
–         General jurisdiction presumed unless a contrary showing made
–         Lower limit is $500.01; no upper limit
–         May grant all types of relief
–         Original jurisdiction over title disputes
Statutory or Legislative Courts
–         Constitution provides legislative power to “establish such other courts as it may deem necessary”
o    May create a statutory court with limited jurisdiction or jurisdiction equal to the district court
o    May NOT reduce the constitutional jurisdiction of a district court
County Courts at Law
–         Must consult Chapter 25 of the Government Code for specific statute that created the court.
o    Minimum jurisdictional parameters:
§  Jurisdiction over civil cases for amount in controversies of $500-$200,000
·         Excluding interest, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and costs
§  Worker’s compensation appeals (regardless of amount in controversy)
§  Juri

       Claims of multiple plaintiffs against a single defendant are aggregated to determine amount in controversy
o    Aggregation should not apply to divest a court of jurisdiction on counterclaims asserted by multiple defendants
–         If one plaintiff asserts separate, independent and distinct, though joinable, claims against multiple defendants, each claim is judged on its own and must independently satisfy the jurisdictional standards
Other General Rules
1.     Include attorney’s fees and punitive damages
–         Unless a statute excludes them
2.     Include interest, except interest “eo nomine”, interest as interest
–         Interest “as damages” is included
–         Interest “eo nomine” is interest sought in litigation that is provided for by a specific agreement or a statute for the detention of money
3.     Do not include costs of court
–         Ex. Filing fees, deposition costs, etc.
–         These are taxed against the losing party at the end of the litigation
4.     Multiple claims
–         Court can assert jurisdiction over claims below its minimum limits when they arise from the same transaction, however the converse is not true
5.     Amendments increasing or decreasing claim
–         If the pleadings originally properly set out an amount in controversy within the jurisdictional limits, subsequent amendments increasing or decreasing the claim have no effect if the increase is the result of the passage of time
–         If the amendments involve damages which could have been claimed at the time of the original filing, the amendment will defeat the court’s jurisdiction
6.     Non-monetary relief
–         Jurisdiction is under the residual jurisdiction of the district court
–         If recovery of property or foreclosure is sought in addition to monetary damages, the amount in controversy is greater of the FMV of the property sought or the amount of the underlying debt