Justice Court Suits
Filing Civil Cases
To begin an action in the Justice Court, it is recommended that the plaintiff
file a Justice Court Petition in writing stating the nature of the cause
of action, and the damages requested.
Issuance of Citation
In order for the Justice Court to acquire jurisdiction over the defendant,
the defendant must be notified of the filing of the lawsuit. When the
case has been filed and the filing fee paid, the clerk will issue a citation
and deliver the citation as directed by the requesting party.
The party requesting citation is responsible for obtaining service of
the citation. A copy of the petition is attached to the citation. The
citation is directed to the defendant and informs the defendant of the
filing of the petition, and warns that should the defendant fail to appear
at the trial of the claim a judgment by default may be rendered for the
relief demanded in the petition. See Rule 534, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
Service Outside of Harris County
For citations to be served in a county other than Harris County, the constable or sheriff of that County
should be contacted for the amount of the service fee and location for forwarding the citation.
Service of Citation
The citation may be served by any sheriff or constable, any person certified
under order of the Supreme Court (Process Server), or by any person authorized
by law or by written order of the court who is not less than 18 years
Citations may be served by personal delivery to the defendant, or by registered
or certified mail directed to the defendant, with return receipt requested.
If attempts to serve the defendant at the defendant's usual place of business
or usual place of abode or other place where the defendant can probably
be found are unsuccessful, the plaintiff can ask the Justice of the Peace
to allow service in another manner. The request for an alternative method
of service must be supported by an affidavit that states where the defendant
can usually be found, that attempts to serve the defendant were unsuccessful,
and that the manner of service suggested will be effective to give the
defendant notice of the lawsuit. The Justice of the Peace can then authorize
service of process by leaving a copy of the citation with anyone over
16 years of age at a specified location, or in any other manner that is
reasonably effective to give the defendant notice of the lawsuit. See
Rule 536, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
When the defendant has been served with citation, the defendant must file
a written answer to the plaintiff's petition on or before 10:00 a.m. on
the Monday next after the expiration of ten (10) days after the date of
service of the citation.
No judgment may be rendered against a defendant unless the defendant has
been properly served with process. Defendants may be natural persons,
individuals, or persons doing business in the form of sole proprietorships,
or partnerships, or corporations. Any individual doing business under
an assumed name, or any business operating in the form of a partnership
or corporation, may sue or be sued in the business name, but service of
process must be properly accomplished.
Service of process directed to individuals is effected by delivery directly
to the person. Service of process on business entities is more difficult
and must be accomplished by service on an agent or person authorized to
For example, if a defendant is a partnership, the citation may be directed
to one member of the partnership, and service effected on that one member
authorizes a judgment against the partnership and the partner actually
served. See Section 17.022, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.
If several partners are jointly indebted under a contract and the citation
has been served on at least one but not all of the partners, judgment
may be rendered only against the partnership and against the partners
who were actually served. No personal judgment or execution may be had
against any partner who was not served. See Section 31.003, Texas Civil
Practice and Remedies Code.
If defendant is a limited partnership, each general partner and the registered
agent of a limited partnership may be served with citation in order to
effect service of process. See Section 1.08 of the Texas Limited Partnership
Act, Art. 6132a-1, Texas Civil Statutes.
If the defendant is a financial institution, the registered agent of the financial
institution, or in the absence of a registered agent, the president or branch manager
at any office of the financial institution located in this state may be served. See
Section 17.028 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.
If the defendant is a credit union organized under the laws of this state, another state, or
federal law, the registered agent of the credit union or the president or vice president in
the absence of such an agent may be served. See Section 17.028 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.
To determine the exact legal nature of a business entity, the plaintiff may look at
the Assumed Name Records maintained by the Harris County Clerk, or contact the
Corporation Division of the Office of the Secretary of State at 512-463-5555, or the Office of the State Comptroller at 1-800-252-1386.
"Venue" is the proper Justice of the Peace Precinct in which
the Justice Court may exercise its jurisdiction. As a general rule, a
suit in Justice Court must be brought in the county and in the Justice
of the Peace Precinct in which the defendant resides. If, however, the
defendant has contracted to perform an obligation in a certain county,
an action may be brought in the county where the obligation was to be
If there is more than one Justice of the Peace within a precinct, the
plaintiff may bring suit in any of the Justice Courts within the precinct.
See Section 15.099, Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.
Motion to Transfer Venue
A defendant may file a motion to transfer venue asking that the case be
transferred to a different precinct. This request must state the reason
that the case should be transferred to another county or Justice of the
Peace Precinct, either because the county or precinct is not proper, or
because mandatory venue in another county or precinct is required by a
specific statutory provision which must be clearly designated. The motion
must also state the legal and factual basis for the transfer and name
the county or precinct to which the case should be transferred. See Rule
527, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
Failure to Appear
If a defendant who has been served properly with citation does not appear
or file a written answer on appearance day as required by the citation,
the Justice of the Peace will proceed to render judgment in the following
(1) if the plaintiff's claim is liquidated and proved by an instrument
in writing executed by the defendant, or if the claim is based upon an
open account which has been verified by affidavit, the Justice of the
Peace will render judgment in favor of the plaintiff for the amount of
the written obligation or sworn account;
(2) if the plaintiff's claim is not liquidated, the judge will hear the
testimony of the plaintiff or plaintiff's attorney, and if it appears
that the plaintiff is entitled to recover, the Justice of the Peace will
render judgment in favor of the plaintiff such the amount shown by the
testimony; if the testimony shows that plaintiff is not entitled to recover,
judgment will be rendered in favor of the defendant.
Rule 538, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure
Certificate of Last Known Address
The plaintiff requesting a default judgment must file a Certificate
of Last Known Address certifying to the Court the last known mailing
address of the party against whom the default judgment is taken, so that
the Court can notify the defendant of the entry of the judgment. See Rule
239a, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
Military Status Affidavit
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, 50 U.S.C. App. 501 et seq, passed
December 19, 2003, requires the plaintiff in any civil proceeding in which
the defendant does not make an appearance to file with the court a Military
Service Affidavit stating whether or not the defendant is in military
service and showing necessary facts to support the affidavit; or if the
plaintiff is unable to determine whether or not the defendant is in military
service, stating that the plaintiff is unable to determine whether or
not the defendant is in military service.
The Department of Defense maintains a website for issues pertaining
to the Servicemember's Civil Relief Act at https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/scra/owa/home.
Either the plaintiff or the defendant may demand a jury trial. The request
must be made not later than one (1) day before the date on which the hearing
is scheduled. At the same time that the request is made, the party must
pay the jury fee to the Justice of the Peace. The amount of the jury fee
is $5.00. See Rule 544, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
A party requesting a continuance of a case must state good cause for requesting
the postponement, and the request must be supported by affidavit.
See Rule 541, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
When the case has been tried, either by a jury or by a the Justice of
the Peace, the Justice of the Peace will announce the decision in open
court and will render a judgment. The judgment, if appropriate, will direct
the issuance of such process as may be necessary to carry the judgment
If the judgment includes the recovery of specific articles, the value
of the article must be separately assessed. The judgment will direct the
plaintiff to recover the article, if it can be found, and if not, then
the plaintiff will recover the value of the article.
The Justice of the Peace may grant a new trial within ten (10) days after
the rendition of a judgment. A party must make the motion for a new trial,
in writing, showing that justice has not been done in the trial of the
If the grounds of the motion are that the judgment is contrary to the
law or the evidence, or that the Justice of the Peace erred in some matter
of law, the motion does not need to be supported by affidavit. If however,
the grounds of the motion are other than these grounds, the motion must
be supported by affidavit.
All motions to set aside a judgment or to grant a new trial must be made
within five (5) days after the rendition of the judgment.
One (1) day's notice of the filing of the motion shall be given to the
opposing party or the opposing party's attorney.
See Rules 566, et seq, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure
Right to Appeal
Within ten (10) days from the date a judgment or order overruling a motion
for new trial is signed, the party appealing must file an Appeal Bond
with the Justice of the Peace. The appeal bond must be supported by two
(2) or more good and sufficient sureties. "Sureties" are persons
who guarantee that their principal will perform the promise made, or pay
the amount of the bond. To be a good and sufficient surety, the surety
should be worth at least the amount of the bond after deducting the value
of the surety's property that is exempt from execution or forced sale,
and the amount of all outstanding debts owed by the surety. The surety
should have property worth more than the amount of the bond that is subject
to execution. The amount of the bond is double the amount of the judgment,
payable to the appellee, and conditioned that the appellant will prosecute
the appeal and pay off and satisfy the judgment, which may be rendered
against appellant on appeal.
If the plaintiff is appealing the judgment because the plaintiff's claim
was denied in whole or in part, the plaintiff must file an Appeal Bond
within ten (10) days from the date of the judgment or order overruling
a motion for new trial is signed. The amount of the bond is double the
amount of the costs incurred in the Justice Court and estimated costs
in the County Civil Court at Law, less such sums as may have been paid
by the plaintiff. The bond is conditioned that the plaintiff will prosecute
the appeal and pay off and satisfy all costs if judgment for costs is
rendered against the plaintiff on appeal. See Rule 571, Texas Rules of
Affidavit of Inability
If the party wanting to appeal is unable to pay the costs of appeal or
give any security for those costs, he or she is entitled to appeal by
filing an Affidavit of Inability to Pay Costs
for Appeal, stating such inability with the Justice of the Peace within
five (5) days from the date of the judgment or order overruling motion
for new trial is signed. Notice must be given to the other party of the
filing of the affidavit, and the facts of the party's inability to pay
costs can be contested within five (5) days after the filing of the affidavit.
If the affidavit is contested, the burden is on the party making the affidavit
to provide the inability to pay the costs by competent evidence other
than just the affidavit. See Rule 572, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
The appeal must be accomplished within the times specified and follow
the procedures specified by the applicable rules of procedure. The rules
applicable to appeal from Justice Courts can be found in Part V, Section
6, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure,.
When the appeal has been perfected and the transcript sent to the County
Civil Court at Law, the party appealing will be notified to pay the costs
on appeal to the County Civil Court at Law. Those costs must be paid within
twenty (20) days after being notified to do so by the County Clerk, or
the County Clerk will return all of the papers to the Justice of the Peace.
The party in whose favor the judgment was rendered may then proceed to
collect the judgment. See Rule 143a, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
Hearing on Appeal
Once the appeal to County Civil Courts at Law has been perfected, the
Justice Court judgment becomes a nullity, and the County Civil Courts
at Law must try the case "de novo," or over again.
about Justice Court Suits
This information is furnished to you to provide basic information
relative to the law governing procedures for civil cases in the Harris
County Justice Courts.
The Harris County Justices of the Peace and the Clerks of
the Harris County Justice Courts are not allowed to give legal advice.
You are urged to review the applicable laws and to consult an attorney
of your choice for further information or answers to specific legal questions.
You have the right to a trial by a jury and to be represented
by an attorney of your choice, or to represent yourself.
Disclaimer: The law is constantly changing and there may
be times when the information on this web site will not be current. This
information is provided for general informational purposes only and is
not intended as legal advice. This information is not a comprehensive
treatment of the subject and is not a substitute for advice from an attorney.