Before you file a small claims suit, consider the importance of the matter in dispute and compare it to the time, effort and expense required to assert your claim. You should also consider the probable chances of winning your lawsuit.
If you decide to pursue a lawsuit, the first step in filing a small claims action is obtaining and filling out the necessary forms.
You should collect all the information that will be needed to start your lawsuit before you go to the courthouse. Once you're prepared, call the justice of the peace court and find out how much money you'll need to bring with you to pay the fees necessary to start your lawsuit. The exact procedure followed in each small claims court may be slightly different.
Where to File
You should file your claim in the county where:
- The person you're suing lives
- The event which caused you to file a complaint occurred
The justice of the peace in each county is also the judge for small claims court. The small claims court will be listed in the telephone directory as justices of the peace. If your telephone book has government offices listed separately, look under the listings for justices of the peace in the appropriate county.
If there is more than one justice of the peace in a county, then a small claim normally must be made in the court whose precinct covers the area where the defendant resides.
Statement of Claim
You should personally go to the court to start the suit. Ask to see the clerk in charge of filing small claims. Ask the clerk to prepare a small claims statement for you. You must complete a small claims statement.
You must swear under oath that your small claims statement is true. You'll have to pay the clerk the necessary fees. If you want a jury trial you must pay an additional fee. These fees generally must be paid in cash, money order or company check. Most courts don't accept personal checks. All of these costs may be added to the amount you recover at trial, if you win.
Tell the clerk where the defendant may be found. This is important, because the defendant must be served before the court can grant you any relief.
Bring the following with you when you go to the courthouse to file your claim:
- Your records, including copies of contracts and agreements
- Your complete name and address
- The complete name and address of each person or business your claim is against
- The amount you intend to claim in damages
- A concise statement of the basis for your claim, including the date the claim arose and any other relevant date
Correct names and addresses are vital to your case because the court can't grant a judgment against a defendant who is improperly named in the complaint. Therefore, you must find out before you go to court the name and address of the person or business your claim is against.
If the business is a partnership, you should name both partners individually and the partnership by its correct legal name. If the business is a corporation, you should state its exact name. If the business is incorporated, call 1-800-252-1386 and ask for the Business Tax Department to see if the business is listed. If it is, get the correct title of the business and the name and address of its registered agent. If the business is a sole proprietorship, you should find out both the name under which the business is operated and the name and address of the owner. You can find out this information by going to the Assumed Names Department at the county clerk's office.
Ask the clerk how the court sets the trial date. Procedures may vary in different courts.
The defendant must be served with a copy of the statement of claim, which summons the defendant to court. Call the clerk after two weeks to make sure that the defendant has been served and find out the exact date of service. This date is important because in most courts it's used to calculate the trial date. Always verify the trial date with the clerk.
If the defendant was properly served and hasn't answered your suit, you'll usually win by default simply because you were in court on the trial date.
Questions for Your Attorney
- What is "service" and how is it done?
- Can an attorney assist me with filling out my claim forms?
- What should I do if I can't make the court date that I set when I filed my complaint?
Related Resources on Lawyers.comsm
- Start the process with our Texas Small Claims Worksheet
- Next in the Small Claims series: Small Claims Trials in Texas
- Success In Small Claims Court
- Small Claims Court Terms
- Defending a Small Claims Court Case
- Visit our Small Claims Court Forum for more help