If you have a claim against someone for money damages of $10,000 or less, you may sue the individual in small claims court. Before you do that, however, you should send the individual a letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, stating the amount of money you are claiming, and stating further that if the money is not received within ten days from the date of the receipt of the letter, suit may be filed. If you do not receive the money, and you are not otherwise able to settle the problem within that time period, then you may file suit.
Where do I go?
Generally, you will file in the county where the defendant resides, where the contract was entered or was to be performed, or where the tort took place. If this is McLennan County, the courthouse is located at 501 Washington. The justice courts are on the first floor.
What can I sue for?
The court may enter judgments for the recovery of money only where the amount in controversy does not exceed $10,000. Court costs may be added to that amount.
How much does it cost?
The filing fee in McLennan County is $12. In addition to that, you must pay to have the suit papers served on the defendant. The cost for service on one defendant is $55. These fees may be different if you are filing in another county.
What happens after I file suit?
The defendant will be served with papers by the Constable's office ordering the individual to answer the court, in person or in writing, on the Monday following the expiration of 10 days from the date the papers were served. If the individual fails to answer, you may seek a Default Judgment from the court. If the individual answers as required, you will need to have the court set a date for a hearing on the matter. This should be about a month later.
What do I need to take to court?
If you have witnesses to your claim, you will want to have them available to present evidence to the court. If they are unwilling to appear, then you may ask the court to subpoena them. In addition to witnesses, bring any written documentation, pictures, or other physical evidence of your claim. You do not have to have an attorney present. Small claims court is designed specifically so that you can represent yourself. However, if your claim is very complicated, you may choose to have one present.
Will the court collect my money if I get a judgment?
No. However, there are items you can request from the court to help you in collecting on the judgment:
Abstract of Judgment: This instrument puts a lien on any real property the defendant owns in the county. You may obtain this on the 11th day after judgment is rendered. The abstract of judgment must then be filed in the County Clerk's office of any county where you believe the defendant owns property to affect the property in that county.
Writ of Execution: This document may be obtained 30 days after the judgment has been signed, and it authorizes the sheriff or constable to seize any assets belonging to the defendant that may be subject to the writ. The seized assets may then be auctioned at a public sale and the proceeds applied to the judgment.
McLennan County Justice Court
Web site includes detailed instructions about filing a small claim
Know Your Rights! By Professor Richard Alderman
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