If you do not want to spend money on attorneys’ fees and you have the time to prosecute your own case, a small claims court or justice court might be the right place for you to enforce payment. The purpose of these courts is to provide an informal, uncomplicated proceeding to resolve small disputes which do not involve enough money to warrant the expense of formal litigation. All claimants, including corporations, have the absolute right to represent themselves in these courts, unlike in all other courts, where the corporate claimant must be represented by counsel. Claims in these courts get resolved fast, unlike in district court where it can take anywhere from 12 months to 24 months to reach trial. In either small claims or a justice court, a trial will typically be held within three to six months from the date of filing the lawsuit. Claimants have the right to have the matter heard by a judge or a jury. Either party has the right to appeal the final judgment to the county court, wherein the entire matter will be reheard before a new judge. The appeal is a little more complicated and as such, it may be necessary to retain counsel to assist with an appeal. The right to appeal can actually be a down-side to filing one of these type of actions because you might spend a lot of time and effort preparing and prevailing, only to have the debtor appeal to a higher court and cause the matter to be re-litigated.
There are two primary restrictions to filing in these courts:
One, the amount in controversy (the amount owed) cannot exceed $10,000.00, inclusive of interest and attorney fees in small claims court, and inclusive of attorney fees (but not interest) in justice courts. Thus if you are owed more than $10,000.00, you cannot file in either of these courts. Moreover, a claimant may not voluntarily reduce the amount of the claim in order to gain access to these courts. For example, if a Claimant alleges that the suit is for $10,000.00 and the evidence shows that damages are actually greater than $10,000.00, the court loses jurisdiction of the case, and the lawsuit must be dismissed and refilled in a court of competent jurisdiction.
Second, neither of these courts have jurisdiction to enforce foreclosure of a lien. Therefore, if you also intend to file a lien against the property, then you will want to file your lawsuit in district court, with the assistance of a Texas construction lawyer.