In Texas, small monetary disputes may be brought before the Justice of the Peace or “JP Courts.” Most Texans are probably unfamiliar with the term and know these courts simply as “Small Claims Courts.” However, recent changes to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure have increased the amount of damages claimants may seek in JP Court, thereby raising the stakes in an arena practicing attorneys often call, the Wild West.
On September 1, 2020, by order of the Supreme Court of Texas, the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure were amended to allow JP Courts to hear cases with a maximum value of $20,000.00. This doubled the amount previously permitted under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. The change is significant because JP Courts are not bound by the full Texas Rules of Civil Procedure or to the Texas Rules of Evidence. Such rules only apply if explicitly provided for by statute or by the rule, or if the judge hearing the case determines that a particular rule must be followed to “ensure that the proceedings are fair to all parties.” In other words, a rule only applies if the JP Court says it applies. This free-wheeling approach is meant to encourage the JP Courts as a venue for those who are unable to afford legal representation and would otherwise face complex rules of procedure and evidence as a barrier to recovery.
It remains to be seen what effect, if any, this increase will have on day-to-day practice in Justice of the Peace Courts. Will JP Courts be more likely to apply the rules in maximum damage cases? Perhaps. Will we see more attorneys taking on contingency work in JP Court? Maybe. Only time will tell, but change is certainly upon us.