The Texas Court System

August 13, 2023

Like most states, Texas has their own unique court system; that includes civil, criminal, and family courts; with courts at both the state and federal levels.

This articles is not legal advice and I am not a lawyer, I am a Judgment Broker, and I know how hard it is to enforce a judgment. This article is a summary of Texas civil courts, where most judgments originate from.

Most Texas judgments come from the Texas Justice of the Peace Courts, known as “JP Courts”. For the rest of this article, JP is an abbreviation for (Texas Justice of the Peace Court). Many Texas Small Claims judgments come from JPs.

JPs are popular because the costs of starting a lawsuit or enforcing a judgment in a JP is much less than it costs in any other kind of Texas court. JPs have jurisdiction over civil matters in which the amount in dispute is not more than $10,000.

This $10,000 limit was raised in (2007/2008) from $5,000. The $10,000 limit is on the original debt amount claimed. In JP, that limit can include pre-judgment interest. Court-related costs can be added to the amount owed on a judgment, and are in addition to that limit.

The judges in JPs are usually commissioners who are usually not official state-level judges. JP commissioner positions are voted for in local elections. JP commissioners are authorized to make judicial decisions in JP.

JP (Gov. C. 27.031) courts are often good choices when the amount owed is near the $10,000 limit, because it is less expensive to file lawsuits, and enforce judgments in JPs.

When the amount in dispute is above $10,000, one should consider Texas County Courts (TCCs), where claims between $10,000 to $250,000 may be filed. By law (Gov. C. 250003), each county in Texas is allowed to have only one TCC, usually located in the County seat.

All TCCs have Small Claims courts, similar to JPs. All TCC cases are overseen by real (state-level) judges. In TCCs, both pre and post-judgment interest, and court-related costs, can be added to the amount owed, and are in addition to the Small Claims limits.

Judgments issued from the TC courts have a case numbering system 12-20 characters long. On Small Claims cases, there is usually the letters SC somewhere in the case number.

A quirk of Texas law is small claims judgments at TCC courts sometimes cannot be recovered by a Judgment Enforcer or a Collection Agency. (Gov. C. Sec.28.003.)

Above TCC courts, are the Texas District Courts (Defined in article V, Section eight of the Texas Constitution and Section 24.007 and 24.008 of the Government Code.) The District Courts jurisdiction has no limits, and consists of exclusive, appellate, and original jurisdiction of all actions, matters of law, or equity.

Most Texas Judgments originate from the JPs. Many JPs make rulings on 500-1000 judgments a month, and most of the time the plaintiff wins. A typical JP case number could be: S09-079J3 (The S09 is the year the case was decided, the 079 is the 79th case that year and the J3 is in JP#3 in that county. Not all JPs follow this numbering system. (Yet?)

In Texas, when someone says they won a small claims court judgment, it is important to know whether it was won in a JP or a TCC court.

Unlike California, there are no memorandum of costs in Texas. There is RULE 131 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure “SUCCESSFUL PARTY TO RECOVER” The successful party to a suit shall recover of his adversary all costs incurred therein, except where otherwise provided.
The closest thing to a memorandum of costs in Texas law is a bill of costs prepared by the court clerk if you ask for a writ of execution. As an example, say as a judgment enforcer, that you take an assignment of a judgment for $10K. You work the case and along the way you expend $300 for process servers, $200 to a constable, $24 is fees charged by the clerk to have three writs issued, $175 to a private investigator and $20 to record an abstract of judgment. The process server fees, constable fees, and issuance fees become “taxable court costs” for which the debtor becomes liable. The $175 you shelled out to a PI is not a taxable court cost. The $20 to the county to record your abstract of judgment is also not a taxable court cost.

In order to enforce a judgment obtained in the US, but outside of Texas, known as a “foreign judgment” it is necessary to first domesticate the foreign judgment into Texas.

Under the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgment Act, judgments rendered in sister states, as well as judgments rendered by federal courts, may be domesticated and enforced in Texas. To domesticate a foreign judgment in Texas, a judgment creditor files an authenticated copy of the judgment with the Texas court, along with an affidavit of the creditor’s and the debtor’s last known addresses. Once the judgment has been properly filed with the Texas court, the judgment creditor is free to pursue post-judgment collection activities including abstracting the judgment in the real property records and sending post-judgment written discovery. Thirty days after filing the foreign judgment a writ of execution may be obtained.

If you garnish your judgment debtor’s wages in Texas, and get some money, because Texas wages are exempt property; that can trigger another dispute which can potentially cost more time and $$$, because in Texas, wages are exempt from garnishment.

In Texas, once wages are paid to and received by the judgment debtor, they cease to be “current wages” for purpose of section 42.001 of the Texas Property Code, and are not exempt from attachment, execution or seizure for the satisfaction of liabilities. Once deposited into a bank account, wages become simply a debt owed to the depositor by the bank, and are thus attachable through garnishment like any other debt owed to the judgment debtor. See Am. Express Travel Related Services v. Harris, 831 S.W.2d 531, 532-33 (Tex.App. – Houston [14th Dist.] 1992, no writ); Buttles v. Navarro, 766 S.W.2d 893, 894 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1989, no writ); Barlow v. Lane, 745 S.W.2d 451, 453 (Tex.App.—Waco 1988, writ denied); Salem v. American Bank of Commerce, 717 S.W.2d 948, 949 (Tex.App.—El Paso 1986, no writ); Sutherland v. Young, 292 S.W.2d 581, 582–83 (Tex.Civ.App.—Waco 1927, no writ); See also Schultz v. Cadle Co., 825 S.W.2d 151, 153–54 (Tex.App.—Dallas 1992, n.w.h.); Brink v. Ayre, 855 S.W.2d 44 (Tex.App.–Tyler 1993, affirmed).

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