Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Small Claims Cases

Just about the only controversial feature of the major court reorganization bill, HB 79, 2nd Called Session (and SB 1717 during Regular Session) was the repeal of Chapter 28 Government Code, which designates justices of the peace as small claims courts, to be replaced with a single body of procedural requirements for civil cases in JP court, be they small claims or otherwise.  Article 5 of HB 79 is the operative portion, and this is the major new provision:
Sec. 27.060. SMALL CLAIMS. (a) A justice court shall conduct proceedings in a small claims case, as that term is defined by the supreme court, in accordance with rules of civil procedure promulgated by the supreme court to ensure the fair, expeditious, and inexpensive resolution of small claims cases.

(b) Except as provided by Subsection (c), rules of the supreme court must provide that:
(1) if both parties appear, the judge shall proceed to hear the case;
(2) formal pleadings other than the statement are not required;
(3) the judge shall hear the testimony of the parties and the witnesses that the parties produce and shall consider the other evidence offered;
(4) the hearing is informal, with the sole objective being to dispense speedy justice between the parties;
(5) discovery is limited to that considered appropriate and permitted by the judge; and
(6) the judge shall develop the facts of the case, and for that purpose may question a witness or party and may summon any party to appear as a witness as the judge considers necessary to a correct judgment and speedy disposition of the case.

(c) The rules of the supreme court must provide specific procedures for an action by:
(1) an assignee of a claim or other person seeking to bring an action on an assigned claim;
(2) a person primarily engaged in the business of lending money at interest; or
(3) a collection agency or collection agent.

(d) The rules adopted by the supreme court may not:
(1) require that a party in a case be represented by an attorney;
(2) be so complex that a reasonable person without legal training would have difficulty understanding or applying the rules; or
(3) require that discovery rules adopted under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure or the Texas Rules of Evidence be applied except to the extent the justice of the peace hearing the case determines that the rules must be followed to ensure that the proceeding is fair to all parties.

(e) A committee established by the supreme court to recommend rules to be adopted under this section must include justices of the peace.

Last week the court issued an order creating the new task force, which looks like an excellent group.  It is my unofficial understanding that the first meeting will be held on October 26th in Austin.   

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