Steps

  1. Research
  2. File Suit
  3. Give Notice
  4. Gather Information
  5. Before Trial
  6. Trial
  7. Appealing the Judgment
  8. Enforcing the Judgment

Research

Research what kind of legal case you have, and which court you should file it in. (See Texas Government Code §24.007 and Texas Government Code §26.042.)

File Suit

To start your lawsuit, you’ll prepare a form called a Petition. Give this form to the Clerk of the Court (filing). The person who files the Petition is called the Plaintiff. (See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 22.)

Give Legal Notice

You have to tell the person (or business) you’re suing that you have filed a lawsuit against them. This is called giving legal notice. To give legal notice, ask the court clerk to issue citation, and arrange for a process server to give the citation to the person (or business) you’re suing. The party you sue is usually called the Respondent in a civil case, but may be referred to as the Defendant. (See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 99.) The Respondent may file a response to your lawsuit, called an Answer or counter-claim, with the court clerk.

Gather Information

Discovery is a tool that people use to get information from the other side in a lawsuit.

The plaintiff chooses a Discovery Plan from Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 190.

Each party can ask the other party to:

  • Answer written questions (Requests for Admissions, Disclosure or Interrogatories)
  • Allow a party to look at documents, real property, or other things that the other party controls (Request for Production, Inspection, Entry)
  • Submit to a mental or physical exam
  • Attend an oral or written deposition – a procedure where a witness is questioned, under oath, and the answers are recorded

(See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 192.1 and 192.2.)

Answer Discovery

If you’ve been sent Discovery, answer it within the time that the court orders or the civil procedure rules require. Answer completely, based on all information reasonably available to you. (See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 192.7 – 193.1)

Before Trial

Motions and Requests

Sometimes, parties need to ask the court for things before trial. This is done by filing motions and requests.

Request for Jury. If your case is the kind of case that a jury can decide, and you want a jury, you have to ask for one. Not every case is allowed a jury. (See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 216a).

Motion for Continuance. File a Motion for Continuance to ask the judge to postpone your hearing. Your motion must be written and notarized. It must include the reasons why your hearing should be postponed. [See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 247, 251-254, 330(d).]

Motion to Amend Pleading. You may change your pleading before trial by filing the new pleading (titled Amended ) with the court clerk and notifying the other party. But if you want to change your pleading within seven days of the trial, you must ask the court’s permission in a Motion to Amend Pleading. (See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 63-65.)

Petition in Intervention. Athird party files a Petition in Intervention to join a lawsuit that has already started. (See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 60-61.)

Ending Your Case Before Trial

Sometimes, your case may end before you even go to trial.

Nonsuit. If the Respondent hasn’t filed a pleading, and the Plaintiff hasn’t shown evidence to the court, the Plaintiff can end the case by filing a Notice of Nonsuit with the court clerk. (See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 162, 163.)

Dismissal. A judge can dismiss a case if the Plaintiff didn’t file it properly or didn’t follow the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. (See Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 165a)

Settlement. Parties can work out an agreement and resolve part or all of a case before it goes to trial in a settlement agreement. (See Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 11.)

Summary Judgment. When the parties agree to the facts in a case or there is no evidence to support the claim or defense, the judge can grant a motion for Summary Judgment, and decide the case before trial. (See Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 166a.)

Default Judgment. The judge can give a default judgment to the Plaintiff when the Respondent has been served with citation, but does not respond to the case or the Respondent has filed a response, but fails to appear for trial. (Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 85, 99, 237, 239.)

Trial

The parties present evidence at trial and a judge or jury decides the case. The judge announces the decision in a judgment. The judgment is effective immediately, but the deadline for appealing the judgment doesn’t begin until the judge signs the judgment, in a written order.

Appealing the Judgment

Motion for New Trial. A party can ask the judge to set aside the judgment and grant a new trial when an error at trial affected the outcome. The Motion for New Trial must be filed with the trial court clerk within 30 days after the judge signs the judgment. (See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 320-329b.)

Filing a Motion for New Trial within 30 days after the judgment is signed extends the time to file a notice of appeal. [See Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure 26.1(a).]

An appeal takes place when an appellate court reviews what happened in the trial court. If the appellate court believes the trial court made a mistake (called an error) and believes the mistake made a difference in the outcome of your case (harmful error), the appellate court can change the trial court’s decision or send your case back to the trial court to be tried again.

Notice of Appeal. A party can ask an appellate court to review the trial court’s decision by filing a Notice of Appeal with the trial court clerk . (See Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 25.1c) The person filing the appeal is called the Appellant. The Appellant will pay appellate fees to the court, unless a court waives the fees after the Appellant files an Affidavit of Indigence with the Notice of Appeal.

A Notice of Appeal must be filed within 30 days after the trial judge signs the judgment, unless a Motion for New Trial was filed. If the Motion for New Trial was filed, the Notice of Appeal must be filed within 90 days after the trial judge signs the judgment. (See Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 26.1)

Since the appeal is just reviewing what happened at trial, the appellate court decides your appeal by reviewing the trial court’s record and written briefs. Written briefs are reports written by parties to explain or defend what happened at trial. Sometimes, the appellate court will allow parties to make statements before the court (called oral argument). You cannot bring new evidence or witnesses before the court in an appeal.

Appeals have special timetables and Rules of Procedure. In most case, you only have 30 days from the time the judge made a decision in your trial, to appeal your case. If you aren’t careful about following the rules and meeting the deadlines, your appeal will be dismissed. Appeals from Travis County must also follow the Third Court of Appeals’ local rules which can be found on the court’s website at http://www.txcourts.gov/rules-forms/rules-standards.aspx.

If you can not afford to pay an attorney to represent you on appeal, you may qualify for the State Bar of Texas Appellate Section’s Pro Bono Pilot Program. If you qualify, you may be matched with an attorney who volunteers to represent you on appeal. For more information about the project, go to http://www.tex-app.org/DrawOnePage.aspx?PageID=84 .

Enforcing the Judgment

After the judge signs the judgment (written order), you may need to take steps to enforce it. To enforce a judgment for money, you might use a Writ or a Judgment Lien.

Writ of Execution

Under this procedure, the court clerk issues a Writ and delivers it to a peace officer. The Writ authorizes the peace officer to take (“levy”) the judgment debtor’s nonexempt property. The property will be auctioned , and the proceeds will be used to pay the judgment. (See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 621, 622, 630, 637.)

Sometimes, you won’t be able to collect the judgment immediately. But you can protect it by attaching a Judgment Lien against the judgment debtor’s property.

Abstract of Judgment.

Places a lien against the judgment debtor’s property. It needs to be filed in the Judgment Records of every county where the debtor owns real property (land) or might one day own real property. The lien will have to be paid before the debtor’s property can be sold or transferred.

(See Texas Property Code §52.001.)

Turnover Statute

If the debtor owns assets that can’t be easily levied by a peace officer or attached with liens, the court might still be able to help you collect your judgment. Under the Turnover Statute, a trial court can order the judgment debtor to “turn over” nonexempt assets to an officer or court receiver. (See Civil Practice and Remedies Code §31.002.)

Helpful Resources

  • Represent Yourself in Court by Nolo Press
  • Texas Rules of Civil Procedure – available online.
  • Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure – available online
  • O’Connor’s Texas Rules – Civil Trials by Michol O’Connor, Jones McClure Publishing