Jurisdictional Limit Increase Now in Effect

As we move into fall, many courts (and TJCTC) have been consumed with the COVID-19 pandemic and the ever-changing landscape that justice courts currently face. However, we wanted to remind you that in addition, the jurisdictional limit increase to $20,000 went into effect on September 1, 2020. Below are some answers to common questions that we have received over the last few weeks regarding the jurisdictional limit increase.

Can a plaintiff amend their petition that was filed prior to September 1 to increase their claim to more than $10,000 on or after September 1?

While a plaintiff generally has a right to amend their petition, and the court now has jurisdiction over a claim for damages that does not exceed $20,000, there are factors that must be considered when determining what happens when a plaintiff who filed a case before Sept. 1 now wants to amend a petition to seek more than $10,000 in damages.

The only time this could create a jurisdictional issue is if the damages are liquidated (definite and clearly ascertainable by reference to a written document), and the plaintiff had improperly filed a suit over which the court did not have jurisdiction prior to September 1. In that case, since the court did not have jurisdiction over the case when it was filed, technically the court would have to dismiss the case, but because the court does have jurisdiction now the plaintiff could re-file for the higher amount.

If, instead, the damages in the case are unliquidated (that is, they are not definite and clearly ascertainable by reference to a written document), then there should not be any issue with the plaintiff now seeking the higher amount. This is because there is no prohibition on reducing an unliquidated claim to “manufacture jurisdiction” in justice court. Of course, they will still have to prove their damages at trial.

Even in a case seeking liquidated damages, if the amendment is due to an increase in damages under the “mere passage of time” rule, the plaintiff may also amend to an amount that is more than the jurisdictional limit. See page 8 of the Civil Deskbook.

We do not believe that just because the plaintiff amends the petition to allege a higher amount the court must conduct a special inquiry over whether it had jurisdiction before September 1. However, if it comes to the court’s attention that it clearly did not have jurisdiction before Sept. 1, then the court would have to dismiss subject to the plaintiff’s right to refile the case now that the court’s jurisdiction has increased.

For more information on liquidated v. unliquidated damages, which types of damages count against the jurisdictional limit, and how to determine if a case is within justice court jurisdiction please see pages 8 – 10 of the Civil Deskbook.

Is the jurisdictional limit for a Repair and Remedy Case still $10,000?

Yes. The Legislature did not amend Property Code 92.0563(e), which says: “A justice court may not award a judgment under this section . . . that exceeds $10,000, excluding interest and costs of court.” However, the Supreme Court did change Rule 509.2(a)(8) to say $20,000.

We think this was an oversight on the Court’s part because the Legislature had increased the jurisdictional amount in all other civil justice court cases, and believe that the Court will likely amend the rule to match Property Code 92.0563(e) at some point in the near future.

Also, it seems likely that the Legislature will address this in the 2021 session, making the jurisdictional cap in these cases $20,000 as well. Stay tuned!

Check out TJCTC’s Online Learning Resources for webinars, recordings for credit, and other resources related to the jurisdictional increase and civil cases!

The topics include: The $20,000 Question: Jurisdictional Increase in Justice Court; Tricky Issues: Civil Cases; CPR for Civil Knowledge: Understanding the CPRC; Fundamentals of Contracts; Torts-Crash Into Me; How Much Should the Judgment Be? Calculating Damages in Civil Cases, and more!

Family Violence Reporting

Many of you probably remember hearing about the new (to justice court) requirement to report class c assault family violence cases to DPS at TJCTC’s Legislative Updates last summer.

For any offense committed on or after September 1, 2019, the court must report information regarding a person’s citation or arrest for class c assault family violence to DPS within 30 days of the disposition of the case. Code of Criminal Procedure 66.252.

This information will be reported to DPS either by completing the CR-43 form initiated by law enforcement or reporting directly online to the Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS). DPS has regional representatives who can provide training and get your court set up to report online.

Because we do not have access to the CJIS system at TJCTC, we are unable to answer technical questions about the system or how the reporting works. However, we are in the process of working with DPS to create a webinar for justice courts related to the reporting process.

You can find more information about reporting and the necessary forms on the DPS website, here.

If you would like contact information for your regional representative, please email Amber Myers at A_M1814@tjctc.org.

Another good resource for practical information on reporting these cases is your county or district clerk as they report the same information on case dispositions in their respective courts.

 

 

TAC Cybersecurity Training Registration Open

Did you see the Texas Association of Counties’ (TAC) legislative newsletter today? It announced that registration is open for TAC’s cybersecurity training course that is certified by the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR).

This course satisfies the annual cybersecurity training requirement for county employees and is free to all Texas counties.

Click here for more information.

February 2020 Spotlight – Gwen Hughes, Clerk, Dawson County

Gwen Hughes, Clerk 2
Dawson County

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF

I was born and raised in Lamesa.  I have lived in Austin, San Antonio, Tyler, Scottsdale, Arizona, and Crescent City, California.  California was nice for a West Texas girl because I could hear the ocean and the sea lions from my yard, I was ten minutes from the redwoods, and it rained almost 24/7.  It was like living in a rain cloud.  I have worked in real estate, insurance regulation, the medical field, and solar farm construction.  I am single, have one son and two shih tzus.  I like to garden, read, and spend time with friends.  I came back home to Lamesa to care for my mom.

WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A CLERK?

I was searching for a job that would make a difference in people’s lives.  The clerk position in the Justice of the Peace office became available, and I applied.  It has been interesting and rewarding.

 WHAT IS SOMETHING INNOVATIVE, INTERESTING, OR FUN YOUR OFFICE DOES?

My office loves to celebrate holidays and birthdays.  Our clerks decorate for those celebrations which creates an enjoyable, cheerful atmosphere.  The public appreciates our cheerful office.  The judge sets the tone for the office as a helpful, happy place to work.

WHAT IS THE BEST PART OF YOUR JOB?

My co-workers are the best part of my job.  We are blessed to have a great staff.  Each one has a unique personality.  They come to work with a good attitude, smiling faces, and ready to solve the challenges of the day.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD CLERK?

Patience is a very good quality to have as a clerk.  We are the only Justice of the Peace office in Dawson County.  We are a high-volume office with many phone calls and walk-ins asking questions and taking care of their business.  We do our best to help each one in the most pleasant, accurate way possible.

October Spotlight: Constable Don Langford, Chambers County, Pct. 2

We are rolling out a new “Spotlight” series on our blog. Each month, we will post an interview of someone from a justice court or constable office. Here is the first featured Constable.

Don Langford

Constable, Chambers County Precinct 2

Tell us a bit about your background.

I have over 42 years experience in law enforcement. I hold a Master Peace Officer, Mental Health Officer, Fire Arms Instructor, and Civil Process certification through TCOLE. I turned 21 at the DPS Academy in Austin where I went through A school 1970. I spent 8 years as a State Highway Patrolman.  In 1974 I received the award of honor for valor by the Anahuac Area Chamber of Commerce. The newly incorporated City of Cove Texas also proclaimed Don Richard Langford Day that year. I was very appreciative and humbled by their actions.

In 1978 I got out of law enforcement and went to work for Exxon. In 1980 while working on a well in Trinity Bay a crew boat driver let his boat get away, and my left leg was crushed below the knee. I lost my left lower leg as a result. In 1981 the late C. E. “Chuck” Morris then Sheriff of Chambers County and a former Highway Patrolman reactivated my commission as an unpaid deputy. Then in 1985 he asked me to be his Chief Deputy. I held this position until I was elected constable in 1990.

I have been married to my beautiful wife Debby for 48 years and have a beautiful and talented daughter, Dolores, that works for an Engineering Firm in Houston. I also have a very talented and avid outdoorsman son, Daniel, who is a construction manager for a major home building company in Houston.

I also have 4 grandchildren that I am very proud of.

My interests include travelling. I have been to most states and over 30 Countries. For my 66th birthday I did a tandem skydive. Two years ago, I bungee jumped off the Kawarau River Bridge in Queenstown New Zealand. I have just recently returned from China where I hiked up and along the Great Wall.

If it is God’s will, I plan on retiring at the end of my term in December 2020. I have had a wonderful and blessed career in law enforcement.

What made you decide to become a Constable?

At the time I decided to run for constable I was chief deputy sheriff in Chambers County. I wanted to serve my community in a less volatile atmosphere and on a more personal level.

What is something innovative, interesting, or fun your office does?

I have two very fine ladies in the office that are involved in just about every local event, from helping with baccalaureate services, 4-H events, Chicken club, trunk-or-treat and beyond. My fellow mid-county constables and I have also sponsored the local 4-H skeet team.

What is the best part about your job?

The absolute very best part of my job is interacting with the people in my community.

Every day I am at the local convenience store at five in the morning drinking coffee, greeting, and visiting with my constituents as they are on their way to work.

 

Legal Board Question of the Month

OCTOBER 2019

QUESTION:

If we have an eviction case that was originally filed as a non-payment of rent case. At trial the Judge grants “possession only.” If the defendant appeals, would they be required to pay the one month’s rent into the court’s registry, even though the judgment was for possession only?

ANSWER:

Yes. If the basis for the eviction was that the tenant did not pay their rent, then it is a non-payment of rent eviction even if the landlord does not ask for back rent or the court does not award back rent.

If it is a non-payment of rent eviction, and the tenant appeals by filing a Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs or by filing an appeal bond, then the court must provide the written notice concerning payment of rent and the tenant must deposit one month’s rent into the court registry. See Evictions Deskbook at page 45; Property Code §24.0053.

If the ground for the eviction is something other than non-payment of rent (for example, loud parties late at night or the lease has terminated but the tenant has not vacated the premises), then the tenant is not required to pay rent into the court registry, and the court does not send the notice to the tenant.

What counts is whether the basis for the eviction suit is non-payment of rent, not whether the landlord is seeking to recover back rent or whether back rent was awarded. It is up to the landlord to decide whether he wishes to seek to recover back rent or not in an eviction case. Even if he decides not to do so, if one of the grounds for eviction was non-payment of rent, then the tenant must make the initial deposit of rent into the court’s registry upon appealing by filing a Sworn Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs or by filing an appeal bond.

The Deskbooks can be found here.

 

Fees and Costs Clarification

Many courts have expressed confusion about the changes to the State Traffic Fine and when it goes into effect. The $20 increase (from $30 to $50) should be applied to all offenses that occur on or after September 1, 2019. It is important to make sure that any update to the software system that your court uses is implementing this change correctly.

You can find more details on the TJCTC Fees & Costs Cheat Sheet.

Also note that there was a typo on the first version of the Cheat Sheet that was emailed out, regarding the effective date of the Time Payment Reimbursement Fee changes. The most updated version can be found at the link below.

TJCTC Legal Department

Click here to download the Fees and Costs Cheat Sheet

or visit our Legislative Update webpage for more information.