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!