Texas makes sweeping changes to rules governing lawsuits that seek less than $100,000

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by Michael Heygood

In 2011, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 274 which, among other things, added Government Code § 22.004(h) calling for “rules to promote the prompt, efficient, and cost-effective resolution of civil action . . . in which the amount in Controversy …. does not exceed $100,000.” The Supreme Court of Texas appointed a Task Force to propose rule changes for these “expedited actions.” After reviewing various proposals, the Texas Supreme Court drafted a set of rules that implement a mandatory expedited actions process for cases under $100,000. The final proposed rules—including new Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 169 and amendments to Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 47 and 190 and Texas Rule of Evidence 902—are contained in the Supreme Court’s November 13, 2012 Order.

The Court amended Rule 47 to require that every plaintiff’s original pleading must include a statement that the party seeks:

  • only monetary relief of $100,000 or less, including damages of any kind, penalties, costs, expenses, pre-judgment interest and attorney’s fees
  • monetary relief of $100,000 or less and non-monetary relief
  • monetary relief of more than $100,000, but not more than $500,000
  • monetary relief of more than $500,000 but not more than $1,000,000
  • monetary relief of more than $1,000,000

A party that fails to comply with the above-referenced requirement may not conduct discovery until the party’s pleading is amended to state one of these categories.

The Court has also added a new Rule 169, entitled “Expedited Actions,” that applies “to a suit in which all claimants, other than counter-claimants, affirmatively plead that they seek only monetary relief aggregating $100,000 or less, including damages of any kind, penalties, costs, expenses, pre-judgment interest, and attorney fees.” Rule 169 includes a provision that “[i]n no event may a party who prosecutes a suit under this rule recover a judgment in excess of $100,000, excluding post-judgment interest.”

Discovery in “expedited actions” is governed by newly modified Rule 190.2. The discovery period begins when the suit is filed and continues until 180 days after the date the first request of discovery of any kind is served on a party. Parties are limited to serving no more than 15 written interrogatories, 15 requests for production and 15 requests for admissions.

Upon any party’s request, the court must set an “expedited action” for a trial date within 90 days after the discovery period in Rule 190.2(b)(1) ends. At trial, each side is allowed five hours to present their case, from jury selection to closing arguments, excluding time spent on objections, bench conferences and challenges for cause to a juror. Unless the parties agree to alternative dispute resolution or are required to do so by contract, the court must not require the parties to engage in alternative dispute resolution.

According to the Supreme Court’s Order, the new and amended rules will be effective March 1, 2013. However, the Order also provides that the changes may be altered in response to comments received on or before February 1, 2013.

Any interested party may submit written comments directed to Marisa Secco, Rules Attorney, at P.O. Box 12248, Austin, TX 78711, or marisa.secco@txcourts.gov.