If you need to collect a debt from someone and have been unable to come to an agreement with them, your next step may be to file a lawsuit.
Filing a lawsuit is an option that is only available to you if it has been less than four years since the "date the cause of action accrues." The statutes are not clear on what this means. Courts have held that "a cause of action accrues and the statute of limitations begins to run when facts come into existence that authorize a party to seek a judicial remedy" (Treuil v. Treuil, 311 SW 2d 120). This could be when the debt becomes due (Southern Sur. Co. v. Austin, 22 F.2d 881), at the time the loan was made (Fuqua v. Fuqua, 750 S.W.2d 238), etc. Before filing your suit, please consult with an attorney regarding the limitations period.
Depending on the amount of money that is owed to you, you can either file a small claims lawsuit or a suit in the district court. The limit for small claims suits is $20,000.
Small claims suits, filed in justice courts, are generally more informal than suits at the district level. You can represent yourself and do not need to retain an attorney to file a small claims suit. Please find information about filing a suit in justice court below:
Filing a suit in district court is a more formal procedure, often requiring more specialized forms. Due to the complexities involved, it is often wise to hire an attorney to help you with your suit. While being represented by an attorney can be helpful, it is not necessary. If you would like to represent yourself, the State Law Library makes many resources on civil procedure available as e-books. In order to access these e-books, you will need to register for a free library account with us.
Once you have won your lawsuit, you will be awarded a judgment in your favor. The next step is to enforce that judgment so that the debtor pays you what they owe. There are many methods of enforcement in Texas, including judgment liens, writs of execution, writs of garnishment, and more.
A "judgment-proof" debtor is someone who does not have sufficient money or property to repay the debt. If their assets are exempted from seizure and they don't have any real property on which to put a lien, you might find that you do not have many options to obtain your money.
However, just because your debtor is judgment proof now, it does not mean that they always will be. Judgments in Texas are good for 10 years and can be renewed or revived after that. Being persistent with reviving a judgment may enable you to eventually get money from the judgment debtor.
The State Law Library has many print books and e-books available that may be of help to you in pursuing legal action over money that is owed to you. Many of these items contain forms or drafting guides. The print books listed below are only available at the library, though librarians can send excerpts for a small fee via our Document Delivery service. In order to access the e-books, you will need to register for a free library account.