New Expedited Process for Lawsuits With Less Than $100,000 in Damages

Late last week, the Texas Supreme Court issued Rules for Dismissals and Expedited Actions.  Under the new Texas Rule of Civil Procedure (TRCP) 169, the expedited process is mandatory for cases where relief is limited to “$100,000 or less, including damages of any kind, penalties, costs, expenses, pre-judgment interest, and attorney fees.”

TRCP 169 does not apply to healthcare-liability claims or claims governed by the Family Code, Property Code, or Tax Code.

The expedited proceedings will include an expedited pretrial process, limits on discovery, and an expedited trial.  More specifically:

• Once discovery begins, it must be completed within 180 days.

• Written discovery is limited to 15 written interrogatories, 15 requests for production, 15 requests for admissions, and a request for disclosure.

• Each party has a total limit of six hours for all depositions.

• At the request of any party, the court must set the case for a trial date within 90 days after the discovery period ends.

• At trial, each side is limited to five hours for jury selection, opening, closing, and examination of witnesses.

• The court cannot order the parties to engage in alternative dispute resolution, unless the parties agree or are required by contract to do so.

Additionally, under the new Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 91a, a party may move to dismiss a cause of action on the grounds that it has no basis in law or fact.  The winning party gets the attorneys fees.  Thus, if a party files a motion to dismiss and loses, it must pay the other side’s attorneys fees.  Likewise, if a party’s case gets dismissed as the result of the motion, that party will have to pay the other side’s attorneys fees.

How will this affect litigation? 

Given that $100,000 cap includes all types of damages, including attorneys’ fees and interest, the expedited rules will end up applying only to truly small cases.  However, they will end up streamlining such cases, which could result in a faster and less expensive resolution of a dispute.   A trial could occur as early as nine months after the filing of suit (or even earlier if the court desires), with limited discovery, no mediation, and perhaps a two-day trial.

The dismissal rules could prevent frivolous lawsuits from being filed.  If a lawsuit is found to have no basis in law or fact and  is dismissed under TRCP 91a, the plaintiff will be forced to pay the defendant’s attorneys fees.  This should serve as a deterrent to frivolous lawsuits.

For more information, contact Leiza Dolghih at Leiza.Dolghih@lewisbrisbois.com.

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