New Rules Promise a Speedy Trial for Small Civil Cases

Chris Hanslik

April 18, 2013

New amendments to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, which took effect on March 1, 2013, promise to speed up the process for parties filing claims for damages of $100,000 or less.  The expedited process for cases under $100,000 is comprised of new Rule 169 and amendments to Rules 47 and 190 as well as Texas Rule of Evidence 902. This alert brings you some highlights of the changes with a brief background on the reasons for such changes.

Following the initiative of Texas House Bill 274 to reduce the expense and delay of litigation, the Texas Supreme Court promulgated a new set of rules in its stated effort to improve the efficiency of the Texas court system by compelling expedited procedures in smaller cases. These rules follow the directive of Government Code § 22.004(h), which calls for “rules to promote the prompt, efficient, and cost-effective resolution of civil actions…in which the amount in controversy, inclusive of all claims for damages of any kind, whether actual or exemplary, a penalty, attorney’s fees, expenses, costs, interest, or any other type of damage of any kind, does not exceed $100,000.”

Rule 47 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure was amended to require a more specific statement of the relief sought by a party. The rule is mandatory for cases filed on or after March 1, 2013, except those filed in justice court.  Original pleadings, including petitions, counterclaims, cross-claims and third-party claims must contain now contain the following:

A. a short statement of the cause of action sufficient to give fair notice of the claim involved;
B. a statement that the damages sought are within the jurisdictional limits of the court;
C. except in suits governed by the Family Code, a statement that the party seeks:
  1. only monetary relief of $100,000 or less, including damages of any kind, penalties, costs, expenses, pre-judgment interest, and attorney fees; or
  2. monetary relief of $100,000 or less and  non-monetary relief; or
  3. monetary relief over $100,000 but not more than $200,00; or
  4. monetary relief over $200,000 but not more than $1,000,000; or
  5. monetary relief over $1,000,000; and
D. a demand for judgment for all the other relief to which the parties deems itself entitled.
A party who fails to comply by not providing a statement of monetary relief as described above will not be allowed to conduct discovery until the pleading is amended to comply.  Clearly, Rule 47 is designed to identify the cases appropriate for an expedited actions process under the newly-created Rule 169.

Rule 169 applies an expedited process to suits in which all claimants, other than counter-claimants, affirmatively plead that they seek only monetary relief totaling $100,000 or less.  The process does not apply to suits in which a party has filed a claim under the Family Code, the Property Code, the Tax Code, or a medical liability claim under Chapter 74 of the Civil Practices & Remedies Code.

The expedited process involves the following changes:

  1. Discovery is governed by the newly-amended Rule 190 (explained further below)
  2. A trial date must be set within 90 days after the conclusion of discovery and only two trial continuances are allowed, not to exceed 60 days total.
  3. Each side is allowed no more than 8 hours for trial, though on motion the court may extend the time to 12 hours per side.
  4. Unless the parties have agreed not to engage in alternative dispute resolution (ADR), the court may order ADR once, which must not exceed a half-day in duration (and with a limited cost), and must be conducted no later than 60 days before trial.

Rule 190, which goes hand in hand with Rule 169, sets forth the discovery limitations on expedited actions.  The new discovery process for the expedited actions process in Rule 169 includes the following changes:

  1. All discovery must be concluded by 180 days after the first request for discovery of any kinds is served on a party.
  2. Each party may have no more than 6 hours in total to examine and cross-examine all witnesses in oral depositions.  Total time for depositions may go up to 10 hours by the parties’ agreement, but not more except by court order.
  3. Interrogatories have been reduced from 25 to 15.
  4. There is now a limit of 15 written requests for production that a party may serve.
  5. Written requests for admissions are now also limited to 15.
  6. Among the standard requests for disclosure, a party may now also request disclosure of all documents, electronic information, and tangible items that the disclosing party has in its possession, custody, or control and may use to support its claims or defenses.

Finally, Rule 902(10)(c) of the Texas Rules of Evidence was added to provide a form affidavit for proof of medical expenses in order to comport with Section 41.0105 of the Civil Practices & Remedies Code, which allows evidence of only those medical expenses that have been paid or will be paid, after any required credits or adjustments.

Like the new Rule 91a regarding groundless actions, which was also promulgated by the Supreme Court at the same time as these, the new or amended rules will force parties to be more thoughtful in their desired relief, and, therefore, their pleadings, especially if they want to submit to a new speedy trial process — or avoid one.