Filing a lawsuit begins what is generally a long, costly process. After consulting an attorney to determine that the facts warrant a lawsuit, the attorney must then draft a document that outlines the claims against the defendant, including how exactly the plaintiff has been harmed by the defendant and the plaintiff’s claim for relief. Other states and the federal court system call this legal document a complaint. In Texas, however, this document is called a petition. Tex. R. Civ. P. 45. Filing the petition formally initiates the lawsuit in a Texas state court. Tex. R. Civ. P. 22
The initial filing is the most simple and straightforward of the court proceedings. While it does not actually argue the case on paper, it does define the issues of the claim within the body of the pleading, the basic facts which support the claim, and the defendant. Kinder Morgan SACROC, LP v. Scurry County, 622 S.W.3d 835, 849 (Tex. 2021); Tex. Jur. 3d, §§ 121 to 122.
The petition must provide timely notice, enough that the defendant’s attorney is able to compile an answer and prepare for court proceedings. Kinder Morgan SACROC, LP v. Scurry County, 622 S.W.3d 835, 849 (Tex. 2021). The petition also states the scope and type of damages the plaintiff seeks and requests a judgment against the defendant. Tex. R. Civ. P. 47.
Once the attorney and client have agreed to the facts of the case, the attorney drafts a petition, being certain to include key information in a proper format. If the format and/or information is incorrect, the petition could be found to be deficient.
While it is not absolutely required, a petition often begins with a brief introduction. Required elements such as the names, addresses, and contact information of the parties appear here. Tex. R. Civ. P. 79. The introduction may begin with a formal greeting, such as “TO THE HONORABLE COURT,” or a similar salutation. Like the introduction itself, however, this greeting is not required. Tex. Jur. 3d, Pleading §§ 112-113.
Following the introduction is usually the discovery level for the case. Rule 190.1 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure identifies three discovery control levels. If, for example, the plaintiff seeks Level 1 discovery, the plaintiff must seek damages of less than $50,000, not including costs, prejudgment interest and attorney's fees. The petition should identify whether discovery should be conducted under level 1, 2, or 3.
Another essential element is the statement of jurisdiction. If the court does not have proper jurisdiction, the case cannot move forward in that particular court, and the plaintiff’s attorney must then file a motion to transfer venue. Tex. Jur. 3d, Pleading § 116.
Also within the body of the pleading, the plaintiff recites the alleged facts that correspond to the elements of the claim(s), as well as any causes of action and damages which have resulted from the defendant’s actions.
The petition concludes with a “Prayer for Relief” where the plaintiff asks for specific relief, usually monetary, to redress the damages caused by the defendant. Once the petition is finalized, the attorney files it with the clerk to issue the citation, and the petition is served to the defendant(s) named in the action.
Drafting an acceptable petition is a complex process. It is prudent to seek the help of an experienced attorney who is familiar with how to draft, file, and serve a petition in Texas.
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