Texas: Expedited Civil Action Program

In May 2011, the Texas legislature passed H.B. 274, relating to the reform of certain remedies and procedures in civil actions and family law matters. Among the bill’s provisions, article 2 authorizes the Texas Supreme Court to adopt rules to promote “the prompt, efficient, and cost-effective resolution of civil actions.” The rules will apply to civil actions in which the amount in controversy does not exceed $100,000 and H.B. 274 requires the rules to “address the need for lowering discovery costs in these actions.” The Texas Supreme Court appointed a Task Force to advise the Court in developing the program.

The Task Force issued its final report on January 25, 2012, and presented rules to the Supreme Court Advisory Committee on January 27, 2012. The Task Force was unable to come to an agreement about whether the process should be mandatory for cases under $100,000 or merely voluntary. As a result, the Task Force submitted two separate sets of rules for the Supreme Court's consideration. In November 2012, the Texas Supreme Court issued the long-awaited rules for the expedited handling of cases. The final rule changes went into effect on March 1, 2013, including new Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 169 and amendments to Rules 47 and 190. The rules are mandatory and put limits on pretrial discovery and trial in cases where the party seeks “monetary relief of $100,000 or less, including damages of any kind, penalties, costs, expenses, pre-judgment interest, and attorney fees.” The rules also include guidance on when “there is good cause to remove the case from the process or extend the time limit for trial.”

The National Center for State Courts evaluated the Expedited Actions program and released a final report in September 2016. The evaluation reports an “overall positive impact on civil case processing in the participating courts.” More specifically, the evaluation results suggest that settlements increased at the expense of summary judgment and triage outcomes in contract cases under the pilot rules. In tort cases under the rules, on the other hand, trials grew more common, replacing summary judgment. Accompanying the NCSC report are recommendations for amendments to align the rules with the desired outcomes.

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