In November, the Texas Supreme Court promulgated a number of new civil procedure rules designed to expedite court cases where the amount in controversy is less than $100,000. Initially, proposed Rule 169(d) barred both the parties and the courts from forcing a dispute to mediation where no contractual obligation to mediate existed. Following a public comment period that ended on February 1st, a revised Rule 169 became final and effective on March 1, 2013. As revised, Rule 169(d) allows a court to refer a case to an alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) procedure only once and only where there is no agreement between the parties stipulating that ADR will not be used.
As enacted, Rule 169(d)(4) states:
(4) Alternative Dispute Resolution.
(A) Unless the Parties have agreed not to engage in alternative Dispute resolution, the court may refer the case to an alternative dispute resolution procedure once, and the procedure must:
(i) not exceed a half-day in duration, excluding scheduling time;
(ii) not exceed a total cost of twice the amount of applicable civil filing fees; and
(iii) be completed no later than 60 days before the initial trial setting.
Any objections to the use of ADR procedures must be considered by the court and cases filed in a justice court are exempt from the new Rule 169. In addition, the expedited action process does not apply to suits “governed by the Family Code, the Property Code, the Tax Code, or Chapter 74 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code (healthcare liability claims).”
It will be interesting to see what effect this departure from usual court practice with regard to ADR will have on the Texas civil justice system.