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In re D. J. M.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

December 19, 2013

In re D. J. M.

ORIGINAL PROCEEDING FROM FAYETTE COUNTY

Before Chief Justice Jones, Justices Rose and Field

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Scott K. Field, Justice

In this original proceeding, relator D.J.M. asks this Court to compel the trial court to vacate its order transferring the underlying juvenile proceedings against him from Fayette County to Victoria County. We conditionally grant the petition.

The Fayette County Attorney's Office filed a petition alleging that D.J.M. engaged in delinquent conduct in Fayette County. See Tex. Fam. Code § 51.03. Attached to the petition was the affidavit of an investigator with the Fayette County Sheriff's Office. In his affidavit, the investigator recited facts that, according to the investigator, demonstrate that there was reason to believe that D.J.M. had recently committed murder in Fayette County.

Following an informal psychological evaluation of D.J.M., the State and the Defendant filed an agreed motion for a finding of probable cause of unfitness to proceed. See id. § 55.31 (unfitness to proceed determination; examination). The trial court granted the agreed motion and ordered a psychological examination for the purpose of obtaining an expert opinion as to whether D.J.M. was unfit to proceed as a result of mental illness or mental retardation. See id. § 55.32 (hearing on issue of fitness to proceed). According to D.J.M., two psychiatrists subsequently examined him and determined that he was mentally ill and unfit to proceed.

Before a hearing on D.J.M.'s fitness to proceed could be held, the County filed a one-sentence motion to transfer venue. The County moved to transfer the case to Victoria County without alleging any supporting facts, asserting only that Victoria County was "a place of mandatory venue." Following a non-evidentiary hearing on the motion, the trial court granted the County's motion and ordered the case transferred to Victoria County, finding that "the Victoria County Court at Law has consented to such transfer pursuant to section 51.06 of the Texas Family Code." This mandamus proceeding followed, and the Court granted D.J.M.'s request for temporary relief, suspending the effect of the trial court's order.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The juvenile proceedings underlying this mandamus are governed by the Juvenile Justice Code, Title 3 of the Texas Family Code. See id. §§ 51.01-61.107. Although quasi-criminal in nature, juvenile proceedings are considered civil cases and are generally governed by the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. See id. § 51.17 (subject to certain exceptions, or when in conflict with provisions of Juvenile Justice Code, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure govern proceedings under Code); In re Hall, 286 S.W.3d 925, 927 (Tex. 2009) (noting that juvenile proceedings are civil cases "although [they are] quasi-criminal in nature"). Accordingly, the rules of civil procedure regarding venue govern this dispute. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 86-87.

Mandamus relief is available to enforce mandatory venue provisions in civil cases. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 15.0642, .016; Campos v. Texas Prop. & Cas. Ins. Guar. Ass'n, 282 S.W.3d 226, 232 (Tex. App.—Austin 2009, no pet.). Ordinarily, a party seeking mandamus relief must establish that (1) the trial court abused its discretion and (2) there is no adequate remedy by appeal. In re Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 148 S.W.3d 124, 135-136 (Tex. 2004) (orig. proceeding). However, a party seeking to enforce a mandatory venue provision by mandamus is not required to prove that it lacks an adequate appellate remedy. In re Lopez, 372 S.W.3d 174, 176-77 (Tex. 2012) (orig. proceeding). Thus, we review a trial court's decision involving mandatory venue under an abuse-of-discretion standard. In re Missouri Pac. R.R. Co., 998 S.W.2d 212, 215 (Tex. 1999) (orig. proceeding).

ANALYSIS

Venue concerns the propriety of prosecuting a suit involving a given subject matter and specific parties in a particular county. See Kshatrya v. Texas Workforce Comm'n & Riddle Techs., 97 S.W.3d 825, 830 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2003, no pet.). Venue may be proper in more than one county under the venue rules. Wilson v. Texas Parks & Wildlife Dep't, 886 S.W.2d 259, 260 (Tex. 1994). However, the plaintiff has the first choice to fix venue in a proper county by filing the suit in the county of his choice. See In re Masonite Corp., 997 S.W.2d 194, 197 (Tex. 1999) (orig. proceeding). A defendant is then entitled to challenge the plaintiff's choice by filing a motion to transfer venue. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 86(1).[1] The fact that mandatory venue lies in another county provides one ground for a motion to transfer venue. Id. R. 86(3).

In this case, the County's motion to transfer venue was premised on section 51.06 of the Texas Family Code, a mandatory venue provision, which both parties acknowledge governed the trial court's venue ...


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