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Adams v. Prine

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

January 11, 2017

Maxine ADAMS and Cecil Adams, Appellants
v.
Christopher PRINE, Appellee

         From the 269th Judicial District Court, Harris County, Texas Trial Court No. 2014-35653-a Honorable Dan Hinde, Judge Presiding

         REVERSED AND REMANDED

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice

         This is the second appeal this court has considered involving the Adamses' claim against Christopher Prine under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In the first appeal, this court affirmed the portion of a prior order granting Prine's plea to the jurisdiction as to the Adamses' section 1983 claim against Prine in his official capacity. See Adams v. Harris Cty., No. 04-15-00287-CV, 2015 WL 8392426, at *4 (Tex. App.-San Antonio Dec. 9, 2015, pet. denied) (mem. op.) (referred to herein as Adams I). This court also dismissed the portion of the appeal challenging the portion of the prior order granting Prine's plea to the jurisdiction as to the Adamses' section 1983 claim against Prine in his individual capacity because we did not have jurisdiction to consider that portion of the interlocutory order under section 51.014(a)(8) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. Id. The trial court subsequently signed a final judgment dismissing all of the Adamses' claims against Prine and then severed those claims into a separate cause number.

         In this appeal, the Adamses contend the trial court erred in dismissing their section 1983 claim against Prine in his individual capacity because: (1) a plea to the jurisdiction is not the proper procedure for asserting the affirmative defense of quasi-judicial immunity; and (2) Prine was not entitled to quasi-judicial immunity. The Adamses also contend the trial court erred in granting the severance. Because we agree the trial court erred in granting the severance and that a plea to the jurisdiction is not the proper procedure to raise the affirmative defense of quasi-judicial immunity, we reverse: (1) the portion of the trial court's final judgment dismissing the Adamses' section 1983 claim against Prine in his individual capacity; and (2) the trial court's order severing the Adamses' claims against Prine into a separate cause. We remand the cause to the trial court for further proceedings.

         Background

         The following summary of the factual and procedural background is adopted from our prior opinion in Adams I:

This litigation arose as a result of a landlord-tenant dispute between the Adamses and Rebecca Ross. A lawsuit between them in the 269th Judicial District Court of Harris County, Texas, resulted in a judgment in favor of the Adamses. The Adamses recovered part of the judgment through a writ of garnishment, and Ross deposited the balance due on the judgment into the registry of the court. The Adamses appealed the judgment to the First Court of Appeals, and in August 2013, the court of appeals dismissed the appeal for want of prosecution. Adams v. Ross, No. 01-11-00552-CV, 2013 WL 4003757 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] Aug. 2, 2013, pet. denied) (per curiam, mem. op.). The judgment assessed all of the costs of the appeal against Maxine Adams and ordered the Clerk of the Court to issue a statement of costs with the mandate. The court of appeals' mandate issued April 4, 2014. The same day, Christopher A. Prine, Clerk of the First Court of Appeals, prepared and issued a bill of costs in Appeal No. 01-11-00552-CV. The bill of costs indicated that a number of items, including fees for preparing parts of the appellate record, remained unpaid or that the status of payment was unknown.
In June 2014, Harris County filed a petition in interpleader in the district court, alleging that the Harris County District Clerk is custodian of the funds Rebecca Ross previously deposited into the registry of the court. The petition alleged competing claims to the funds had been made by the Adamses, Ross, the Harris County District Clerk, the court reporter, and Prine, as Clerk of the First Court of Appeals. Prine disclaimed any interest in the interpleaded funds, and Harris County nonsuited him from the interpleader action. The Adamses subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the interpleader action, which the trial court denied by an order signed March 13, 2015.
The Adamses also filed counter and cross claims against several parties, including an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Prine. The Adamses' live pleading alleges that in the bill of costs, Prine "systematically over billed for each appellate record filed in the Court of Appeals, and charged fees for appellate records that the Harris County [sic] documented as no amount due" and that Prine and the Harris County District Clerk "falsified court records individually or collectively to deprive Adams of property without due process." The Adamses assert that "Christopher Pine [sic] acting in his individual capacity as the Clerk of the 1st Court of Appeals in performing ministerial billing responsibilities" proximately caused them to be deprived of property without due process of law, in violation of their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Adamses sought damages "from Christopher Prine individually for falsified billing entries resulting in costs not associated with [the] appeal and punitive damages."
Prine filed a plea to the jurisdiction based on the pleadings, asserting he has sovereign and quasi-judicial immunity from the Adamses' suit and from liability for the damages claimed. The trial court granted Prine's plea and signed an order dismissing the Adamses' claims against Prine with prejudice.

Id. at *1-2.

         That order was then appealed to this court in Adams I. As previously noted, we affirmed the portion of a prior order granting Prine's plea to the jurisdiction as to the Adamses' section 1983 claim against Prine in his official capacity. Id. at *4. We dismissed the portion of the appeal challenging the portion of the trial court's order granting Prine's plea to the jurisdiction as to Adamses' section 1983 claim against Prine in his individual capacity because we did not have ...


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