Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo
QUINN, C.J., and CAMPBELL and PIRTLE, JJ.
McDaniel petitioned us for a writ of habeas corpus. Through
it, he challenged the validity of the October 26, 2016
"Order of Enforcement by Contempt" executed by the
trial court and the punishment levied therein, which
punishment included his confinement in the Swisher County
jail for 90 days. We grant his petition.
16, 2016, the trial court signed an Order in Suit to Modify
Parent-Child Relationship designating the terms of possession
for C.A.M., the child of McDaniel and his ex-wife Elizabeth
Pratt. Pratt later moved the trial court to enforce the June
16th decree by way of contempt. She thought herself entitled
to such relief because McDaniel allegedly breached various
terms of the decree. One of the purported violations included
McDaniel's failure to surrender the child on June 15,
trial court convened an evidentiary hearing on Pratt's
motion, after which it pronounced McDaniel in contempt of
court for failing to surrender the child on June 15,
2016. So too did it subsequently sign an
"Order of Enforcement by Contempt" on October 25,
2016, and stated therein that McDaniel violated the
modification order by failing to 1) "appear at the
Swisher County Courthouse to surrender the child on June 15,
2016, " and 2) "surrender the child on July 31,
2016, the child's birthday." Punishment for both
violations then was set at ninety days incarceration in the
Swisher County Jail.
a person can be held in contempt for disobeying a court
decree, the order "must spell out the details of
compliance in clear, specific and unambiguous terms so that
such person will readily know exactly what duties or
obligations are imposed upon him." Ex parte
Slavin, 412 S.W.2d 43, 44 (Tex. 1967) (orig.
proceeding); see Ex parte MacCallum, 807 S.W.2d 729,
730 (Tex. 1991) (orig. proceeding) (per curiam); In re
R.E.D., 278 S.W.3d 850, 858 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st
Dist.] 2009, orig. proceeding). Indeed, one committed to jail
for a civil contempt "should be able to find somewhere
in the record the written order" providing the
requisite details to which he must abide. Ex parte
Padron, 565 S.W.2d 921, 924 (Tex. 1978) (emphasis
added). "Oral orders are poor substitutes . . . ."
Id. Consequently, a "contemnor cannot be held
in constructive contempt . . . for actions taken prior to the
time that the court's order is reduced to writing."
Ex parte Chambers, 898 S.W.2d 257, 262 (Tex. 1995);
Ex parte Huitrado-Soto, No. 05-16-00545-CV, 2016
Tex.App. LEXIS 6086, at *3 (Tex. App.-Dallas June 8, 2016,
orig. proceeding) (mem. op.); In re Reynolds, No.
02-10-00216-CV, 2010 Tex.App. LEXIS 8033, at *3-4 (Tex.
App.-Fort Worth Sept. 20, 2010, orig. proceeding) (mem.
op.). In other words, a judgment of contempt may
not rest upon the violation of an oral order. Ex parte
Russell, 875 S.W.2d 467, 469 (Tex. App.-Austin 1994,
orig. proceeding); Ex parte Mikeska, 608 S.W.2d 290,
291 (Tex. Civ. App.-Houston [1stDist.] 1980, orig.
previously mentioned, the trial court found that McDaniel
violated its order by, among other things, failing to
surrender C.A.M. on June 15th. Yet, on June 15th,
there was only an oral order by which he had to abide. The
written one had yet to be signed by the trial court. And,
because the violation occurred outside the court's
presence, it necessarily constituted an alleged constructive
contempt. Given these circumstances and the rule prohibiting
one from being found in constructive contempt for actions
taken before the trial court's order is reduced to
writing, the finding of contempt relating to the June 15th
omission was improper.
in redressing the June 15th contempt, the trial court did not
assign to it alone any particular punishment. Rather, the
punishment levied encompassed all acts found contemptuous by
the trial court. This too is problematic for the entire
contempt order or judgment is void when the punishment levied
for multiple acts of contempt encompasses both contemptable
and non-contemptable acts. Ex parte Davila, 718
S.W.2d 281, 282 (Tex. 1986) (orig. proceeding) (per curiam);
Ex parte Huitrado-Soto, 2016 Tex.App. LEXIS 6086, at
*4-5; Ex parte Russell, 875 S.W.2d at 469-470. So,
the contempt order at bar is void in its
October 26, 2016 order of contempt is reversed. Furthermore,
we 1) order that Anthony McDaniel be unconditionally released
and discharged from the custody of the Sheriff of Swisher
County under the October 26, 2016 "Order of Enforcement
by Contempt, " and 2) discharge any bond paid by him to
secure his temporary release from custody under the October
 McDaniel is not currently incarcerated
because he posted a $10, 000 appeal bond.
 On January 25, 2017, this Court
requested that the real party in interest, Elizabeth Pratt,
file a response to McDaniel's application by February 6.
To date ...