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Hayes v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth District, Tyler

March 31, 2017

DAVID HAYES, APPELLANT
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS, APPELLEE

         Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 1 of Henderson County, Texas (Tr.Ct.No. C-7919)

          Panel consisted of Worthen, C.J., Hoyle, J., and Neeley, J.

          OPINION

          GREG NEELEY JUSTICE

         David Hayes appeals an order directing the animal control officer with the Henderson County Sheriff's Office to humanely destroy three dogs pursuant to Chapter 822 of the Texas Health and Safety Code. In one issue, Hayes claims the trial court committed reversible error by denying him a jury trial. We reverse and remand.

         Background

         On January 19, 2015, Mikel "Christopher" Kirkpatrick was riding a bicycle in the roadway in front Hayes's residence when Hayes's three dogs attacked him. An officer from the Henderson County Sheriff's Office executed an affidavit for seizure of the dogs. The justice court issued a warrant to seize the three dogs. Following a hearing, the justice court found that the dogs were dangerous under section 822.041 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, and had caused serious bodily injury to a person. The justice court ordered that two of the dogs be humanely destroyed and the third dog be returned to Hayes.

         Hayes appealed the justice court's order to the county court at law and requested a jury trial.[1] The Henderson County Attorney's Office objected to the jury request. The county court at law sustained the objection and removed the case from the jury docket. After a bench trial, the judge found the three dogs were dangerous, that Hayes was the owner of the dogs, and that as a result of an unprovoked attack, Kirkpatrick suffered serious bodily injury. In accordance with these findings, the court ordered that the three dogs be humanely destroyed and ordered Hayes to pay $2, 780.00 to Henderson County. This appeal followed. [2]

         Issues Presented

         In his sole issue, Hayes contends that the county court at law erred by removing his case from the jury docket and denying him a jury trial after his timely jury request and payment of the applicable fee. Henderson County did not contest the county court at law's subject matter jurisdiction. However, on appeal, it asserts that Hayes had no right to appeal the justice court's ruling. Accordingly, this case presents two questions for our review: (1) whether the owner of a dog ordered to be humanely destroyed by a justice, county, or municipal court judge, pursuant to Chapter 822, subchapter A, of the Texas Health and Safety Code, has the right to appeal such order; and (2) if an appeal is allowed, whether a jury can be requested to hear the de novo appeal.

         Right to Appeal the Justice Court's Order

         We first address Hayes's right to appeal the justice court's order to the county court at law because it directly affects this Court's jurisdiction.

         Standard of Review and Applicable Law

         "Subject matter jurisdiction is essential to the authority of a court to decide a case." Tex. Ass'n of Bus. v. Tex. Air Control Bd., 852 S.W.2d 440, 443 (Tex. 1993). It is never presumed and cannot be waived. Id. at 443-44. An appellate court is obligated, even sua sponte, to determine the threshold question of jurisdiction. See Walker Sand, Inc. v. Baytown Asphalt Materials, Ltd., 95 S.W.3d 511, 514 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2002, no pet.). The existence of subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law that we review de novo. Tex. Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 226 (Tex. 2004).

         The construction of a statute is also a question of law we review de novo. See First Am. Title Ins. Co. v. Combs,258 S.W.3d 627, 631 (Tex. 2008). When interpreting a statute, we look first to the plain meaning of the words used. Id. If the statute is clear and unambiguous, we apply its words according to their common meaning in a way that gives effect to each word, clause, and sentence. Id. We do not resort to extrinsic aides, such as legislative history, to interpret a clear and unambiguous statute. Sullivan v. Abraham, 488 S.W.3d 294, 299 (Tex. 2016). We apply these same concepts when construing rules of civil procedure. Bradt v. Sebek, 14 S.W.3d 756, ...


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