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Wrencher v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

June 16, 2017

Vincent Wrencher, Sr., Appellant
v.
The State of Texas and the City of Austin, Texas, Appellees

         FROM COUNTY COURT AT LAW NO. 8 OF TRAVIS COUNTY NO. C-1-CR-14-100040, HONORABLE CARLOS HUMBERTO BARRERA, JUDGE PRESIDING

          Before Chief Justice Rose, Justices Field and Shannon. [*]

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Bob E. Shannon, Justice.

         Vincent Wrencher, Sr., appearing pro se, appeals from the order of Travis County Court at Law No. 8 dismissing his appeal for want of jurisdiction. Wrencher was attempting to appeal from the judgment of the Austin Municipal Court of Record. That court had concluded that Wrencher's pet, "Skip, " was a "dangerous dog." Appellees are Travis County and the City of Austin (the State). We will reverse the order.

         In 2013, while "outside an enclosure, " Skip bit a bicyclist. After an evidentiary hearing, the Travis County Animal Control department determined that Skip was a "dangerous dog."[1] Wrencher appealed that determination to the Austin Municipal Court of Record. In May 2014, after hearing, the municipal court rendered judgment affirming the "dangerous dog" determination. Wrencher then attempted to take an appeal from that judgment to Travis County Court at Law No. 8.

         In response to the State's joint motion, the court dismissed Wrencher's appeal, concluding that there was no statutory authority for the appeal to county courts at law from civil "dangerous dog" judgments of the municipal courts of record.

         At times material, Texas Health and Safety Code sections 822.0421(b) and 822.0423(d) authorized an appeal from a "dangerous dog" determination; those sections provided that the owner of the claimed dangerous dog may appeal the decision of the municipal court in the manner provided for the appeal of other cases from the municipal court. See Act of May 5, 1997, 75th Leg., R.S., ch. 99, § 2, secs. 822.0421, .0423, 1997 Tex. Gen. Laws 188, 190-91.[2] At that time, two statutes set forth the manner in which other cases were appealed from the municipal court: the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Government Code. See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 44.02; Tex. Gov't Code § 30.00014(a); In re Loban, 243 S.W.3d 827, 830 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2008) (orig. proceeding).

         Article 44.02 affords a defendant the right to appeal from a criminal conviction. However, because the "dangerous dog" determination of the municipal court is a civil judgment rather than a criminal conviction, it does not provide Wrencher the right to appeal to the county court of law. See Timmons v. Pecorino, 977 S.W.2d 603, 605 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998).

         The government code furnishes a defendant the right to appeal "from a judgment or conviction of a municipal court of record." Texas Government Code section 30.00014 provides in pertinent part:

(a) A defendant has the right of appeal from a judgment or conviction in a municipal court of record. The state has the right to appeal as provided by Article 44.01, Code of Criminal Procedure. The county criminal courts or county criminal courts of appeal in the county in which the municipality is located or the municipal courts of appeal have jurisdiction of appeals from a municipal court of record. If there is no county criminal court, county criminal court of appeal, or municipal court of appeal, the county courts at law have jurisdiction of an appeal.

         Tex. Gov't Code § 30.00014(a).

         The State argues that the language of section 30.00014(a) contemplates only appeals from criminal cases originating in municipal courts of record. In support of its position, the State points to language in the first sentence: a "defendant" has the right to appeal from a "conviction" in the municipal court of record.

         This Court agrees that section 30.00014(a) affords a criminal defendant an appeal from a conviction rendered in a municipal court of record, but we are convinced that it also affords a civil defendant an appeal. A "defendant" is, of course, a person against whom a civil or criminal action is brought. Section 30.00014(a) recognizes that a defendant has an appeal from "a judgment or a conviction" of a municipal court of record-two classes of judicial decisions. See id. (emphasis added). The word, "conviction" almost universally refers to a judicial decision in a criminal matter, whereas "judgment" commonly refers to a judicial decision in a civil case.

         The Fort Worth Court recognized that section 30.00014(a) affords a defendant the right to appeal from the civil decision of the municipal court of record. See In re Loban, 243 S.W.3d at 830. In Loban, neither the Tarrant County criminal court nor the Tarrant County court at law would exercise jurisdiction of an appeal from a "dangerous dog" judgment of the municipal court of record. The relators sought a writ of ...


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