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Jackson v. Stroud

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

December 21, 2017

CAROLYN JACKSON, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF JEFFREY E. JACKSON, DECEASED, NATOSHA CELESTINE, AND TERRANCE JACKSON, Appellants
v.
DANIEL GARBER STROUD, M.D., Appellee

         On Appeal from the 270th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 2012-17486

          Panel consists of Justices Jennings, Bland, and Brown.

          OPINION

          HARVEY BROWN, JUSTICE

         This is an appeal from a take-nothing judgment entered after a jury trial in a medical malpractice case. Carolyn Jackson sued Daniel Garber Stroud, M.D., over the death of her husband, which occurred shortly after Stroud performed surgery on him. During voir dire, Stroud, who is Caucasian, used three of his peremptory strikes to remove all black panelists from the panel of potential jurors. Jackson, who is African-American, made a Batson challenge, which the trial court overruled.

         Jackson argues that the trial court's ruling was an abuse of discretion because Stroud's race-neutral reasons for striking the black panelists were pretextual. We hold that the record shows that Stroud's reason for striking at least one of the panelists was pretextual. Therefore, we reverse the trial court's judgment and remand for a new trial.

         Background

         Heart surgeon Daniel Stroud performed bypass surgery on Jeffrey Jackson. Jeffrey died from complications related to the surgery, and his wife, Carolyn Jackson, sued Stroud for medical malpractice.[1]

         During voir dire, one of four black panelists was struck for cause. At the conclusion of voir dire, Stroud used peremptory strikes to remove the three remaining black panelists. Jackson made a Batson challenge, [2] which the trial court overruled. No black panelist was empaneled on the jury.

         The jury returned a defense verdict, and the trial court signed a take-nothing judgment. Jackson appeals.

         Batson Challenge

         In her first issue, Jackson contends that the trial court abused its discretion in overruling her Batson challenge. After the trial court dismissed panelists for cause or hardship, Stroud used peremptory strikes to strike the three remaining black panelists-P. Howe, W. Parham, and K. Falls. Jackson made a Batson challenge, arguing that the strikes were racially motivated. Stroud proffered reasons for each strike, and the trial court overruled Jackson's objection. Jackson argues that the trial court's ruling was an abuse of discretion because Stroud's purported reasons for striking the black panelists were pretexts for unlawful racial discrimination. Stroud responds that the trial court properly overruled Jackson's objection because she failed to prove purposeful discrimination.

         A. Applicable law and standard of review

         Under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, each party in a case tried in district court is entitled to six peremptory strikes, which are used to "strike" potential jurors without offering any reason or explanation. Tex.R.Civ.P. 232, 233. While no reason for the strike is required, a peremptory strike may not be based on a number of considerations forbidden by the Constitution, including a potential juror's race. Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., 500 U.S. 614, 618 (1991); Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 89 (1986).

         The racially motivated use of a peremptory strike violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. See Batson, 476 U.S. at 89; see also U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. The exclusion of even one potential juror on the basis of race invalidates the entire jury selection process and requires a new trial. Davis v. Fisk Elec. Co., 268 S.W.3d 508, 521 (Tex. 2008); Haynes v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 395 S.W.3d 192, 197 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2012, pet. denied).

         Named after the seminal Supreme Court decision, an objection that a peremptory strike was based on race is called a Batson challenge. The resolution of a Batson challenge involves a three-step process. Batson, 476 U.S. at 97; Davis, 268 S.W.3d at 514 n.4.

         In the first step, the party challenging the peremptory strike must establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination. Snyder v. Louisiana, 552 U.S. 472, 476 (2008); Davis, 268 S.W.3d at 514 n.4; Haynes, 395 S.W.3d at 196. To establish a prima facie case, the challenging party may rely on all relevant facts, including any statistical disparity between the percentage of black and nonblack panelists who were struck by the other party. Miller-El v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231, 239-41 (2005); Haynes, 395 S.W.3d at 196.

         In the second step, if the challenging party meets her burden, the burden shifts to the striking party to offer a race-neutral explanation for the strikes. Snyder, 552 U.S. at 476-77; Haynes, 395 S.W.3d at 196. At the second step, the race-neutral explanation is a burden of production only. See Peetz v. State, 180 S.W.3d 755, 758-59 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2005, no pet.). To satisfy his burden at the second step, the striking party must offer "clear and reasonably specific" reasons for his strikes. Haynes, 395 S.W.3d at 196. The reasons cannot be vague. Moeller v. Blanc, 276 S.W.3d 656, 662 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2008, pet. denied). A vague reason is essentially no reason at all. Id. However, the reasons need not be "persuasive or even plausible" so long as they are clear, reasonably specific, and "based on something other than the juror's race." Goode v. Shoukfeh, 943 S.W.2d 441, 445 (Tex. 1997).

         In determining whether the striking party has offered a race-neutral explanation, the trial court does not consider any disparate treatment of panelists or other evidence tending to show that the explanation is pretextual; these matters are considered as part of the third step of a Batson challenge. See Snyder, 552 U.S. at 478, 485 (comparing struck juror with other jurors to determine whether strike was pretextual in third step of Batson inquiry); Jones v. State, 431 S.W.3d 149, 155 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2013, pet. ref'd) (considering disparate treatment of panelists as part of third step); McKenna v. W & W Servs., Inc., 301 S.W.3d 336, 341 (Tex. App.-Tyler 2009, pet. denied) (noting that "only upon reaching the third step" does the "persuasiveness ...


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