Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Texas Civil Commitment Office v. Hartshorn

Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

May 4, 2018

Texas Civil Commitment Office, Appellant
v.
John H. Hartshorn, Appellee

          FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF TRAVIS COUNTY, 345TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT NO. D-1-GN-16-005205, HONORABLE JAN SOIFER, JUDGE PRESIDING

          Before Chief Justice Rose, Justices Pemberton and Goodwin.

          OPINION

          Jeff Rose, Chief Justice.

         The Texas Civil Commitment Office (TCCO) filed this appeal from the district court's amended order denying a plea to the jurisdiction and motion to transfer venue and transferring to Travis County the underlying cause involving John H. Hartshorn's civil commitment under the sexually violent predator (SVP) statute. See Tex. Health & Safety Code §§ 841.001-.153. In three issues, the TCCO contends that the Montgomery County district court that committed Hartshorn did not lose jurisdiction over his cause and that the order transferring his cause from the 345th District Court of Travis County to the 331st District Court of Travis County is void.

         We will reverse the district court's amended order denying the plea to the jurisdiction, render judgment granting the plea, and dismiss Hartshorn's petitions.

         BACKGROUND

         In 1999, the Legislature established a civil-commitment procedure providing long-term supervision and treatment for sexually violent predators with behavioral abnormalities that are not amenable to traditional mental-health treatment and that increase their likelihood of recidivism. Stevenson v. State, 499 S.W.3d 842, 844 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016); see Act of May 30, 1999, 76th Leg., R.S., ch. 1188, § 4.01, 1999 Tex. Gen. Laws 4122, 4143-52 (current version at Tex. Health & Safety Code §§ 841.001-.153). The SVP statute in chapter 841 of the Health & Safety Code is divided into subchapters that generally provide a chronological framework for the civil-commitment process, from the initial assessment of whether a person is a sexually violent predator through trial, civil commitment, any modifications to the person's housing or supervision during civil commitment, biennial review of the person's commitment, and any petitions by the committed person for release. See Tex. Health & Safety Code §§ 841.001-.153. The SVP statute allows a person who has been civilly committed as a sexually violent predator to file a petition for release, with or without authorization from the TCCO, which coordinates the committed person's treatment and supervision. Id. §§ 841.081, .121-.122. The person may also file a petition for transfer to less restrictive housing and supervision. Id. § 841.0834(b). The issue in this case is whether amendments to the SVP statute in 2015 stripped the committing court of jurisdiction over Hartshorn's petition for release and petition for less restrictive housing and supervision. We conclude they did not.

         In 2010, Hartshorn was civilly committed as a sexually violent predator in an order signed by the 435th District Court of Montgomery County, which was affirmed on appeal. See In re Commitment of Hartshorn, No. 09-10-00382-CV, 2011 Tex.App. LEXIS 9802, at *5, *10 (Tex. App.-Beaumont Dec. 15, 2011, pet. denied) (mem. op.) (noting that in four-year time span Hartshorn was convicted of indecency with thirteen-year-old child, aggravated sexual assault of eight-year-old child, and sexual assault of twenty-year-old woman, all involving Hartshorn going into sleeping person's room and committing sexually violent offense). The appellate court issued its mandate on July 9, 2012. The committing court in Montgomery County signed a biennial-review order continuing Hartshorn's commitment on June 10, 2015. On September 14, 2015, after the Legislature's 2015 amendments to the SVP statute became effective, the committing court signed an amended order modifying the requirements of Hartshorn's civil commitment to conform with the new requirements in subsection 841.082(a) of the SVP statute. Both orders gave Hartshorn notice of his next biennial review.

         In 2016, Hartshorn filed in Travis County his "Unauthorized Petition for Release and in the alternative, Petition for Less Restrictive Housing and Supervision, " naming the TCCO as the defendant. See Tex. Health & Safety Code §§ 841.0834(b), .122. In this pleading, Hartshorn alleged that the jurisdiction of the committing court had terminated June 17, 2015, with the amendment of the SVP statute and that "the Legislature intended for the courts of the county where [Hartshorn]'s most recent conviction for a sexually violent offense occurred[] to be the venue for future civil commitment proceedings." Hartshorn further alleged that because Travis County was the county of his most recent conviction for a sexually violent offense, his petition for release and petition for less restrictive housing and supervision should be filed there.

         Hartshorn never perfected service of process on the TCCO. He served only the Travis County District Attorney's Office. After the Travis County District Attorney's Office was served, it requested the assistance of the Special Prosecution Unit. Under the SVP statute, the special prosecution unit provides legal, financial, and technical assistance upon request to an attorney representing the state for a civil-commitment proceeding. Id. § 841.042. The Special Prosecution Unit filed a combined motion to transfer venue to Montgomery County, plea to the jurisdiction, special exception, and original answer on behalf of the State. The State contended that the jurisdiction of the committing court in Montgomery County was not terminated effective June 17, 2015, that under the SVP statute the committing court retained jurisdiction over Hartshorn's petition for release, that Hartshorn's alternative petition for less restrictive housing and supervision should be filed in the same court statutorily authorized to hear the petition for release, that venue was mandatory in Montgomery County, and that the cause should be transferred to the Montgomery County committing court.

         After a hearing, the district court signed an order denying the plea to the jurisdiction and motion to transfer venue and ordering the cause transferred from the 345th District Court of Travis County, the court in which Hartshorn's petitions were filed, to the 331st District Court of Travis County-the court in which he was most recently convicted of a sexually violent offense. The State filed a motion to reconsider, which the court denied in an amended order. The amended order specified that the committing court of Montgomery County "does not have jurisdiction over this proceeding" and that "the 331st District Court of Travis County, Texas has jurisdiction over this proceeding, as it is the court of conviction for [Hartshorn]'s most recent sexually violent offense." The order directed that "this matter is transferred to the 331st District Court of Travis County, Texas for all further proceedings." This appeal followed.

         DISCUSSION

         In its first and second issues, the TCCO contends that the Montgomery County court that civilly committed Hartshorn as a sexually violent predator retained jurisdiction over his petition for release under Subchapter G of the SVP statute and his petition for less restrictive housing and supervision under Subchapter E of the statute. In its third issue, the TCCO contends that the order transferring Hartshorn's cause to the 331st District Court of Travis County from the 345th District Court of Travis County is void.

         Standard of review

         A plea to the jurisdiction challenges the court's authority to decide a case. Heckman v. Williamson Cty., 369 S.W.3d 137, 150 (Tex. 2012) (citing Bland Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Blue, 34 S.W.3d 547, 555 (Tex. 2000)). The burden is on the plaintiff to affirmatively demonstrate the trial court's jurisdiction. Id. (citing Texas Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 226 (Tex. 2004)). Because subject-matter jurisdiction is a question of law, we review de novo a trial court's ruling on a plea to the jurisdiction. Houston Belt & Terminal Ry. Co. v. City of Houston, 487 S.W.3d 154, 160 (Tex. 2016). In assessing a plea to the jurisdiction, we begin by considering the plaintiff's live pleadings and determine whether the facts alleged affirmatively demonstrate that jurisdiction exists. Heckman, 369 S.W.3d at 150 (citing Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 226). We may also consider evidence submitted to negate the existence of jurisdiction, but we need not do so here because the underlying jurisdictional facts are not disputed. See id. (citing Bland Indep. Sch. Dist., 34 S.W.3d at 555). We construe the plaintiff's pleadings liberally, taking all factual assertions as true, and look to the plaintiff's intent. Id. (citing Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 226). A plea to the jurisdiction must be granted if the defendant affirmatively negates the existence of the court's jurisdiction. Id.

         Resolving the jurisdictional issue in this appeal requires us to construe the SVP statute, which is also an issue of law that we review de novo. See In re Commitment of Black, 522 S.W.3d 2, 5 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2017, pet. denied); In re Lopez, 462 S.W.3d 106, 110 (Tex. App.-Beaumont 2015, pet. denied); see also In re Commitment of Decker, No. 11-17-00007-CV, 2017 Tex.App. LEXIS 6082, at *5 (Tex. App.-Eastland June 30, 2017, no pet.) (mem. op.). Our primary objective when construing statutes is to give effect to the Legislature's intent, which we seek first and foremost in the statute's text. Molinet v. Kimbrell, 356 S.W.3d 407, 411 (Tex. 2011). Undefined terms in a statute are given their ordinary meaning unless a different or more precise meaning is apparent from the term's use in the context of the statute. Greater Hous. P'ship v. Paxton, 468 S.W.3d 51, 58 (Tex. 2015); Molinet, 356 S.W.3d at 411 (concluding that plain meaning of text is best expression of legislative intent, unless different meaning is apparent from context or if plain meaning would lead to absurd results). Where text is clear, text is determinative of legislative intent. Colorado Cty. v. Staff, 510 S.W.3d 435, 444 (Tex. 2017).

         Civil-commitment ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.