Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin
Jason Spence, Individually and as Heir and Representative of the Estate of David Spence, Deceased; Joel Spence, Individually and as Heir and Representative of the Estate of David Spence, Deceased; and Estate of Anthony Melendez, Appellants
State of Texas, Appellee
THE DISTRICT COURT OF TRAVIS COUNTY, 345TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT
NO. D-1-GN-17-001735, HONORABLE KARIN CRUMP, JUDGE PRESIDING
Chief Justice Rose, Justices Goodwin and Kelly.
Melissa Goodwin, Justice.
Jason Spence and Joel Spence, Individually and as Heirs and
Representatives of the Estate of David Spence, Deceased, and
the Estate of Anthony Melendez sought damages against the
State and declaratory, injunctive, and equitable relief
stemming from the alleged wrongful conviction, imprisonment,
and deaths of David Spence and Anthony Melendez. Appellants
raise five issues on appeal from the trial court's order
granting a motion to dismiss by the State of Texas based on
sovereign immunity pursuant to Rule 91a. See Tex R.
Civ. P. 91a. For the following reasons, we affirm the trial
for Wrongful Imprisonment in Texas
context to appellants' asserted claims against the State,
we begin with a brief discussion of Chapter 103 of the Texas
Civil Practice and Remedies Code, which prescribes an
administrative procedure for a claimant to obtain
compensation for wrongful imprisonment in Texas. See
Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 103.001-.154;
Ex parte Springsteen, 506 S.W.3d 789, 790-94 (Tex.
App.-Austin 2016, pet. denied) (providing discussion of
application process and requirements to obtain compensation
under Chapter 103 for wrongful imprisonment). In general, the
claimant files an application for compensation with the
Comptroller. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code
§ 103.051. If the Comptroller denies the application,
"the claimant may bring an application for mandamus
relief." See id. § 103.051(d). The
application for mandamus relief "must be filed in the
Texas Supreme Court, as only that court has jurisdiction to
issue the writ against the Comptroller." Ex parte
Springsteen, 506 S.W.3d at 794 (citing, among other
authority, Tex. Gov't Code § 22.002(c)).
threshold matter, a complaint must satisfy one of the
alternatives set forth in Section 103.001(a) to be entitled
to compensation for wrongful imprisonment in Texas. That
(a) A person is entitled to compensation if:
(1) the person has served in whole or in part a sentence in
prison under the laws of this state; and
(2) the person:
(A) has received a full pardon on the basis of innocence for
the crime for which the person was sentenced;
(B) has been granted relief in accordance with a writ of
habeas corpus that is based on a court finding or
determination that the person is actually innocent of the
crime for which the person was sentenced; or
(C) has been granted relief in accordance with a writ of
habeas corpus and:
(i) the state district court in which the charge against the
person was pending has entered an order dismissing the
(ii) the district court's dismissal order is based on a
motion to dismiss in which the state's attorney states
that no credible evidence exists that inculpates the
defendant and, either in the motion or in an affidavit, the
state's attorney states that the state's attorney
believes that the defendant is actually innocent of the crime
for which the person was sentenced.
Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 103.001(a). Relevant
to this appeal, a claimant's entitlement to compensation
under this section requires a determination of innocence.
See id. Also relevant here, section 103.001(c)
allows recovery for a person's heirs, legal
representative, and estate as follows:
(c) If a deceased person would be entitled to compensation
under Subsection (a)(2) if living, including a person who
received a posthumous pardon, the person's heirs, legal
representative, and estate are entitled to lump-sum
compensation under Section 103.052.
Id. § 103.001(c). With this statutorily
prescribed administrative procedure in mind, we turn to
appellants' asserted claims against the State that stem
from their allegations of the wrongful conviction,
imprisonment, and deaths of David Spence and Anthony
Claims Against the State
Spence and Joel Spence are the sons of David
Spence. In 1990, the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals affirmed Spence's 1984 capital murder conviction
and death sentence for his involvement in the murder of Jill
Montgomery. See generally Spence v. State, 795
S.W.2d 743 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990), cert. denied, 499
U.S. 932 (1991). On the same day, the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals in an unpublished opinion affirmed Spence's
capital murder conviction and death sentence for his
involvement in the murder of Kenneth Franks. See id.
at 746 n.1. Spence thereafter unsuccessfully filed
applications for state and federal writs of habeas corpus
regarding the convictions and death sentences. See
generally Spence v. Johnson, 80 F.3d 989 (5th Cir.
1996), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 1012 (1996) (detailing
factual background of murders, Spence's convictions, and
his various applications for habeas corpus relief that were
filed in state and federal courts, which were all denied).
Spence was executed by lethal injection in 1997.
Melendez pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and received
two life sentences for his involvement in the murders of
Montgomery and Franks. He remained in prison until he died in
filed suit against the State on April 19, 2017, seeking
declaratory relief under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments
Act (UDJA) based on the alleged wrongful convictions,
imprisonment, and deaths of Spence and Melendez. See
Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 37.001-.011.
Appellants asserted that Spence and Melendez were innocent
and did not commit the murders, and they sought declaratory
relief that they "were entitled to Writ of Habeas Corpus
relief and compensation under Chapter 103 for the time that
[Spence and Melendez] were wrongfully imprisoned."
See id. § 103.001 (generally entitling claimant
to compensation based on determination that claimant was
"actually innocent" of crime for which he was
sentenced). They requested that the trial court "utilize
the powers granted it under the Declaratory Judgment[s] Act
and determine the facts underlying this cause" and
"declare that David Spence and ...