Appeal from the 133rd District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Cause No. 2016-67123
consists of Chief Justice Frost and Justices Zimmerer and
Seth Hill appeals the trial court's dismissal of his
petition seeking less restrictive housing and supervision for
lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Because the trial court
did not have jurisdiction to consider Hill's petition, we
affirm the trial court's dismissal order.
2011, Hill was civilly committed as a sexually violent
predator in the 435th District Court of Montgomery County,
Texas. Hill was originally ordered into
outpatient treatment and supervision upon his release from
prison. In 2015, as a result of the state legislature
changing the Civil Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators
(SVP) statute, Hill was committed to the tiered treatment
program. As a result of that commitment, Hill was removed
from outpatient treatment and transferred to an inpatient
treatment program, which included confinement in a facility
located in Littlefield, Texas. In early 2016, the 435th
District Court conducted the statutorily-required biennial
review of Hill's civil commitment. The court ordered that
Hill remain civilly committed.
months later, Hill filed a petition seeking "less
restrictive housing and supervision" as allowed by
section 841.0834(b) of the SVP statute. See Tex.
Health & Safety Code § 841.0834(b) ("Without
the office's approval, a committed person may file a
petition with the court for transfer to less restrictive
housing and supervision . . . ."). Hill did not file his
petition in the 435th District Court, but rather in Harris
County. The State of Texas filed a plea to the jurisdiction
contending that the Harris County district court did not have
jurisdiction because "the 435th Judicial District
Court-has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over
[Hill's] cause of action." The Harris County trial
court granted the State's plea and dismissed Hill's
petition. This appeal followed.
first issue on appeal, Hill argues that the Texas
Legislature's 2015 amendments to the SVP statute,
effective June 17, 2015, "stripped the 435th District
Court of jurisdiction over [his] Health and Safety Code
Chapter 841 civil commitment." Hill concludes his first
issue by asserting that after the legislature stripped
exclusive jurisdiction over civil commitment proceedings away
from the 435th District Court, it "provided no
instruction with respect to where persons committed prior to
September 1, 2017 will have their new post-commitment issues
resolved." Hill attempts to provide an answer to that
question in his second issue. Hill asserts that because the
SVP statute no longer conferred exclusive jurisdiction over
petitions for less restrictive housing and supervision on any
particular court, Harris County district courts, the county
where his most recent conviction for a sexually violent
offense occurred, have subject matter jurisdiction over his
petition. We address these issues together.
Third Court of Appeals recently decided a similar case in
Texas Civil Commitment Office v. Hartshorn, 550
S.W.3d 319 (Tex. App.-Austin 2018, no pet.). Hartshorn was
civilly committed as a sexually violent predator in an order
signed by the 435th District Court in Montgomery County.
Id. at 322. In 2016, Hartshorn filed an
"Unauthorized Petition for Release and in the
alternative, Petition for Less Restrictive Housing and
Supervision" in Travis County. Id. In his
petition, Hartshorn "alleged that the jurisdiction of
the committing court [the 435th District Court in Montgomery
County] 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.'"
Id. (quoting Hartshorn's petition). Hartshorn
went on to allege "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." Id. The State of Texas filed a plea to
the jurisdiction, which the trial court denied.
appeal, the Third Court rejected Hartshorn's arguments,
reversed the trial court's denial of the plea to the
jurisdiction, and dismissed Hartshorn's petitions. With
respect to Hartshorn's petition for less restrictive
housing and supervision, the court observed that
"Subchapter E proceedings, such as those on petitions
for less restrictive housing and supervision, are not
included in the statutory definition of a 'civil
commitment proceeding' under the SVP statute."
Id. at 328. The court then held that the 2015 SVP
statute amendments allowing a civil commitment proceeding to
be initiated by the State of Texas "in the court of
conviction for the person's most recent sexually violent
offense-has no effect on Hartshorn's subchapter E
petition for less restrictive housing and supervision because
it does not implicate a 'civil commitment
proceeding.' That amendment did not justify
Hartshorn's filing in Travis County." Id.
court then turned to Hartshorn's contention that because
"the SVP statute does not identify the court for his
filing" of a petition for less restrictive housing and
supervision, he could file it in Travis County, the county of
his most recent conviction for a sexually violent offense.
Id. at 329. In addressing Hartshorn's argument,
the court observed that "the context of subchapter E is
instructive." Id. It continued that
'[r]eferences to 'the court' and 'the
judge' in preceding subsections of subchapter E are to
the court and judge that initially committed the person,
imposed requirements on him, and retains jurisdiction over
civil commitment proceedings under subchapters F and G."
Id. The court reasoned that because Hartshorn's
petition "sought modification of his civil-commitment
requirements, and such modifications are a matter for the
committing court under subchapter E." Id.
Because Subchapter E proceedings are not included in the
definition of a civil commitment proceeding, and Hartshorn
was seeking relief under Subchapter E, the court found no
conflict regarding jurisdiction in the statutory amendments.
The court concluded its analysis with the following:
[g]iven the statutory context of subchapter E, we conclude
that Hartshorn's 2016 petition for transfer to less
restrictive housing and supervision under section 841.0834(b)
should have been filed in the Montgomery County court that
civilly committed him as a sexually violent predator in 2010.
Requiring Hartshorn's petition under the SVP statute to
remain in the committing court of Montgomery County is an
interpretation of the legislation that is logical, prevents
different courts from issuing competing orders as to the same
committed person, and ...