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In re C.H.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

October 17, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF C.H., OAG #05556988921

          On appeal from the 329th District Court of Wharton County, Texas.

          Before Justices Benavides, Hinojosa, and Perkes

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GREGORY T. PERKES, JUSTICE

         This is a restricted appeal filed by the Office of the Attorney General of Texas (OAG) from a final order setting aside various enforcement actions taken by the OAG to collect alleged unpaid child support from appellee Everett Hughes. By two issues, the OAG argues: (1) the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to review an administrative suspension of Hughes's driver's license; and (2) the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to enjoin the OAG from taking future enforcement actions against Hughes. We affirm in part and vacate and dismiss the case in part.

         I. Background

         The 329th Judicial District Court of Wharton County, Texas ordered Hughes to pay child support beginning in December 1996 for the benefit of his daughter Chardaa Hughes.[1] In October 1999, the same trial court issued an agreed Order Enforcing Child Support Obligation, which included a cumulative money judgment against "EVERETT HUGHES and in favor of the ATTORNEY GENERAL in the amount of $15, 000.00, with interest at the rate of 12% per annum, for collection and distribution according to the law."

         In 2015, acting as the state's Title IV-D agency, the OAG initiated collection efforts against Hughes by sending a notice of child support lien to his bank, see Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 157.311-.3145, and issuing administrative writs of withholding to his employers.[2]See id. §§ 158.501-.505. Additionally, the OAG filed a petition with the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) that resulted in the suspension of Hughes's driver's license. See id. §§ 232.001-.009

         Hughes filed a motion in the trial court alleging the OAG's collection efforts violated Texas Family Code § 157.005(b) because the OAG failed to first obtain a cumulative money judgment against Hughes within ten years of Chardaa becoming an adult.[3]Hughes set his motion for hearing, and the OAG failed to appear. The trial court rendered a judgment in Hughes's favor and ordered the Texas Department of Public Safety to lift his driver's license suspension, declared any child support liens void, rescinded the administrative writs of withholding, and ordered "that no further wages be withheld in this cause or in OAG # 05556988921."[4] This restricted appeal ensued.

         II. Discussion

         To prevail on a restricted appeal, a party must establish that: (1) it filed a notice of the restricted appeal within six months after the judgment was signed; (2) it was a party to the underlying lawsuit; (3) it did not participate in the hearing that resulted in the judgment complained of and did not timely file any post-judgment motions or request for findings of fact and conclusions of law; and (4) error is apparent on the face of the record. See Tex. R. App. P. 30; Pike-Grant v. Grant, 447 S.W.3d 884, 886 (Tex. 2014).

         In this case, the first and third elements are uncontested. We previously overruled Hughes's motion to dismiss based on the second element, concluding the OAG was a party to the underlying suit. To satisfy the fourth element, the OAG challenges the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction on two separate grounds. Subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law we review de novo. Nazari v. State, 561 S.W.3d 495, 522 (Tex. 2018) (citing Tex. Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 226 (Tex. 2004)).

         A. Driver's license claim

         By its first issue, the OAG argues that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to review the SOAH's decision because Hughes was statutorily required to file his petition for judicial review in a Travis County district court. See Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 2001.176(b). Because the modern trend is to protect the finality of judgments from jurisdictional attacks, the Supreme Court of Texas requires "clear legislative intent" before concluding a statutory requirement is jurisdictional. City of DeSoto v. White, 288 S.W.3d 389, 393 (Tex. 2009) (citing Dubai Petroleum Co. v. Kazi, 12 S.W.3d 71, 75-76 (Tex. 2000)). Therefore, we start with the presumption that the Legislature did not intend to make § 2001.176(b)'s filing requirement jurisdictional unless clear legislative intent leads us to a contrary conclusion. See id. at 394. As with any statutory provision, we look to the plain language to determine legislative intent. Id. at 395 (citing F.F.P. Operating Partners, L.P. v. Duenez, 237 S.W.3d 680, 684 (Tex. 2007)). Statutory construction is a question of law we review de novo. City of Rockwall v. Hughes, 246 S.W.3d 621, 625 (Tex. 2008).

         When, as in this case, the OAG initiates an administrative proceeding to suspend an obligor's driver's license, the proceeding is governed by the contested case provisions under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 232.004(d). The SOAH's order suspending Hughes's driver's license was "a final agency decision subject to review under the substantial evidence rule as provided by [the APA]." Id. ยง 232.010. Under the APA, "[a] person initiates judicial review in a contested case by filing a petition not later than the 30th day after the date the decision or order that is the subject of complaint is final and appealable." Tex. Gov't ...


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