Appeal from the 280th District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Cause No. 2017-67140
consists of Justices Jewell, Bourliot, and Zimmerer.
Joanna Laufer appeals the trial court's order assessing
attorney's fees and costs against her in connection with
appellee's application for a protective order. The trial
court denied Justin Gordon's application for a protective
order but found nonetheless that Joanna committed family
violence against Justin. The court ordered Joanna to pay $10,
131 in fees and costs, plus interest, to Justin's
asserts on appeal that the trial court erred in awarding
attorney's fees against her under Texas Family Code
section 81.005 because the court did not consider, as this
section requires, whether she has the income or ability to
pay the award, and the court did not find that she is so
able. We conclude that Joanna has not shown that the trial
court acted outside its discretion, and we affirm the trial
filed an application for a protective order against Joanna.
The trial court found that Joanna committed family violence
against Justin, but that she was unlikely to engage in family
violence in the future. Thus, the court denied Justin's
protective-order application. See Tex. Fam. Code
§§ 81.001, 85.001; Ford v. Harbour, No.
14-07-00832-CV, 2009 WL 679672, at *3 (Tex. App.-Houston
[14th Dist.] Mar. 17, 2009, no pet.) (mem. op.) ("A
trial court shall render a protective order if, after a
hearing, it finds that family violence has occurred and is
likely to occur in the future."). Justin has not
appealed and does not challenge the court's ruling
denying the protective order.
of the application for a protective order, Justin sought his
attorney's fees and costs under the Family Code.
See Tex. Fam. Code § 81.005(a). Section
81.005(a) provides that the court "may assess reasonable
attorney's fees against the party found to have committed
family violence . . . as compensation for the services of a
private or prosecuting attorney or an attorney employed by
the Department of Family and Protective Services."
Id. During the protective-order hearing,
Justin's attorneys presented evidence supporting his
request for $10, 131 in attorney's fees and costs. Joanna
did not dispute that Justin's requested fees and costs
were "reasonable and customary."
claimed, however, that she was unable to pay the amount
requested. Joanna testified that she works as a contractor in
the field of construction permits. Although her testimony was
not entirely clear, the record shows that she was receiving
as after-tax income in 2018 at least $3, 000 and potentially
as much as $3, 500 per month, which includes $500 in monthly
child support for her young daughter, who lives with
Joanna stated that she receives no other income. Joanna
recalled that her 2017 income was "maybe" $38, 000,
though she had not filed her 2017 tax return because her
"CPA is doing that right now." As to current
assets, Joanna testified that she has approximately $1, 500
to $2, 000 in savings as "emergency money." She did
not state, and was not asked, whether she has any other
to Joanna, her monthly expenses as of June 2018 include: (1)
$1, 250 for rent; (2) $165 for utilities; (3) $55 for cell
phone service; (4) $400 for childcare; (5) $700 for food,
clothing, and medications; (6) $100 for gas; (7) $250 for her
car payment; (8) $125 for automobile insurance; and (8) $100
for health insurance.
is represented by counsel, but she has not paid any legal
fees. She did not state whether she owed any legal fees to
her attorneys, whether someone else paid legal fees on her
behalf, or if her attorneys were representing her pro bono.
She is currently in a dating relationship with one of her
hearing the evidence, the trial court awarded $10, 131 in
attorney's fees and costs to Justin's attorneys. The
trial court stated on the record that the award takes into
consideration Joanna's ability to pay. In a signed order,
the trial court: (1) found that Joanna committed family
violence against Justin; (2) found that Joanna is not likely
to engage in family violence in the future; (3) denied
Justin's application for protective order; and (4)
memorialized the court's award of attorney's fees and
costs in Justin's favor for $10, 131.
timely requested findings of fact and conclusions of law.
Additionally, Joanna filed a motion for new trial on
attorney's fees, challenging the sufficiency of the
evidence to support the trial court's fee award and
emphasizing that the trial court must consider Joanna's
income and ability to pay before assessing fees. The trial
court signed findings and conclusions on July 9, finding that
Justin "has incurred reasonable and necessary legal fees
of $8, 531.00 and costs of $1, 600.00. . . ." However,
the court included no findings concerning ...