Ex parte Barnett, No. B-9137

CourtSupreme Court of Texas
Writing for the CourtSPEARS
Citation600 S.W.2d 252
PartiesEx parte John Otis BARNETT.
Decision Date14 May 1980
Docket NumberNo. B-9137

Page 252

600 S.W.2d 252
Ex parte John Otis BARNETT.
No. B-9137.
Supreme Court of Texas.
May 14, 1980.

John O. Barnett, pro se.

Michael Tibbals, Dallas, for respondent.

SPEARS, Justice.

In an original proceeding, Relator John Otis Barnett seeks a writ of habeas corpus to secure his release from a commitment

Page 253

order of the 219th Judicial District Court of Collin County. The commitment order arises from a motion for contempt filed by Barnett's former wife, Deborah, in which she alleges that Barnett failed to pay child support as ordered by the 330th Judicial District Court of Dallas County. The trial court of Collin County in open court orally found Barnett in contempt, and although no written judgment of contempt was rendered coincidently, the trial court signed a commitment order containing both punitive and coercive provisions. Relator John Barnett first applied to the court of civil appeals for a writ of habeas corpus but was denied relief. 594 S.W.2d 805. He then sought a writ from this court. After he filed his application here, we granted the writ and ordered relator released on bond pending our decision in the case.

The parties were divorced in Dallas County on October 15, 1975. Deborah was named managing conservator of the child, and John Barnett was ordered to pay $125 per month to her as child support. Subsequently, John filed a motion to modify the divorce decree, asking that he be named managing conservator, and Deborah cross-filed for an increase in child support. On May 4, 1978, a Dallas County jury determined that Deborah should remain the managing conservator of the child. The court then on June 29, 1978 heard Deborah's motion for contempt and her motion to increase child support. In a judgment signed August 1, 1978, the trial court of Dallas County ordered that Deborah remain managing conservator and that John pay child support of $400 per month beginning with the first payment on July 1, 1978. The judgment further set forth the rights of John as possessory conservator, awarded Deborah attorney's fees, and denied Deborah's motion for contempt. On September 8, 1978, Deborah filed another motion for contempt alleging that the court's order of "May 4, 1978" was willfully disobeyed. Her motion was not heard by the Dallas County District Court.

On August 21, 1979, on Deborah's motion, the entire cause was transferred from the 330th District Court of Dallas County to the 219th District Court of Collin County. Thereafter, on October 4, 1979, Deborah filed a motion for contempt in Collin County, alleging that John had willfully disobeyed the order of "May 4, 1978" of the Dallas County court and that he was $3,450.00 in arrears. Alternatively, she sought a judgment for that amount. She further alleged she was then a resident of Collin County. John responded with a cross-motion to reduce the child support and alternatively, to terminate his parental rights.

The Collin County court heard both motions on November 16, 1979. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court announced that he was granting the motion for contempt and stated from the bench:

I will set punishment at 24 hours confinement in the Collin County Jail, set arrearage in the amount of $5,250, plus attorney's fees and costs as set herein. I will further order that the Respondent be confined until the arrearage in that amount is paid herein.

The commitment order, dated November 16, 1979, was signed by the trial judge and is set forth in the margin. 1 No written judgment

Page 254

of contempt was signed, however, until February 6, 1980, eight days after John filed his application for writ of habeas corpus in this court.

The power to punish a party who fails or refuses to obey a prior order or decree of the court for contempt is an inherent power of a court and is an essential element of judicial independence and authority. Ex Parte Gorena, 595 S.W.2d 841 (Tex.1979); see Ex parte Padron, 565 S.W.2d 921 (Tex.1978); Tex.Rev.Civ.Stat.Ann. article 1911a (Vernon). 2 For this court to order the release of relator, the trial court's order of commitment must be void, either because it was beyond the power of the court or because it deprived the relator of his liberty without due process of law. See Ex parte Gordon, 584 S.W.2d 686 (Tex.1979); Ex parte Werblud, 536 S.W.2d 542 (Tex.1976); Ex parte Slavin, 412 S.W.2d 43 (Tex.1967); Ex parte Ratliff, 117 Tex. 325, 3 S.W.2d 406 (1928).

The threshold question is raised by relator's contention that the district court in Collin County had no power to enforce by contempt the order to pay child support rendered by the district court of Dallas County. He cites Ex parte Gonzalez, 111 Tex. 399, 238 S.W. 635 (1922) and Ex parte Chandler, 580 S.W.2d 12 (Tex.Civ.App. Houston (1st Dist.) 1979) for the proposition that a transferee court has no jurisdiction to punish a party for acts committed prior to the transfer because no court is the agent of another for the purpose of punishment for contempt of the latter. Gonzalez involved the transfer of a case from one district court in El Paso County to another in the same county. A statute then in effect provided that the transferee court had jurisdiction of the case as though the case had been originally brought in that court. Despite the statute, the court in Gonzalez said that in no instance may one court punish acts of contempt directed at another court.

Prior to the adoption of the Family Code in 1973, it was held that the court granting a divorce had continuing exclusive jurisdiction over contempt proceedings instituted to enforce the provisions of its divorce decree and of motions to modify child support, but that venue for motions to change child custody or visitation rights was governed by the general venue statute, article 1995. Boney v. Boney, 458 S.W.2d 907, 911 (Tex.1970). With the enactment by the legislature of the Texas Family Code in 1973, however, a new concept of "the court of continuing jurisdiction" was created. It is clear to us that in creating this concept the legislature recognized the need for all matters relating to the enforcement and modification of the divorce decree in matters that remained under the continuing supervision of the divorce court to be handled by a single court. See Curtis v. Gibbs, 511 S.W.2d 263, 266 (Tex.1974). Under the Family Code, when a party objects to hearing...

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175 practice notes
  • Ex parte Barlow, No. 14-95-00175-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • May 25, 1995
    ...proper notification is a nullity. Id. (citing Ex parte Ratliff, 117 Tex. 325, 327-28, 3 S.W.2d 406, 407 (1928)). In Ex parte Barnett, 600 S.W.2d 252, 253 (Tex.1980), Barnett was held in contempt for failure to pay child support. The commitment order delivered to the sheriff referred to "the......
  • Ex parte Chambers, No. 94-0495
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • June 15, 1995
    ...the relator has been confined without a hearing or with no evidence Page 260 of contempt to support his confinement. Ex parte Barnett, 600 S.W.2d 252 (Tex.1980); Ex parte Helms, 152 Tex. 480, 259 S.W.2d 184 (1953). See also Ex parte Howell, 843 S.W.2d 241, 245 (Tex.App.--Houston [1st Dist.]......
  • Ex Parte Coronado, No. 13-09-00149-CV (Tex. App. 4/9/2009), No. 13-09-00149-CV.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • April 9, 2009
    ...has not been afforded due process. In re Henry, 154 S.W.3d 594, 596 (Tex. 2005) (orig. proceeding) (per curiam); see Ex parte Barnett, 600 S.W.2d 252, 254 (Tex. 1980) (orig. proceeding); see also Ex parte Swate, 922 S.W.2d 122, 124 (Tex. 1996) (orig. proceeding). Although the Texas Constitu......
  • Ex parte Linder, No. 05-89-00893-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • January 8, 1990
    ...a written commitment order Page 757 are necessary to imprison a person for civil constructive contempt of court. See Ex parte Barnett, 600 S.W.2d 252, 256 (Tex.1980). However, the Barnett court also reaffirmed that there is no prescribed form for an order of commitment in that "the directiv......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
175 cases
  • Ex parte Barlow, No. 14-95-00175-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • May 25, 1995
    ...proper notification is a nullity. Id. (citing Ex parte Ratliff, 117 Tex. 325, 327-28, 3 S.W.2d 406, 407 (1928)). In Ex parte Barnett, 600 S.W.2d 252, 253 (Tex.1980), Barnett was held in contempt for failure to pay child support. The commitment order delivered to the sheriff referred to "the......
  • Ex parte Chambers, No. 94-0495
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • June 15, 1995
    ...the relator has been confined without a hearing or with no evidence Page 260 of contempt to support his confinement. Ex parte Barnett, 600 S.W.2d 252 (Tex.1980); Ex parte Helms, 152 Tex. 480, 259 S.W.2d 184 (1953). See also Ex parte Howell, 843 S.W.2d 241, 245 (Tex.App.--Houston [1st Dist.]......
  • Ex Parte Coronado, No. 13-09-00149-CV (Tex. App. 4/9/2009), No. 13-09-00149-CV.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • April 9, 2009
    ...has not been afforded due process. In re Henry, 154 S.W.3d 594, 596 (Tex. 2005) (orig. proceeding) (per curiam); see Ex parte Barnett, 600 S.W.2d 252, 254 (Tex. 1980) (orig. proceeding); see also Ex parte Swate, 922 S.W.2d 122, 124 (Tex. 1996) (orig. proceeding). Although the Texas Constitu......
  • Ex parte Linder, No. 05-89-00893-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • January 8, 1990
    ...a written commitment order Page 757 are necessary to imprison a person for civil constructive contempt of court. See Ex parte Barnett, 600 S.W.2d 252, 256 (Tex.1980). However, the Barnett court also reaffirmed that there is no prescribed form for an order of commitment in that "the directiv......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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