Garza v. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Com'n

Decision Date03 July 2002
Docket NumberNo. 00-1069.,00-1069.
Citation89 S.W.3d 1
PartiesJose Luis GARZA d/b/a Tropicana Night Club, Petitioner, v. TEXAS ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE COMMISSION, Respondent.
CourtTexas Supreme Court

Logene L. Foster, Sugar Land, Stephen A. Doggett, Richmond, for Petitioner.

John Cornyn, Attorney General, Andy Taylor, First Assistant Attorney General, Seth Byron Dennis, W. Reed Lockhoof, Dewey E. Helmcamp, III, Jeffrey S. Boyd, Don Walker, Office of the Attorney General of Texas, Austin, for Respondent.

Justice JEFFERSON delivered the opinion of the Court in which Chief Justice PHILLIPS, Justice HECHT, Justice ENOCH, Justice OWEN, Justice HANKINSON, Justice O'NEILL, and Justice RODRIGUEZ joined.

This case involves the time period within which a district court must render judgment following an appeal to that court from an administrative order canceling, suspending, or refusing a liquor license. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code section 11.67 provides that an appeal of a liquor license denial must be tried to the district court within ten days after it is filed. TEX. ALCO. BEV.CODE § 11.67(b)(2). Here, the district court conducted a hearing within the required ten days, but did not sign a judgment until nineteen days after the appeal was filed. The court of appeals dismissed the appeal, holding that the district court's late decision divested that court, and any subsequent court, of jurisdiction to decide the case. 83 S.W.3d 161.

We hold that section 11.67 requires that judgment be rendered no later than ten days from the date the appeal to the district court is filed. But, regardless of how rendition occurs, section 11.67 does not prevent a district court from performing the ministerial act of memorializing a timely rendition in a signed judgment after the ten-day period has passed. Any judgment signed after that ten-day period that differs from a timely rendition of judgment is void. When, as here, a district court does not render judgment within ten days, judgment is rendered by operation of law against the party seeking the issuance, renewal, or reinstatement of a license. At that point, the district court has a ministerial duty to sign a judgment affirming the administrative decision. Proceedings in the district court remain interlocutory until the district court signs that judgment. In this case, the district court has never signed a judgment affirming the administrative decision. Because the matter remains interlocutory, we affirm the court of appeals' judgment dismissing the appeal for want of jurisdiction.

I. Background

Jose Luis Garza applied to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) to renew a beer and wine retailer's on-premises license for the Tropicana Night Club in Rosenberg, Texas. The TABC denied Garza's application and ordered him to submit an application to the constitutional county court. See TEX. ALCO. BEV.CODE § 61.49. On October 28, 1997, the county judge, sitting in an administrative capacity, signed a judgment denying renewal of the permit. Garza's motion for rehearing was overruled by operation of law. See TEX. Gov'T CODE § 2001.146(c).

On January 9, 1998, Garza appealed the county judge's order to the 268th District Court, which conducted a hearing on January 16, 1998. See TEX. ALCO. BEV.CODE §§ 11.67(a), 61.34(a). In a written judgment, the district court held that the county judge committed reversible error by limiting Garza to five trial witnesses. The district court vacated the administrative judgment and remanded the case to the county judge for further proceedings. The district court's judgment recited that the court "rendered its decision on January 20, 1998." However, the court actually signed the judgment on January 28, 1998. On remand, the county judge conducted a second hearing, at which the judge again denied Garza's renewal application. Garza appealed the county judge's second decision to the 240th District Court. That district court denied the license renewal on January 6, 1999 and Garza appealed to the court of appeals.

With one judge dissenting, the court of appeals held that the 268th District Court lacked jurisdiction at the time it remanded the case to the county judge because it did not render judgment within ten days following Garza's January 9, 1998 appeal to that court. 83 S.W.3d 161. The court of appeals vacated the subsequent judgments of the county judge and the district court and dismissed the appeal, effectively leaving in place the county judge's October 28, 1997 administrative order denying the renewal application. Disagreeing with that result, the dissent concluded that "the legislature [did not intend] to preclude appeal by a party who has done everything required under the Texas Alcohol Beverage Code, just because the trial court failed to meet its responsibilities." Id. at 169 (Larsen, J., dissenting).

Garza filed a petition for review contending that (1) the court of appeals erred in interpreting Alcoholic Beverage Code section 11.67 to require both a hearing and rendition of judgment within ten days of the date the appeal is filed; (2) the record contains a docket-sheet entry reflecting that the 268th District Court did, in fact, render judgment within the ten-day period; and (3) the court of appeals' interpretation of section 11.67 violates Garza's right of due process under the United States and Texas Constitutions and contravenes the open-courts and separation-of-powers provisions of the Texas Constitution. We granted Garza's petition to decide these issues.

II. The Ten-Day "Trial on Appeal"

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code gives an applicant whose alcohol permit is suspended or denied the right to appeal that administrative decision to a district court. TEX. ALCO. BEV.CODE § 11.67. The relevant portion of the statute reads as follows:

The appeal shall be under the substantial evidence rule and against the commission alone as defendant. The rules applicable to ordinary civil suits apply, with the following exceptions, which shall be construed literally:

(1) the appeal shall be perfected and filed within 30 days after the date the order, decision, or ruling of the commission or administrator becomes final and appealable (2) the case shall be tried before a judge within 10 days from the date it is filed;

(3) neither party is entitled to a jury; and

(4) the order, decision, or ruling of the commission or administrator may be suspended or modified by the court pending a trial on the merits, but the final judgment of the district court may not be modified or suspended pending appeal.

TEX. ALCO. BEV.CODE § 11.67(b).

Generally, on appeal from an administrative denial of a liquor license, the district court conducts an abbreviated hearing1 and renders a decision within ten days after the appeal is filed. See id. § 11.67(a), (b). At the district court's discretion, the decision to withhold the license may be suspended pending the abbreviated hearing. Id. § 11.67(b)(4). However, a final judgment, once rendered, takes immediate effect and cannot be suspended pending an appeal to the court of appeals. Id. The statute makes no provision for a disposition in the event the district court does not render judgment within ten days. We address that issue today. We have held that section 11.67(b)(2) requires all proceedings in the district court to be completed within ten days of the date the appeal is filed. Cook v. Walker, 529 S.W.2d 762, 762 (Tex.1975); Cook v. Spears, 524 S.W.2d 290, 292 (Tex.1975). In Spears, we discussed the legislative history of article 666-15e, section 7a of the Texas Liquor Control Act, which is the predecessor to Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code section 11.67(b). 524 S.W.2d at 291. We observed that the earliest version of the Act required only that an appeal be tried within ten days or at the earliest possible time thereafter "in the event the Judge is not able to try such cause within such ten (10) day period." Id. at 291 n. 2 (emphasis omitted) (citing Texas Liquor Control Act, 44th Leg., 2d C.S., ch. 467, art. I, § 14, 1935 Tex. Gen. Laws 1795, 1803).

The Legislature subsequently amended that provision by striking the language permitting a judge to extend the trial beyond the ten-day period. See Act of May 22, 1937, 45th Leg., R.S., ch. 448, art. I, § 15, 1937 Tex. Gen. Laws 1053, 1066. In 1961, the Legislature added article 666-15e to the Liquor Control Act and declared that the terms of the statute, including the ten-day-trial rule, "shall be considered literally." Act of May 25, 1961, 57th Leg., R.S., ch. 262, § 7a, 1961 Tex. Gen. Laws 559, 561. Based on the Legislature's systematic efforts to constrict the timetable within which judgment must be rendered, we concluded in Spears that the appeal period in the district court could not exceed the statutory ten-day limit. 524 S.W.2d at 291-92. Thus, we held that the permittee in Spears, who sought a continuance and further discovery well beyond the ten-day period for court action, lost his right to a district court appeal when the period elapsed without a district court judgment. Id.

We reached a similar conclusion in Cook v. Walker. There, although the license applicant filed an appeal to the district court on March 26, 1975, the judge did not set the matter for trial until May 2, 1975. Walker, 529 S.W.2d at 762. Because more than ten days expired between the filing date and the trial date, we concluded that the applicant's right to a district court appeal expired at the end of the tenth day. Id.

Garza contends that Spears and Walker are distinguishable because, in this case, the district court actually heard the matter eight days after Garza filed his appeal. This distinction is significant if, as Garza asserts, the "trial" in section 11.67(b)(2) refers only to a hearing on the merits and does not necessitate rendition of judgment. In support of his argument, Garza cites Fox v. Medina, 848 S.W.2d 866 (Tex.App.-Corpus Christi 1993, no writ). In...

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