In re Reece, No. 09–0520.

CourtSupreme Court of Texas
Writing for the CourtJustice GUZMAN delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Chief Justice JEFFERSON, Justice HECHT, Justice WAINWRIGHT, Justice MEDINA, Justice GREEN, and Justice LEHRMANN.
Citation54 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 1031,341 S.W.3d 360
PartiesIn re Coy REECE, Relator.
Decision Date27 May 2011
Docket NumberNo. 09–0520.

341 S.W.3d 360
54 Tex.
Sup. Ct. J. 1031

In re Coy REECE, Relator.

No. 09–0520.

Supreme Court of Texas.

Argued Oct. 12, 2010.Decided May 27, 2011.


[341 S.W.3d 362]

Robert B. Gilbreath, Craig Alan McDougal, John Michael Ellis and Samuel Wesley Butler, Dallas, for Relator.Edward Jason Dennis, Jeremy Fielding, Joseph Michael Nathan, Richard A. Smith, Dallas, Michael Carter Crow and Charles Jason Rother, Houston, for Real Party in Interest.Sheriff Lupe Valdez, Dallas, pro se.Justice GUZMAN delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Chief Justice JEFFERSON, Justice HECHT, Justice WAINWRIGHT, Justice MEDINA, Justice GREEN, and Justice LEHRMANN.

It is well-rooted in our jurisprudence that contempt is a broad and inherent power of a court. But, we have also recognized that despite the breadth and necessity of that power, it is a power that must be exercised with caution. Today, we decide as a matter of first impression whether a trial court may hold a litigant in contempt for perjury committed during a deposition. We are further presented with a question arising from the bifurcated nature of the Texas judiciary and our limited habeas jurisdiction: whether we should exercise our mandamus jurisdiction to provide a forum for a civil litigant who is deprived of liberty pursuant to a court's contempt order, and the Court of Criminal Appeals has declined to exercise its habeas jurisdiction.

In the underlying civil case, the relator was held in contempt and confined for perjuring himself during a deposition.

[341 S.W.3d 363]

The relator challenged his confinement by seeking a writ of habeas corpus in the Court of Criminal Appeals, but that court declined to exercise its jurisdiction citing, among other things, the civil nature of the case. The Court of Criminal Appeals directed the relator to pursue his remedies in this Court. Because we lack habeas jurisdiction in this case, the relator pursued relief by filing the instant petition for writ of mandamus to challenge his confinement.

We conclude the trial court abused its discretion by holding the relator in contempt for perjury occurring during a deposition, because such perjury did not obstruct the operation of the court. Further, because the underlying suit is civil in nature, and the Court of Criminal Appeals declined to grant the relator leave to file a habeas petition in that court, we hold the relator has no adequate remedy by appeal and therefore mandamus is the appropriate remedy to correct the trial court's abuse of discretion. We conditionally grant relief.

I. Background

The trial court found relator Coy Reece in contempt for perjuring himself during a 2008 deposition in the underlying civil suit brought by real party in interest SB International, Inc. (SB). Specifically, during the deposition, Reece denied knowledge of a codefendant's transactions in violation of a contract with SB,1 but later admitted to deliberately making misstatements in the deposition.

After Reece's admission, SB filed a motion for sanctions, requesting costs and fees incurred in connection with its efforts to obtain Reece's compliance with discovery obligations, totaling $58,331.17.2 SB secured a hearing on the motion for sanctions, but the trial court suspended the hearing and issued a show cause order to determine if Reece had committed criminal contempt. At the contempt hearing, Reece testified he had lied under oath during the deposition. On May 29, 2009, the court found beyond a reasonable doubt that Reece was guilty of “repeatedly, deliberately, and intentionally [lying] under oath” and that his lying under oath “was reasonably calculated to impede, embarrass, and/or obstruct the court in the discharge of its duties.” The trial court found Reece in contempt and sentenced him to sixty-days confinement, with all but two weeks of the sentence suspended.

Reece filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus with the court of appeals, which granted his request for emergency relief, but that court later dismissed the habeas petition for want of jurisdiction.3 Reece then sought habeas relief from the Court of Criminal Appeals, which denied his initial petition because he was not in custody. On June 24, 2009, after the trial court entered a revised commitment order and Reece was taken back into custody, Reece filed another habeas petition with the

[341 S.W.3d 364]

Court of Criminal Appeals. The Court of Criminal Appeals issued an order denying leave to file the habeas petition without prejudice, explaining that (1) the underlying case is civil in nature, (2) the Texas Supreme Court thus has jurisdiction to entertain Reece's petition, and (3) although the Court of Criminal Appeals possesses jurisdiction to act on Reece's petition, it declines to do so in order for Reece to pursue his remedies in the Texas Supreme Court. In re Reece, No. WR–72,199–02, slip op. at 2 (Tex.Crim.App. June 24, 2009) (per curiam) (not designated for publication) (order denying leave to file for habeas relief).

Reece filed a motion for reconsideration in the Court of Criminal Appeals, explaining that this Court lacks habeas jurisdiction because the contempt order does not emanate from a violation of an order, judgment, or decree. See Tex. Gov't Code § 22.002(e). Reece also filed the instant mandamus petition with this Court.4 In his mandamus petition, Reece argues that (1) the show cause order is deficient and does not afford him due process, (2) even if the show cause order is not deficient, perjury committed during a deposition is not punishable by contempt, and (3) this Court possesses mandamus jurisdiction to review a contempt judgment involving confinement in a civil case when the Court of Criminal Appeals refuses to exercise its habeas jurisdiction. We granted Reece's motion for temporary relief and ordered him released on bond; he has served four days of his fourteen-day sentence.

To be entitled to mandamus relief, a relator must demonstrate (1) the trial court clearly abused its discretion, and (2) the relator has no adequate remedy by appeal. In re McAllen Med. Ctr., Inc., 275 S.W.3d 458, 462 (Tex.2008) (orig. proceeding). We begin by considering the first prong in our mandamus inquiry: whether the trial court clearly abused its discretion by holding Reece in contempt.

II. Clear Abuse of Discretion

The crux of Reece's arguments rests on his assertion that perjury committed during a deposition is not punishable by contempt, and therefore the trial court clearly abused its discretion by holding him in contempt for this conduct. In evaluating the merits of this assertion, we first examine the general contours of a court's contempt power in Texas and then decide whether the specific misconduct at issue in this case is punishable by contempt.

A. Contempt of Court in Texas

We have broadly defined contempt as “disobedience to or disrespect of a court by acting in opposition to its authority,” Ex parte Chambers, 898 S.W.2d 257, 259 (Tex.1995) (orig. proceeding), and observed that contempt is a broad and inherent power of a court, see Ex parte Browne, 543 S.W.2d 82, 86 (Tex.1976) (orig. proceeding). But, despite the breadth of a court's contempt power, we have warned it is a tool that should be exercised with caution. Herring v. Houston Nat'l Exch. Bank, 113 Tex. 337, 255 S.W. 1097, 1104 (1923) (orig. proceeding); accord Ex parte Taylor, 807 S.W.2d 746, 748 (Tex.Crim.App.1991). As the Court of Criminal Appeals has explained, “[c]ontempt is strong medicine”—the alleged contemnor's very liberty is often at stake—and so it should be used “only as a last resort.” Ex parte Pink, 746 S.W.2d 758, 762 (Tex.Crim.App.1988) (citing Willson v. Johnston, 404 S.W.2d 870, 873 (Tex.Civ.App.—Amarillo 1966, orig. proceeding)).

[341 S.W.3d 365]

Contempt may occur in the presence of a court (direct contempt), or outside the court's presence (constructive contempt). Ex parte Gordon, 584 S.W.2d 686, 688 (Tex.1979) (orig. proceeding). In direct contempt cases, the court must have direct knowledge of the behavior constituting contempt, In re Bell, 894 S.W.2d 119, 127 (Tex.Spec.Ct.Rev.1995), while the converse is true in a case of constructive contempt. As a result of this distinction, the trial court in a direct contempt proceeding is entitled, in some instances, to conduct a summary proceeding in which the alleged contemnor is not entitled to notice and a hearing, id.,5 while a constructive contemnor is always entitled to notice and a hearing in order to defend or explain the charges, see Ex parte Gordon, 584 S.W.2d at 688; Ex parte Werblud, 536 S.W.2d 542, 546 (Tex.1976) (orig. proceeding) (observing that constructive contempt entitles the contemnor to more procedural safeguards than those afforded to direct contemnors); see also Ex parte Krupps, 712 S.W.2d 144, 147 (Tex.Crim.App.1986) (explaining that constructive contempt adjudications satisfy due process if the contemnor is given notice, a hearing, and the opportunity to obtain an attorney).

Contempt is further classified into either civil or criminal contempt. In determining whether contempt is civil or criminal, it is necessary to examine the purpose behind the contempt order: civil contempt is “remedial and coercive in nature”—the contemnor carries the keys to the jail cell in his or her pocket since the confinement is conditioned on obedience with the court's order, Ex parte Werblud, 536 S.W.2d at 545,6 while criminal contempt is punitive in nature—“the contemnor is being punished for some completed act which affronted the dignity and authority of the court,” id. Thus, the distinction between criminal and civil contempt does not turn on whether the underlying litigation is civil or criminal, but rather on the nature of the court's punishment. Ex parte Chambers, 898 S.W.2d at 266 (Gonzalez, J., dissenting); see generally Ex parte Werblud, 536 S.W.2d at 545–46.

Here, Reece has admitted to lying outside the trial court's presence during a deposition, and the purpose of the...

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281 practice notes
  • Luttrell v. El Paso Cnty., No. 08-16-00090-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • December 20, 2017
    ...such cases, the contemnor is always entitled to adequate notice and a hearing that complies with due process requirements. In re Reece, 341 S.W.3d 360, 365 (Tex. 2011) (citing Ex parte Gordon, 584 S.W.2d 686, 688 (Tex. 1979)); Ex parte Werblud, 536 S.W.2d 542, 546 (Tex. 1976) (orig. proceed......
  • In re OSG Ship Mgmt., Inc., NO. 14–16–00240–CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • December 29, 2016
    ...demonstrate that (1) the trial court clearly abused its discretion; and (2) the relator has no adequate remedy by appeal. In re Reece , 341 S.W.3d 360, 364 (Tex. 2011) (orig. proceeding). A trial court clearly abuses its discretion if it reaches a decision so arbitrary and unreasonable as t......
  • Luttrell v. El Paso Cnty., No. 08-16-00090-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • July 26, 2018
    ...such cases, the contemnor is always entitled to adequate notice and a hearing that complies with due process requirements. In re Reece, 341 S.W.3d 360, 365 (Tex. 2011) (citing Ex parte Gordon, 584 S.W.2d 686, 688 (Tex. 1979) ); Ex parte Werblud, 536 S.W.2d 542, 546 (Tex. 1976) (orig. procee......
  • State v. Navigator, NO. 14–0692
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • June 10, 2016
    ...proceedings, ostensibly curtailing future constitutional analyses by Texas courts; Justice Devine's path does not.1 In re Reece, 341 S.W.3d 360, 371 (Tex.2011) (citing TEX. CONST. art. V, §§ 3, 5 ).2 See, e.g., Heckman v. Williamson Cty., 369 S.W.3d 137 (Tex.2012) ; Harrell v. State, 286 S.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
284 cases
  • Luttrell v. El Paso Cnty., No. 08-16-00090-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • December 20, 2017
    ...such cases, the contemnor is always entitled to adequate notice and a hearing that complies with due process requirements. In re Reece, 341 S.W.3d 360, 365 (Tex. 2011) (citing Ex parte Gordon, 584 S.W.2d 686, 688 (Tex. 1979)); Ex parte Werblud, 536 S.W.2d 542, 546 (Tex. 1976) (orig. proceed......
  • In re OSG Ship Mgmt., Inc., NO. 14–16–00240–CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • December 29, 2016
    ...demonstrate that (1) the trial court clearly abused its discretion; and (2) the relator has no adequate remedy by appeal. In re Reece , 341 S.W.3d 360, 364 (Tex. 2011) (orig. proceeding). A trial court clearly abuses its discretion if it reaches a decision so arbitrary and unreasonable as t......
  • Luttrell v. El Paso Cnty., No. 08-16-00090-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • July 26, 2018
    ...such cases, the contemnor is always entitled to adequate notice and a hearing that complies with due process requirements. In re Reece, 341 S.W.3d 360, 365 (Tex. 2011) (citing Ex parte Gordon, 584 S.W.2d 686, 688 (Tex. 1979) ); Ex parte Werblud, 536 S.W.2d 542, 546 (Tex. 1976) (orig. procee......
  • State v. Navigator, NO. 14–0692
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • June 10, 2016
    ...proceedings, ostensibly curtailing future constitutional analyses by Texas courts; Justice Devine's path does not.1 In re Reece, 341 S.W.3d 360, 371 (Tex.2011) (citing TEX. CONST. art. V, §§ 3, 5 ).2 See, e.g., Heckman v. Williamson Cty., 369 S.W.3d 137 (Tex.2012) ; Harrell v. State, 286 S.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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