Lara v. Williams, 2-97-069-CV

CourtCourt of Appeals of Texas
Citation986 S.W.2d 310
Docket NumberNo. 2-97-069-CV,2-97-069-CV
PartiesRuth Maree LARA, Dr. Ronald B. Flowers, Michael Lee Huff, Jack Head, Jr., Robert Neel, Bryan Peterson, Appellants, v. David WILLIAMS, in his capacity as Sheriff of Tarrant County, Texas, and Tarrant County, Texas, Appellees.
Decision Date14 January 1999

Page 310

986 S.W.2d 310
Ruth Maree LARA, Dr. Ronald B. Flowers, Michael Lee Huff,
Jack Head, Jr., Robert Neel, Bryan Peterson, Appellants,
David WILLIAMS, in his capacity as Sheriff of Tarrant
County, Texas, and Tarrant County, Texas, Appellees.
No. 2-97-069-CV.
Court of Appeals of Texas,
Fort Worth.
Jan. 14, 1999.
Rehearing Overruled Feb. 18, 1999.

Page 312

Laurance R. Priddy, Fort Worth, Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal, L.L.P., Dawn Ryan Budner, Richard A. Rhohn, Dallas, The Rutherford Institute, George B. Flint, Plano, for Appellants.

Russell A. Friemel, Katherine Laroe, Tarrant County Dist. Atty., Fort Worth, for Appellee.



RICHARDS, Justice.

1. Introduction

This case presents difficult constitutional questions concerning the subject of religion and the administration of a county jail facility.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Tarrant County and Tarrant County Sheriff David Williams (collectively "Sheriff Williams") against the plaintiff appellants on their claims for damages, injunctive relief, declaratory relief, and attorneys' fees, in connection with the creation and operation of a religious education program known as the Chaplain's Educational Unit ("CEU" or "the unit"), which is conducted in the Tarrant County Corrections Center ("the jail" or "TCCC"), a county jail facility. In fourteen points brought by Michael Lee Huff, a former inmate of the jail, and Dr. Ronald B. Flowers, a Tarrant County resident, and seven points brought by Ruth Maree Lara, another former inmate, appellants 1 contend that the trial court erred in denying

Page 313

their motions for partial summary judgment and in granting Tarrant County's motion for summary judgment because the operation of the CEU violates the Establishment Clause of the United States and Texas Constitutions, the Equal Protection Clause of the United States and Texas Constitutions, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Huff and Flowers also raise Free Exercise challenges. Appellants also argue that Tarrant County is not immune from their claims that the unit violates the Texas Constitution, that these claims are actionable, and that they have at all relevant times had standing to assert their claims. Because we find unresolved questions of material fact on the issue of whether the operation of the CEU violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, we reject both parties' contentions that summary judgment was appropriate on that issue in their favor and will reverse and remand the case for trial. 2

We agree with Sheriff Williams that the CEU does not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and will affirm the trial court's decision in that regard.

In addition to the above parties and issues, three inmates who are voluntarily housed in the CEU and want its existence continued, appellants Jack Head Jr., Robert Neel and Bryan Peterson, complain of the trial court's order striking their attempted intervention in the lawsuit. Finding no abuse of discretion, we will affirm the trial court's order striking the intervention.

2. Why the CEU was Created and Maintained

This case involves a challenge to Sheriff Williams' creation, implementation, and administration of the CEU, a segregated unit in the jail in which inmates are taught fundamentalist Christian principles. The exact purpose and manner of operation of the unit is in dispute. There is evidence the program was established in order to reduce the potential for violence among inmates due to a chronic problem with overcrowding in the jail, by keeping inmates occupied in a program designed to reduce boredom and inactivity, and at the same time, promote rehabilitation. On appeal, Sheriff Williams characterizes the operation of the unit as secular and contends no attempt is made within the unit to proselytize or disparage other religions. While these contentions do find support in the record, other evidence suggests that the unit operates to advance the personal religious beliefs of the administrators of the unit to the exclusion of other religions. We will detail the evidence on both sides of this issue later in this opinion.

3. History and Structure

The CEU was created in 1992. It was initially open to only male inmates; however, the following year a women's CEU was added. The CEU is located in a jail "pod"--a cluster of jail cells 3--within the TCCC, a county jail facility where inmates serve sentences or await trial or transfer to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Inmates volunteer for admission to the CEU, where community volunteers teach what Sheriff Williams terms "orthodox" Biblical Christian principles in a group environment. The term "orthodox" is defined by Sheriff Williams and his chaplain as the belief that the Bible is infallible--free of human errors--and that one must be "born again" in order to gain salvation. Sheriff Williams permits no other religious views to be taught in the CEU and requires that "orthodox" Christianity be taught to the volunteer inmates at least four hours a day. The inmates stay in the CEU for a period of 120 days and are then reassigned back into the general population.

The program is administered by employees of the Sheriff's Department. The chain of authority over the CEU is as follows. Sheriff Williams, the highest county official presiding over the operations of the jail, has ultimate authority and responsibility for the CEU, including its curriculum. Chaplain

Page 314

Hugh Atwell, Director of Chaplaincy at the jail, is a paid employee of Tarrant County and has been delegated responsibility for the daily operations of the CEU and is second in the chain of authority. Directly under Atwell is Chaplain Don Anderson, who holds the title of CEU Director. Anderson is not a paid employee of the jail but is required to work a minimum of thirty hours a week to retain his position. Anderson raises funds from various churches to sustain his religious activities. Chaplain Atwell and Sheriff Williams must personally agree with the content of the curriculum materials taught by volunteers from area churches or the materials will not be approved.

Appellants brought suit against Sheriff Williams seeking injunctive and declaratory relief for alleged constitutional violations and seeking damages and attorneys' fees for alleged violations of their civil rights. They argued that operation of the CEU violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as the Establishment, Free Exercise, and Equal Protection Clauses of the Texas and United States Constitutions.

Appellants filed a motion for partial summary judgment in the trial court, and Sheriff Williams filed a reply and counter motion for summary judgment. The trial court initially denied all motions for summary judgment on public policy grounds. Later, however, a second presiding judge indicated to the parties her desire to reconsider the various summary judgment motions. Lara filed a renewed motion for partial summary judgment. All parties filed a Rule 11 agreement providing, in part, that the refiling of the prior motions for summary judgment would not be required and that the court could consider the earlier filed motions. Huff and Flowers relied on their earlier motion and did not file a new one. Tarrant County again moved for summary judgment. An interested organization, The Rutherford Institute, filed a petition in intervention in this case on behalf of Jack Head, Jr., Robert Neel, and Bryan Petersen ("the intervenors"), inmates in the TCCC and participants in the CEU program, asserting that the granting of appellants' motion for partial summary judgment would infringe upon the free exercise of the intervenors' religious beliefs. Lara filed a motion to strike the intervention.

Upon finding that there were no questions of material fact to be determined, the trial court denied appellants' motions for partial summary judgment, granted Sheriff Williams' motion for summary judgment, and granted Lara's motion to strike the intervention filed by the intervenors. Appellants and intervenors now bring this appeal.

4. The Question of Standing

A. Standing as County Taxpayers

Sheriff Williams contends that appellants do not have the requisite standing to challenge his operation of the CEU. In Lara's sixth point and Huff and Flowers's thirteenth point, appellants challenge that position. They assert that because they pay taxes to Tarrant County, they are entitled to seek injunctive and declaratory relief against Sheriff Williams in his operation of a county jail facility.

Sheriff Williams moved for summary judgment, in part, on the grounds that appellants have no standing to assert their claims because no public tax money is involved in the operation of the CEU since the program does not cost anything over and above what it already costs to house, clothe, and feed the inmates. Huff and Flowers argue that public tax money for such expenditures is sufficient to entitle a Tarrant County taxpayer to seek injunctive and declaratory relief. We are persuaded by Sheriff Williams that appellants' standing does not derive from their status as taxpaying citizens.

Unless standing is conferred by statute, the common-law rule in Texas is that a person seeking to enjoin the actions of a governmental body must plead and prove that he has suffered "special injury," i.e., he must allege and show how he has been damaged and injured other than as a member of the general public. See Scott v. Board of Adjustment, 405 S.W.2d 55, 56 (Tex.1966); Persons v. City of Fort Worth, 790 S.W.2d 865, 868 (Tex.App.--Fort Worth 1990, no writ). Both Lara and Flowers rely on their taxpayer status in seeking to enjoin Tarrant

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County from its continued operation of the CEU.

We have searched the record to determine whether Flowers has pleaded and proved that any harm or damages suffered as a result of Sheriff Williams'...

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1 cases
  • Williams v. Lara, 99-0273
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • June 28, 2001
    ...motions, and ordered that the plaintiffs take nothing. The court of appeals affirmed in part, and reversed and remanded in part. 986 S.W.2d 310. The court of appeals determined that Flowers lacked standing, but that Lara and Huff had standing as former inmates. Id. at 315. In considering th......

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