Pharo v. Chambers County, Tex., No. 95-0385

CourtSupreme Court of Texas
Writing for the CourtPHILLIPS
Citation922 S.W.2d 945
Docket NumberNo. 95-0385
Decision Date10 May 1996
Parties39 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 614 Roy Wayne PHARO, et ux, Petitioners, v. CHAMBERS COUNTY, TEXAS, Respondent.

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922 S.W.2d 945
39 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 614
Roy Wayne PHARO, et ux, Petitioners,
v.
CHAMBERS COUNTY, TEXAS, Respondent.
No. 95-0385.
Supreme Court of Texas.
Argued Oct. 10, 1995.
Decided May 10, 1996.

Page 946

Richard J. Clarkson, Beaumont, for Petitioners.

Michael L. Baker, Beaumont, Connie Hawkins, Austin, for Respondents.

Chief Justice PHILLIPS delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

This is a wrongful death suit against Chambers County arising from conduct of

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the Chambers County Sheriff's Department. The first issue is whether a juror committed reversible jury misconduct by socializing with her boyfriend, a Chambers County deputy sheriff, during the trial, even though the deputy was not involved in the events underlying the lawsuit. The second issue is whether a bailiff committed harmful misconduct by commenting incidentally on "raising taxes" in the presence of the jury panel prior to voir dire. The trial court, after rendering a judgment for the County in accordance with the jury's verdict, refused to grant a new trial based on this conduct. The court of appeals affirmed. 893 S.W.2d 264. Because we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in overruling the motion for new trial, we affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.
I

At 3:00 a.m. on October 11, 1983, Bryan Pharo was killed when the car in which he was riding crashed into a truck stopped at a roadblock on Interstate 10 in Chambers County. The roadblock had been set up by the Department of Public Safety ("DPS") and the Chambers County Sheriff's Department in an effort to catch an armed robber.

Pharo's parents subsequently sued the DPS and Chambers County in Chambers County district court for wrongful death and survival claims, contending that the defendants negligently set up and supervised the roadblock. Jury selection in the trial began on June 22, 1992. 1 Chuck Morris, Sheriff of Chambers County, was the County's party-representative at trial.

Loretta Pylant was selected as a juror. At the time of trial, Pylant was dating Ferris Collier, a Chambers County deputy sheriff. While the record does not reflect how long the two had been dating, they customarily saw each other "every day." Although Pylant did not disclose this relationship during voir dire, no one contends that she was asked a question that would elicit this information. Collier had not been a Chambers County deputy sheriff at the time of the accident in 1983, was not subsequently involved in investigating the accident or in preparing the case for trial, and was not a witness at trial.

Based on testimony presented at a post-trial evidentiary hearing, it is undisputed that, during the four days of trial, Pylant and Collier twice had lunch together at a local restaurant. They also had dinner together on at least one occasion. Furthermore, they met for coffee at Collier's office on at least two mornings of the trial, together with other employees of the Sheriff's Department. Collier and Pylant shared the cost of their meals, while Collier and the other Sheriff's Department employees paid for the coffee. Although Collier knew that Pylant was sitting on the jury in a case against Chambers County, both testified that they did not discuss the case while the trial was ongoing. Pylant also testified that she did not discuss the case with any of the other county employees at Collier's office.

After directing a verdict for the DPS during trial, the trial court submitted plaintiffs' claim against Chambers County to the jury. On the vote of ten jurors, including Pylant, the jury reached a verdict favorable to the County. In accordance with this verdict, and the court's earlier directed verdict for the DPS, the court rendered a take-nothing judgment against the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs subsequently moved for a new trial, with jury misconduct urged as one of their grounds. The plaintiffs claimed that Pylant violated the court's instructions by associating with Collier during trial.

Plaintiffs also sought a new trial based on a comment made by the bailiff in the presence of the venire panel during jury selection. After the panel was seated but prior to voir dire, one of the panel members, who knew the bailiff, made a casual remark to him concerning the aged condition of the jury

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cards. 2 The bailiff, according to his testimony, responded that "for me to do something about the cards, I would have to raise the taxes." The bailiff, who was wearing his deputy sheriff's uniform when he made the comment, characterized it as a "stupid spontaneous remark." Kevin Dutton, one of the Pharos' attorneys who was present at the time, testified to a slightly different version of events. According to Dutton, the bailiff remarked that "if they wanted to speak with the County about spending money, they needed to talk about taxes being raised." Dutton further testified that "a number of prospective jurors and pretty much all of the panel started laughing when he said that. I would assume they all heard it." Pylant, however, could only recall that the bailiff's remark "had something to do with the cards." When directly asked whether he had commented on raising taxes, Pylant testified: "It's a possibility. I really don't remember." No other jurors were called to testify regarding whether they heard or recalled the bailiff's remark.

The court denied the motion for new trial at the conclusion of the hearing without making findings of fact or conclusions of law. The court of appeals, with one justice dissenting, affirmed the take-nothing judgment for defendants. The court concluded that Pylant did not commit misconduct by associating with Collier during trial, due to the remoteness of Collier's...

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185 practice notes
  • Brandt v. Surber, No. 13-02-00360-CV.
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • 8 Junio 2006
    ...of fact for the trial court. Golden Eagle Archery, Inc. v. Jackson, 24 S.W.3d 362, 372 (Tex.2000); Pharo v. Chambers County, Texas, 922 S.W.2d 945, 948 (Tex.1996). To warrant the granting of a new trial based on juror misconduct or improper communication to the jury, appellants must show th......
  • Golden Eagle Archery Inc. v. Jackson
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • 29 Junio 2000
    ...R. CIV. P. 327(a). Whether misconduct occurred and caused injury is a question of fact for the trial court. See Pharo v. Chambers County, 922 S.W.2d 945, 948 (Tex. 1996). Absent findings to the contrary, we must assume that the trial court made all findings in support of its decision to den......
  • Missouri Pacific R.R. Co. v. Limmer, No. 14-02-00688-CV.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • 29 Noviembre 2005
    ...the preemption issue, on appeal, we presume the trial court made all findings in favor of its judgment. See Pharo v. Chambers Cty., 922 S.W.2d 945, 948 (Tex.1996) (stating that, in a bench trial in which the trial court does not file findings of fact or conclusions of law, appellate courts ......
  • In re Williams, No. 13-10-00277-CV.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • 23 Septiembre 2010
    ...are filed or requested, we will imply all necessary findings of fact to support the trial court's decision. See Pharo v. Chambers County, 922 S.W.2d 945, 948 (Tex.1996); see also Gonzalez v. Villarreal, 251 S.W.3d 763, 775 (Tex.App.-Corpus Christi 2008, pet. dism'd w.o.j.) (citing Cadle Co.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
185 cases
  • Brandt v. Surber, No. 13-02-00360-CV.
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • 8 Junio 2006
    ...of fact for the trial court. Golden Eagle Archery, Inc. v. Jackson, 24 S.W.3d 362, 372 (Tex.2000); Pharo v. Chambers County, Texas, 922 S.W.2d 945, 948 (Tex.1996). To warrant the granting of a new trial based on juror misconduct or improper communication to the jury, appellants must show th......
  • Golden Eagle Archery Inc. v. Jackson
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • 29 Junio 2000
    ...R. CIV. P. 327(a). Whether misconduct occurred and caused injury is a question of fact for the trial court. See Pharo v. Chambers County, 922 S.W.2d 945, 948 (Tex. 1996). Absent findings to the contrary, we must assume that the trial court made all findings in support of its decision to den......
  • Missouri Pacific R.R. Co. v. Limmer, No. 14-02-00688-CV.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • 29 Noviembre 2005
    ...the preemption issue, on appeal, we presume the trial court made all findings in favor of its judgment. See Pharo v. Chambers Cty., 922 S.W.2d 945, 948 (Tex.1996) (stating that, in a bench trial in which the trial court does not file findings of fact or conclusions of law, appellate courts ......
  • In re Williams, No. 13-10-00277-CV.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • 23 Septiembre 2010
    ...are filed or requested, we will imply all necessary findings of fact to support the trial court's decision. See Pharo v. Chambers County, 922 S.W.2d 945, 948 (Tex.1996); see also Gonzalez v. Villarreal, 251 S.W.3d 763, 775 (Tex.App.-Corpus Christi 2008, pet. dism'd w.o.j.) (citing Cadle Co.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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