law-contempt | permanent injunction | sanctions case law | child support cases | family law litigation |
direct vs. constructive contempt of court | child support contempt orders and due process |
The Texas Supreme Court has 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)
CONTEMPT CASELAW SNIPPETS
In a habeas corpus action challenging confinement for contempt, the relator bears the burden of showing that
the contempt order is void. See In re Dupree, 118 S.W.3d 911, 914 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2003, pet. denied).
In Texas, there is no appeal from an order holding a person in contempt. In re C.N., 313 S.W.3d 490 (Tex. App.—
Dallas 2010, no pet.); Pandozy v. Beaty, 254 S.W.3d 613, 616 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 2008, no pet.) (citing Ex
parte Williams, 690 S.W.2d 243 (Tex. 1985)); Ex parte Cardwell, 416 S.W.2d 382, 384 (Tex. 1967). Relief is
available for an incarcerated individual only through application for a writ of habeas corpus. Hernandez v.
Hernandez, 318 S.W.3d 464 (Tex. App.—El Paso 2010, no pet.); Grimes v. Grimes, 706 S.W.2d 340, 343 (Tex.
App.—San Antonio 1986, writ dism’d) (citing Wagner v. Warnasch, 156 Tex. 334, 259 S.W.2d 890, 893 (1956)).
An order is void if it is beyond the power of the court to enter it, or if it deprives the relator of liberty without due
process of law. Ex parte Barnett, 600 S.W.2d 252, 254 (Tex. 1980) (orig. proceeding).
Ex parte Blanchard, 736 S.W.2d 642, 643 (Tex.1987) (in constructive contempt cases, due process requires that
contemnor be personally served with show — cause order or have actual knowledge of the contents of
such an order, otherwise the contempt judgment is void).
To be enforceable by contempt, an order must set out the terms of compliance in clear and unambiguous
terms. Ex parte Brister, 801 S.W.2d 833, 834 (Tex. 1990) (orig. proceeding). Moreover, a person cannot be
sentenced to confinement unless the order unequivocally commands that person to perform a duty or obligation.
Ex parte Padron, 565 S.W.2d 921, 921 (Tex. 1978) (orig. proceeding).
Obligations that are merely contractual cannot be enforced by contempt. See Tex. Const. art. I, § 18 (“No person
shall ever be imprisoned for debt.”)
In a constructive contempt case, “[t]he contempt order must clearly state in what respect the trial court’s earlier
order has been violated.” Ex parte Shaklee, 939 S.W.2d 144, 145 (Tex. 1997). “A contempt order cannot contain
uncertainty or susceptibility of more than one construction or meaning.” In re Green, 221 S.W.3d 645, 649 (Tex.
Mandamus is the proper mechanism to review a contempt order that does not impose incarceration as a
punishment. In re Long, 984 S.W.2d 623, 625 (Tex. 1999)
A contempt order is not reviewable by appeal. In re E.H.G. and A.B.G., No. 04-08-00579-CV, 2009 WL 1406246,
at *5 (Tex. App.—San Antonio May 20, 2009, no pet.) (mem. op.) (citing Norman v. Norman, 692 S.W.2d 655, 655
(Tex. 1985)). Contempt orders may only be reviewed by an application for a writ of habeas corpus, if the
contemnor has been confined, or by a petition for a writ of mandamus, if the contemnor has not been confined.
See Rosser v. Squier, 902 S.W.2d 962, 962 (Tex. 1995); Ex parte Williams, 690 S.W.2d 243, 243 (Tex. 1985).
“Decisions in contempt proceedings cannot be reviewed on appeal because contempt orders are not appealable,
even when appealed along with a judgment that is appealable.” Cadle Co. v. Lobingier, 50 S.W.3d 662, 671 (Tex.
App.—Fort Worth 2001, pet. denied).
RECENT TEXAS SUPREME COURT CONTEMPT CASELAW
In re Coppock, No. 08-0093 (Tex. 2009)(O'Neill)(contempt in divorce case overturned by habeas corpus)
IN RE GAYLE E. COPPOCK; from Denton County; 2nd district (02-07-00427-CV, ___ SW3d ___,
The Court grants the petition for writ of habeas corpus and sets aside the order of contempt.
Justice O'Neill delivered the opinion of the Court.
To be enforceable by contempt, a judgment must clearly order or command a party to perform the obligations
imposed and the terms for compliance must be clear and unequivocal. Because the judgment challenged in this
proceeding lacks the necessary clarity, we grant the petition for writ of habeas corpus and set aside the order of
contempt as void.
“Civil contempt in Texas is the process by which a court exerts its judicial authority to compel obedience to some
order of the court.” Ex parte Padron, 565 S.W.2d at 924 (citing Ex parte Werblud, 536 S.W.2d 542, 545 (Tex.
1976) (orig. proceeding)). This Court has made clear that command language is essential to create an order
enforceable by contempt. See Ex parte Gorena, 595 S.W.2d 841, 845 (Tex. 1979) (orig. proceeding); Ex parte
Padron, 565 S.W.2d at 924; see also Ex parte Duncan, 62 S.W. 758, 760 (Tex. Crim. App. 1901) (orig.
proceeding) (stating the order alleged to have been disobeyed “must be in the form of a command”). Merely
incorporating an agreement into the recitals of a divorce decree, without a mandate from the court, is not
sufficient. See, e.g., In re Dupree, 118 S.W.3d at 916 (holding that a party cannot be held in contempt for failure to
pay alimony when his agreement to pay was incorporated in the court’s divorce decree without command
language); Ex parte Harris, 649 S.W.2d 389, 391 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 1983, orig. proceeding) (holding that
an agreement to pay child support that is incorporated in the parties’ divorce decree is not enforceable by
contempt because the decree did not order the parties to comply with the agreement). In Ex parte Gorena, we
upheld a contempt order for failure to make agreed payments incorporated in a divorce decree. 595 S.W.2d at
843. There, the decree ordered that the payments be made. Id. ( “‘It is decreed that Respondent (Mr. Gorena)
shall pay to Petitioner (Ms. Barber) . . . .’”). We distinguished Ex parte Duncan, 462 S.W.2d 336, 337 (Tex. Civ.
App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1970, orig. proceeding), in which there was “no language in [the decree] ordering the
husband to make the installment payments.” Ex parte Gorena, 595 S.W.2d at 845.
In re Coppock, No. 08-0093 (Tex. 2009)(O'Neill) (contempt in divorce case overturned by habeas corpus)
In this case, the divorce decree does not contain sufficient language to advise the parties that refraining from or
engaging in the described conduct is mandatory.
In Re Zandi, No. 07091951 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 976 (Tex. May 30, 2008)(per curiam) (family law, child support
contempt, habeas corpus granted, due process violated, insufficient notice of charges)(family law case, child
support contempt, habeas corpus granted)
IN RE REZA ZANDI; from Denton County; 2nd district (02-07-00348-CV, ___ S.W.3d ___, 10-18-07)
Pursuant to Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 52.8(c), without hearing oral argument, the petition for writ of
habeas corpus is granted and relator is ordered discharged.
CONTEMPT CASES FROM THE COURTS OF APPEALS
PETITIONS DENIED BY THE TEXAS SUPREME COURT
CHRISTOPHER J. MCCLOSKEY v. ANNE M. MCCLOSKEY; from Fort Bend County; 14th district (14‑06‑00470‑CV,
___ SW3d ___, 09‑09‑08, pet. denied Nov 2009)
as reinstated (Attorney's Fees in SAPCR divorce improperly characterized as additional child support McCloskey
v. McCloskey (Tex.App.- Houston [14th Dist.] Apr. 2, 2009)(Substituted opinion by Hedges) (SAPCR divorce
attorneys fees cannot be ordered as additional child support enforceable by contempt)
CONSTABLE JACK F. ABERCIA & OLD REPUBLIC SURETY COMPANY v. KINGVISION PAY-PER-VIEW, LTD.;
from Dallas County; 8th district (08-05-00020-CV, 217 SW3d 688, 02-15-07, pet. denied Jun 2008)
(writ of execution, contempt, good faith immunity, judicial immunity under common law)
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