Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Protective Order Against Ex-Girlfriend Affirmed


A female-majority panel of the 14th Court of Appeals today affirmed (as modified) a protective order granted by a Harris County Family Court Judge in favor of a man against his ex-girlfriend, who went at him with a knife, burned him with a cigarette, and hit him on the head in a bar.

Justice Leslie Brock Yates wrote separately to approve the denial of a jury trial in case of his nature. The majority would not have reached the issue whether the denial of a jury trial under the relevant domestic violence provisions of the Texas Family Code, which call for a hearing within 14 days after an application is filed whereas a jury demand requires a 30-day lead time, is constitutional.


This is an appeal from a protective order entered against a man’s former girlfriend after the trial court determined that the former girlfriend committed family violence against him and was likely to commit family violence in the future. In four issues, the former girlfriend challenges (1) the constitutionality of the statute under which the protective order was issued, (2) a recitation in the judgment that the parties were “intimate partners” pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(8) & 921(a)(32), (3) the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence to support a finding that the former girlfriend was a household member, and (4) the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence to support a finding that family violence is likely to occur in the future. We modify the judgment to delete the intimate-partners finding and we affirm the trial court’s judgment as modified.

Factual and Procedural Background

Appellant Ashleigh Elise Teel and appellee Kenneth Richard Shiflett began dating in April 2007. Sometime after they met, they learned that Teel was pregnant, and they planned to marry each other on July 7, 2007. In anticipation of the marriage, Teel moved her belongings into Shiflett’s house on July 4, 2007. The next day Shiflett left the house to go to work, but when he realized he had left his wallet at home, he returned home to retrieve it. Teel told Shiflett that she had taken the wallet. Teel testified that she was angry with Shiflett so she hid his wallet from him. Teel began throwing items in the house and kicked Shiflett’s dog. She also picked up a knife and moved toward Shiflett. As Shiflett struggled with Teel to take the knife away, his hand was cut. After Shiflett took the knife, Teel left the house. When Teel returned later the same day, she burned Shiflett’s arm with the cigarette she had been smoking. Teel and Shiflett struggled, and Teel kicked Shiflett in the groin. She retrieved the knife from the kitchen and began slashing Shiflett’s clothes and other belongings. After Shiflett called the police, Teel locked herself in a bedroom. When the police arrived Teel refused to put down the knife until the police officers used a taser to subdue her.

On March 8, 2008, Shiflett went to a bar called Molly’s with some friends. When he arrived, someone told him Teel had been in Molly’s, so he and his friends left Molly’s and went to ZZ Gators bar. After Shiflett entered ZZ Gators, Teel approached him and hit him in the head. Teel and Shiflett engaged in a heated discussion, and the bartender asked Teel to leave the bar.

On April 18, 2008, Shiflett filed an application for a protective order alleging that he and Teel lived in the same household and that Teel had engaged in conduct that constituted family violence as defined in section 71.004(1) of the Texas Family Code. Shiflett requested that this application be served on Teel; however, our record does not reflect when any service was accomplished. On April 23, 2008, the trial court signed a temporary protective order. In this order, the trial court directed the district clerk to give notice to Teel regarding the hearing on Shiflett’s application. The appellate record reflects that this order was mailed to Teel on April 23, 2008.

On May 19, 2008, Teel demanded a jury trial and paid the jury fee. On that same day, Teel filed a motion to dismiss and an original answer. On June 3, 2008, the trial court conducted a hearing on Shiflett’s application. Teel’s counsel noted that, under the Texas Family Code, the trial court, rather than a jury, must make the findings regarding an applicant’s entitlement to a protective order regarding family violence; however, Teel’s counsel asserted that this statute is unconstitutional to the extent it deprived Teel of a jury trial regarding Shiflett’s application for a protective order. The trial court denied Teel’s request for a jury trial.

At trial, Teel testified and admitted that she had burned Shiflett’s arm with a cigarette and brandished a knife on July 5, 2007. She further admitted that she hit Teel at ZZ Gators on March 8, 2008. Teel maintained that her actions on both occasions were necessary to defend herself.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court found that Teel and Shiflett had formed a household and that Teel was a member of the household. The court further found that Teel committed family violence on two occasions (July 5, 2007 and March 8, 2008) and was likely to commit family violence in the future. The trial court’s written order reflected its oral findings, but also included the additional finding that Teel and Shiflett “were intimate partners pursuant to Title 18, United States Code, sections 922(g)(8) and 921(a)(32).”

Constitutional Challenge

In her first issue, Teel argues that she was entitled to a jury trial because the parts of the Family Code requiring the trial court, rather than a jury, to make the fact findings regarding Shiflett’s application violate Teel’s right to a jury trial under article I, section 15 and article V, section 10 of the Texas Constitution. See Tex. Const. art. I, § 15; Tex. Const. art. V, § 10; Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 81.001, 85.001 (Vernon 2008). We presume that the challenged parts of the Texas Family Code are constitutional. As the party challenging the constitutionality of a statute as applied, Teel had the burden of proving all facts necessary to show that these statutes are unconstitutional as applied to her. See Edgewood Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Meno, 917 S.W.2d 717, 725 (Tex. 1995); Tex-Air Helicopters, Inc. v. Galveston County Appraisal Review Bd., 76 S.W.3d 575, 584–85 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2002, pet. denied).

Under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 216, entitled “Request and Fee for Jury Trial,” “[n]o jury trial shall be had in any civil suit, unless a written request for a jury trial is filed with the clerk of the court a reasonable time before the date set for trial of the cause on the non-jury docket, but not less than thirty days in advance.” Tex. R. Civ. P. 216. It is within the discretion of the trial court to deny a jury trial if the party requesting the jury trial does so less than thirty days before trial. See Huddle v. Huddle, 696 S.W.2d 895, 895 (Tex. 1985) (per curiam). Teel has not challenged the constitutionality of Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 216.[1] In this case, the trial occurred forty-six days after Shiflett filed his application and forty-one days after the date the record reflects that the district clerk sent a copy of the temporary protective order to Teel. Teel did not request a jury trial until fifteen days before trial. Teel has neither argued nor proven that she was unable to request a jury trial at least thirty days before trial. Even if the trial court had determined that the challenged statutes otherwise would have unconstitutionally deprived Teel of her right to a jury trial, the trial court still would have had the discretion to deny Teel’s request for a jury trial under Rule 216 based on Teel’s untimely request. See Huddle, 696 S.W.2d at 895. Therefore, Teel did not prove all facts necessary to show that, as applied to her, these statutes unconstitutionally deprived her of the right to a jury trial. See Tex-Air Helicopters, Inc., 76 S.W.3d at 584–88 (holding party challenging constitutionality of statute did not prove all facts necessary to show that the statute was unconstitutional as applied); Williams v. Williams, 19 S.W.3d 544, 546 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2000, pet. denied) (holding that trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying jury trial on application for protective order against family violence because request for jury trial was untimely under Rule 216).[2] Accordingly, we overrule Teel’s first issue.

Finding of “Intimate Partners” [section omitted; click on the case style to read the entire opinion]

Standard of Review

Under section 85.001 of the Texas Family Code, the trial court may grant a protective order upon finding that family violence has occurred and is likely to occur again. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 85.001(a) (Vernon 2008). In reviewing a trial court’s findings of fact for legal and factual sufficiency, we apply the same standards that we apply in reviewing jury findings. Ulmer v. Ulmer, 130 S.W.3d 294, 299 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2004, no pet.). When reviewing the legal sufficiency of the evidence, we consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the challenged finding and indulge every reasonable inference that would support it. City of Keller v. Wilson, 168 S.W.3d 802, 823 (Tex.2005). We must credit favorable evidence if a reasonable factfinder could and disregard contrary evidence unless a reasonable factfinder could not. See id. at 827. We must determine whether the evidence at trial would enable reasonable and fair-minded people to find the facts at issue. See id. The factfinder is the only judge of witness credibility and the weight to give to testimony. See id. at 819.

[remainer of standard of review section omitted]

Members-of-Same-Household Evidence

A “household” is a “unit composed of persons living together in the same dwelling, without regard to whether they are related to each other.” Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 71.005 (Vernon 2008). A “member of a household” includes a person who previously lived in the household. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 71.006 (Vernon 2008).

Both parties testified that they intended to marry on July 7, 2007, and that on July 4, 2007, Teel moved her belongings to Shiflett’s house. Shiflett testified that prior to this move, Teel had lived with him for at least one month. Teel testified that she did not intend to live with Shiflett until after their wedding and, despite the fact that she spent several nights at his house and moved her belongings into his house, she did not consider herself as having moved into his house to establish a household because she maintained an apartment at which she received mail. The trial court found that on July 5, 2007, the parties established a household.

Although the parties’ cohabitation was intermittent due to their disagreements, the uncontroverted evidence is that they intended to marry and Teel moved her belongings into Shiflett’s house. Teel gave birth to a child in January 2008, and both parties believe the child was fathered by Shiflett.[3] Under the applicable standards of review, we conclude that the evidence is legally and factually sufficient to support the trial court’s finding that Shiflett and Teel had formed a household. Accordingly, we overrule Teel’s third issue.

Family-Violence-Likely-to-Occur-in-the-Future Evidence

Teel does not challenge the trial court’s finding that family violence occurred; rather, she argues the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the trial court’s finding that family violence is likely to occur in the future. Teel points out that Shiflett never testified that he “believed” or “feared” that Teel would commit family violence in the future and argues that Shiflett never presented any objective evidence that would show a likelihood that Teel would commit family violence in the future.

In parental-termination and child-custody cases, “evidence that a parent has engaged in abusive or neglectful conduct in the past permits an inference that the parent will continue this behavior in the future.” In re T.L.S. and R.L.P., 170 S.W.3d 164, 166 (Tex. App.—Waco 2005, no pet.). This principle also applies in cases involving protective orders against family violence. Banargent v. Brent, No. 14-05-00574-CV, 2006 WL 462268, at *1–2 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] Feb. 28, 2006, no pet.) (mem. op.). “Oftentimes, past is prologue; therefore, past violent conduct can be competent evidence which is legally and factually sufficient to sustain the award of a protective order.” In re Epperson, 213 S.W.3d 541, 544 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 2007, no pet.). In this case, Shiflett testified to several instances of violence, one in which police officers had to subdue Teel with a taser because she would not relinquish a weapon. The trial court reasonably could have concluded that future violence is likely to occur based on the testimony showing a pattern of violent behavior. See Banargent, 2006 WL 462268, at *1–2; Clements v. Haskovec, 251 S.W.3d 79, 87–88 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 2008, no pet.). Under the applicable standards of review, we conclude that the evidence is legally and factually sufficient to support the trial court’s finding that Teel is likely to commit family violence in the future. Accordingly, we overrule Teel’s fourth issue.

We modify the judgment of the trial court to delete the finding that the parties were “intimate partners” pursuant to Title 18, United States Code, sections 922(g)(8) and 921(a)(32). We affirm the judgment as modified.

Teel v. Shifflett (Tex.App.- Houston [14th Dist.] Feb. 23, 2010)(Frost) (protective order against ex-girlfriend, same household finding affirmed, constitutional challenge not properly presented, intimate partner finding not supported by the pleadings or tried by consent)
Justice Frost
Before Justices Leslie Brock Yates, Kem T. Frost and Jeff Brown
14-08-00836-CV Ashleigh Elise Teel v. Kenneth Richard Shifflett
Appeal from
309th District Court of Harris County
Trial Court Judge:
David D. Farr
Concurring Opinion by Justice Brock Yates in Teel v. Shifflett (no right to jury trial in suit for domestic violence protective order under family code)

No comments: