Texas Supreme Court Orders - 10/20/17 - First Opinion in a Case Argued this Term

Posted by Rich PhillipsIn its weekly order list this morning, the Supreme Court of Texas issued the first opinion in a case argued this term. The Court also granted motions to split oral argument time in two cases that will be argued in November and January.The Court issued its opinion in No. 15-0944, The Office of the Attorney General v. C.W.H. The Court was asked to decide whether a Title IV-D associate judge has authority to decide issues of conservatorship when those issues are part of a child-support determination. The court of appeals reversed the IV-D judge’s decision on two grounds: (1) the judge’s failure to consider the father’s request to participate in the hearing from prison and (2) the court of appeals’ determination that the associate judge did not have the power to decide conservatorship issues. The State conceded that the court of appeals was correct to reverse based on the father’s request to participate, but asked the Court to review the court of appeals’ judgment to address the alternative ground (the associate judge’s authority) because of its importance to the jurisprudence of the state.A recent amendment to the Family Code expressly grants Title IV-D associate judges that authority, but this case arose before that amendment. The court of appeals held that under the prior law, the IV-D judge lacked authority to decide conservatorship issues. In a unanimous opinion by Justice Boyd, the Supreme Court held that even under the prior law, IV-D judges had the authority to modify conservatorship “when it relates to the establishment or modification of a child-support obligation.” Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeals’ holding to the contrary. But the Court affirmed the court of appeals’ judgment on the independent ground that the associate judge should have considered the father’s request to participate in the hearing. The Court also granted motions for divided argument in 16-0098, The Dallas Morning News v. Tatum (which will be argued in January) and No. 16-0851, In re North Cypress Medical Center Operating Co., Ltd. (which will be argued in November). In both cases, the petitioner’s argument time will be shared with a private amicus curiae. These will be the second and third arguments this term in which the petitioner shared argument time with an amicus. (The first was in No. 16-0107, Hill v. Shamoun & Norman, LLP, in which the petitioner shared argument time with the Texas Solicitor General.) It will be interesting to see if divided argument becomes more common in the Texas Supreme Court.