In re Jason Loban, No. 08-0336.

Briefing Requested: May 16, 2008

The Texas Supreme Court has just requested full briefing in a case involving what procedural protections a pet owner has when a local animal-control official declares a pet to be dangerous.

The Legislature has created of a statutory right to appeal an adverse determination from a municipal court up to a county court. But other statutes seem to divest those courts (at least those in Tarrant County) from hearing the case.

The City of Grapevine’s animal control department determined that Jason Loban’s dogs were unreasonably dangerous. Loban requested and received a hearing to contest that determination before a municipal court, as provided by statute. The municipal court agreed with the animal-control officer.

Loban then filed an appeal to Tarrant County Criminal Court and was directed instead to file in Tarrant County Civil Court. Each refused to exercise jurisdiction over his appeal.

Loban then filed a petition for writ of mandamus to order one of these courts to take jurisdiction of his case.

The Second Court of Appeals wrote a lengthy opinion a lengthy opinion explaining its denial of mandamus relief.

The court of appeals agreed that the statute relating to animal control suggests that the Legislature meant for persons such as Loban to have some means of appeal. “It provides that the owner of an allegedly dangerous dog ‘may appeal the decision of the … municipal court in the same manner as appeal from other cases from … municipal court.’.” (quoting Texas Health and Safety Code § 822.0421.

The problem is that, by statute, cases from municipal courts go to the county criminal courts. Tex. Gov’t Code § 30.00014(a). And, in Tarrant County, another statute provides that the county criminal courts lack jurisdiction over civil matters. Tex. Gov’t Code 25.2223(a).

The Second Court reconciled this conflict by determining that there was no court that could hear Loban’s challenge to the municipal court’s determination.

Loban’s petition for mandamus relief in the Texas Supreme Court was filed on Friday May 2nd, and on May 6th the Texas Supreme Court granted temporary relief to preserve its ability to decide the case.