In re Office of the Attorney General, No. 08‑0165 (per curiam)

Decided: June 27, 2008

Earlier coverage: “Mandamus About Texas’s Child Support System” (3-3-2008) and “More Action on the Pending Child Support Mandamus” (3-21-2008)

The Texas Supreme Court granted mandamus relief against certain “temporary” orders from a Dallas County district court about the Office of the Attorney General’s child support collection operations.

The crux of the substantive dispute in the case was whether OAG would have to continue to direct child support payments through a private company called “Guardian Ad Litem” (GAL) that charged a fee for handling the funds. After a federal court ruled that this practice was in tension with federal law unless the parents consented, OAG sought to modify the child support orders that would otherwise have required such payments.

The district court issued an ex parte temporary restraining order, later extended and then turned into a temporary injunction, that required OAG to continue to make payments through GAL.

OAG sought mandamus relief, arguing that these orders were void for procedural irregularities and would threaten to put Texas out of step with federal child-support laws. The Court agreed that the orders were procedurally irregular under the requirements for any temporary restraining order:

Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 680 and 684 require a trial court issuing a temporary restraining order to: (1) state why the order was granted without notice if it is granted ex parte, Tex. R. Civ. P. 680; (2) state the reasons for the issuance of the order by defining the injury and describing why it is irreparable, id.; (3) state the date the order expires and set a hearing on a temporary injunction, id.; and (4) set a bond, Tex. R. Civ. P. 684. Orders that fail to fulfill these requirements are void. Interfirst Bank San Felipe, N.A. v. Paz Constr. Co., 715 S.W.2d 640, 641 (Tex. 1986); Lancaster v. Lancaster, 291 S.W.2d 303, 308 (Tex. 1956).

The Court found these orders defective under several of those grounds (including having failed to explain “why the order was granted … ex parte”). Further, the Court rejected the district court’s attempt to repackage its order as a “temporary injunction” (which would be subject to less stringent requirements) because “the trial court issued it without a hearing; thus, it is not properly considered a temporary injunction but, rather, a continuation of the temporary restraining order.”

The Court granted mandamus relief against these temporary orders.