Inmate’s ultra vires suit against DA, courts, and county dismissed due to claim for retrospective relief

Smith v. District Attorney’s Office for Smith County, et al.  03-16-00828-CV (Tex. App. – Austin, August 23, 2017)

This is an inmate declaratory judgment case relating to the inmate’s conviction in which the Austin Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the case by a plea to the jurisdiction.

Plaintiff Smith sued Smith County and Smith DA, who were represented by Mr. Phillip Smith.  For ease of reference, I’ll refer to Plaintiff, County, and DA. The Plaintiff was convicted of robbery in 2000. He brought suit for declaratory and injunctive relief in order to “redress the deprivation under color of state law of rights secured by the due course of law of the land in conjunction with the Constitution of the United States.” The DA and County filed a plea to the jurisdiction which the trial court granted. Plaintiff appealed.

Plaintiff named the District Offices (along with the District Courts) as defendants; however, his claims concern actions taken by certain unnamed persons employed by these offices in the performance of their official duties. Since Plaintiff named the offices, his claims implicate sovereign immunity. The Plaintiff claims “a private party may seek declaratory relief against a state entity or official who allegedly acted without legal or statutory authority.” This Court rejected this same argument when considering Plaintiff’s 3 prior cases against the District Courts and District Attorney.  Compelling an official to follow the law is an ultra vires action and immunity is not implicated. However, such claims are available for prospective relief only. Plaintiff seeks retrospective relief regarding his conviction. As a result, the trial court did not err in granting the plea.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.  Panel includes Justice Puryear, Justice Field and Justice Bourland. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Field. The attorney for the DA’s office is listed as Phillip J. Smith. Mr. Trent Smith appeared pro se.

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