Chambers v. The State of Texas, 05-12-01178-CV (Tex. App. – Dallas, August 26, 2013).
This is one of a collection of appeals arising from an animal cruelty proceeding the State filed against Chambers in justice court where over 100 animals were seized from her property. Chambers owned a puppy mill. A jury found Chambers was guilty of cruelty to animals and the court transferred ownership to the Dallas Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (“SPCA”). The original appeal was dismissed by the Dallas Court of Appeals since the law at the time did not allow for direct appeals from the transfer of ownership. Since that time, Chambers has filed multiple lawsuits against various parties in state and federal court contesting the justice court’s order.
In this lawsuit Chambers alleged a takings claim under the Texas Constitution and sought over $575,000 in damages for the value of the animals seized and the loss of business income. The State filed a plea to the jurisdiction asserting sovereign immunity and a lack of standing. It also asserted a bar based on res judicata and the statute of limitations (which are affirmative defenses, not jurisdictional). The trial court granted the plea and Chambers appeals.
The Dallas Court of Appeals held the seizure was because there was reason to believe the animals had been cruelly treated, which is not a taking of property for public use that entitles her to compensation. The State seized the animals under the authority of chapter 821 of the health and safety code. This chapter allows either a criminal or civil process for the seizure. In this case, the State took the civil route which can be brought in justice court. The primary goal of chapter 821 is to protect the welfare of animals, not provide a benefit to the public so no “public use” is present for a takings claim. As such, no takings occurred as a matter of law and the trial court property determined it had no jurisdiction. Since Chamber’s declaratory judgment relief is really an attempt to circumvent sovereign immunity, it was also properly dismissed.
If you would like to read this opinion click here.