Texas lawmaker gets state clarification of foreign tribunals' reach

Mike Helenthal Jun. 22, 2016, 1:15pm


AUSTIN – District 2 Rep. Dan Flynn said he is pleased with the recent opinion issued by the state’s attorney general reaffirming that residents of Texas all are subject to Texas law.

“We’re still looking at it closely because there were a lot of questions that were raised, but I’m pleased in my initial reading of it,” Flynn told the SE Texas Record.

Flynn requested a review of the state’s law last December, asking whether it recognizes “foreign law” in family disputes.

“By family law dispute, I mean a legal dispute regarding a marital relationship or a parent-child relationship,” he said.

Flynn provided 19 different scenarios for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to consider, each dealing with whether Texas judges are authorized to abide by any family-issue judgment rendered under a court or tribunal that recognizes the laws of a foreign country.

Paxton responded on June 15 with an official opinion, saying that none of the instances provided would be acceptable grounds for a judge to recognize foreign law, assuming that decision did not run counter to Texas law or abridge a resident’s due process rights.

Paxton answered each of Flynn’s question in detail, but prefaced the positions with a statement explaining the strength of his opinion and citing Supreme Court cases that support it.

“While you propose nineteen different factual scenarios, they each involve the application of foreign law that violates a party's right to due process or the public policy of this State,” Paxton wrote. “As the Texas Supreme Court has explained, ‘the basic rule is that a court need not enforce a foreign law if enforcement would be contrary to Texas public policy (Larchmont Farms, Inc. v. Parra, 941 S.W.2d 93, 95, Tex. 1997)."

“Mere differences between Texas law and foreign law do not necessarily render the foreign law unenforceable, but if a foreign law ‘violates good morals, natural justice, or is prejudicial to the general interests of our own citizens,’ a court may refuse to enforce it (Robertson v. Estate of McKnight, 609 S.W.2d 534, 537, Tex. 1980)," he said. “Furthermore, the United States Supreme Court has explained that ‘due process requires that no other jurisdiction shall give effect ... to a judgment elsewhere acquired without due process." (Griffin v. Griffin, 327 U.S. 220, 228, 1946). It is with these principles in mind that we address your specific questions.

Flynn said he is not aware of any specific instances of Texas-based tribunals enforcing foreign laws, but his constituents have. He said the request was based on their concerns.

“We have had numerous constituents who have heard about these tribunals, and I’m not just talking about two or three constituents,” he said. “A large number have contact me.”

Flynn said his request to Paxton was meant to clarify the law for his constituents and for the courts, and may lead to supporting legislation.

“A number of my constituents are very concerned about the number of foreign people coming in,” he said. “We want them to enjoy the freedom we offer, but many of them seem to have a different attitude about the law. You don’t get to ignore the law or change our culture. We just wanted a clarification and we want it to be clear to the courts. One of the things that makes us different is our judicial system.”

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Texas Attorney General's Office
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