Ninth Court grants Beaumont immunity from Klein harassment suit

By David Yates | Feb 14, 2012


The Ninth Court of Appeals reversed a local judge's decision not to grant the city of Beaumont's plea to the jurisdiction in a suit alleging police officers harassed Klein Investigations & Consulting process servers.

Justices issued the opinion on Feb. 9, remanding the case back to the trial court with instruction to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.

As previously reported, Klein Investigations, which is owned by political commentator and local blogger Philip Klein, filed the suit March 14 in Jefferson County District Court.

Klein Investigations, in addition to investigative work, deals in civil process serving, dishing out lawsuits and subpoenas to area residents.

Basically, Klein challenged the ability of the city to issue criminal trespass warnings to his employees for alleged criminal trespass while the city maintained that civil courts have no jurisdiction to enjoin the enforcement of a criminal statute.

On June 17 the city filed its plea, asserting that it enjoys sovereign immunity under the Texas Constitution and its unincorporated entity, the Beaumont Police Department, lacks the legal capacity to be sued, court records show.

Klein Investigations filed a response on June 21, maintaining that a municipality is liable for damages from torts arising in its governmental functions.

Nonetheless, Judge Gary Sanderson, 60th District Court, denied the city's motion on Oct. 19, court records show.

On Nov. 1 the city filed its notice of appeal, contending the trial court erred.

"Klein has not alleged that the City's enforcement of the penal statute would result in irreparable injury to a vested property right, nor has Klein challenged the constitutionality of a statute," writes Justice Charles Kreger in the Ninth Court's opinion.

"Rather, Klein argues that these holdings have no application in the lawsuit on file because Klein does not seek to enjoin the enforcement of a criminal statute. Klein's argument fails because the limits on a district court's civil jurisdiction to address a criminal statute apply regardless of whether the requested relief is framed as an injunction or as a declaratory judgment."

In his suit, Klein alleges that Beaumont Police Department officers were accusing his process servers of criminal trespass and stalking and were trying to impose penal sanctions upon a lawful business within the state of Texas.

"The criminal trespass warning demonstrates that there is an actual case or controversy that can be subjected to declaratory judgment," the suit states.

On top of declaratory judgment, Klein Investigations was seeking an award of court costs.

Beaumont attorney John Morgan represents the company.

Assistant City Attorney Sharae Bassett represents the city.

Case No. B189-589

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