City of Meadows Place Wins Lawsuit over Sexual Offender Residency Restriction Ordinance
General Law City Prevails to Maintain Criminal Ordinance
HOUSTON, May 19, 2017 – The City of Meadows Place, Texas, the first city in Fort Bend County to enact a Sexual Offender Residency Restriction Ordinance (SORRO), recently prevailed in a lawsuit brought on behalf of a homeowner illegally maintaining a residence within a restricted area designated as a child safety zone.
The SORRO in Meadows Place, a general law city, bars registered sexual offenders from maintaining a residency within 2,000 feet of place where children regularly gather, such as a school. The lawsuit had contended that Meadows Place as a general law city may not impose such a SORRO, arguing that the State of Texas and only home rule cities may enact their own such ordinances.
State law requires sexual offenders to register with their local police department and the criminal court may establish a child safety zones through community supervision. A 2007 opinion from the Office of the Texas Attorney General stated that home rule cities may have their own SORROs and that general law cities may not, but that opinion (GA-0526) was non-binding. In addition, that opinion added that general law cities “possess[es] those powers and privileges that the State expressly confers upon [it]…”
Counsel for the City of Meadows Place, J. Grady Randle of Randle Law Office, notes that the City of Meadows Place is hemmed in by home rule cities, some with their own SORROs, which has the effect of sweeping sex offenders into seeking residency in Meadows Place as an alternative to neighboring home rule cities with SORROs. He also notes that there are 104 homes within Meadows Place that are outside of its effective child protective zone in which sexual offenders are barred from maintaining residency. Nothing would prevent a sexual offender from maintaining a residence in that non-restricted area.
“Why are the children of Meadows Place any less important than children of Sugar Land when it comes to the protection afforded to them by their local governments?,” Mr. Randle said.
At issue in the lawsuit, brought by Texas Voices for Reason and Justice, Inc., is a Meadows Place residence purchased in 2007 by an individual who in 2016 pleaded guilty to a sexual offense charge. The home, where the offender currently lives, is located 676 feet from the community pool. The City of Meadows Place had been issuing fines of $500 per violation (per day) to the individual under its municipal code, but then suspended the tickets after the lawsuit was filed.
The City argued that the non-binding opinion of the Office of Attorney General does not bar it from enacting a criminal ordinance imposing a residency restriction on sexual offenders within a child safety zone. The City also argued that the property owner lacks standing because the use of property is not a vested right and the ordinance is lawfully barring residency use by a sexual offender within a restricted area.
In addition, the City argued that the lawsuit was filed in the wrong jurisdiction because it was brought in a civil court. Instead, the homeowner should have either argued against the criminal ordinance in the City of Meadows Place Municipal Court or the state criminal district court where her case was heard and any ruling would have been reviewed on appeal as a matter of criminal law. Instead, the lawsuit brought by Texas Voices for Reason and Justice, Inc. against the City of Meadows Place SORRO was dismissed on May 12, 2017, in the Fort Bend County 400th Judicial Court by Judge Maggie Perez-Jaramillo. Her order granted the defendant’s (City of Meadows Place) plea to the jurisdiction.
According to the Texas Municipal League, dozens of home rule cities and approximately 50 general law cities had established SORROs. Some general law cities removed such ordinances after facing litigation by Texas Voices for Reason and Justice, Inc.
Mr. Randle maintains that general law cities may keep SORROs on the books regardless of the nonbinding AG opinion, which he contends was not reviewing or commenting on the constitutionality of a particular ordinance.
“It’s a penal ordinance and the state had granted us sufficient power to enact the ordinance,” he said.
As for the property owner’s criminal offense, the ordinance does not impose further punishment for that crime, Randle added.
“It’s not double jeopardy; we’re not trying punish her again. We’re saying she cannot establish residence in our child protective zone, but if she does she is then violating our SORRO, ” he said.
As a result of the case being dismissed and a temporary restraining order being lifted, the City of Meadows Place SORRO remains in effect and the Chief of Police indicated the issuance of tickets will resume. The plaintiff has 30 days to appeal (June 12).
Texas native J. Grady Randle concentrates his practice in the areas of real estate and municipal law in Houston and the surrounding counties. He represents government entities and local municipalities in litigation, regulation, land development, zoning, land use, and other matters. Mr. Randle also handles a wide variety of real estate transactional and litigation matters, including oil and gas contracts, large commercial land and building purchases, and commercial landlord-tenant issues. He received his Juris Doctorate as well as a Bachelor of Business Administration from Baylor University.