Strouse v. City of Houston, No. 14-06-00618-CV (Tex.App.- Houston [14th Dist.] May 29, 2008)(Frost)
public employment, police discipline, indefinite suspension, grievance, judicial review, appeal from hearing
examiner's ruling)(court of appeals reverses summary judgment because district court erroneously granted
granted summary judgment relief not requested in movant’s motion)
REVERSED AND REMANDED: Opinion by Justice Kem Thompson Frost  
Before Justices Fowler, Frost and Seymore
14-06-00618-CV Darrell H. Strouse v. City of Houston and Harold L. Hurtt, in His Official Capacity as Chief of
Police of the Houston Police Department
Appeal from 164th District Court of Harris County
Trial Court
Judge: Martha Hill Jamison

M E M O R A N D U M   O P I N I O N

This appeal arises out of a dispute between a police officer and the city that employed him.  The police chief
indefinitely suspended the officer.  The officer appealed his suspension to a hearing examiner, and both the
officer and the city appealed the hearing examiner’s ruling to the district court.  The officer moved for summary
judgment asking the district court for various items of relief.  The city did not seek a summary judgment; rather,
the city asserted that fact issues precluded summary judgment and urged the district court to deny the officer’s
motion.  The district court granted summary judgment but did not grant any of the relief requested by the officer.  
We reverse and remand.

Suspension and Hearing Examiner

The Chief of Police of the City of Houston indefinitely suspended appellant Darrell H. Strouse, who, at the time of
his suspension was a sergeant with the Houston Police Department.  Strouse appealed his suspension to a
hearing examiner.  The hearing examiner ruled, inter alia, that (1) just cause did not exist for the indefinite
suspension, (2) Strouse should be reinstated, but at the lower position of officer rather than sergeant, (3) upon
his reinstatement, Strouse’s “contractual and any other benefits are to be restored,” and (4) Strouse was entitled
to backpay at the position of officer effective January 1, 2002.

Appeal to the District Court

After the hearing examiner issued his ruling, Strouse appealed the hearing examiner’s ruling to the district court,
as did appellees City of Houston and Harold L. Hurtt, in his official capacity as Chief of Police of the Houston
Police Department (hereinafter collectively referred to as “the City”).  After the appeals were consolidated in the
district court below, Strouse filed a motion for summary judgment, in which he asked the district court to do the
following by way of summary judgment:

*       strike the portion of the hearing examiner’s award that changed Strouse’s position from sergeant to officer,

*       modify the hearing examiner’s award to give backpay at the pay scale for a sergeant rather than for an

*       render a declaratory judgment as to the meaning of “contractual and any other benefits” that the hearing
examiner awarded to Strouse,

*       affirm the remainder of the award, and

*       order immediate reinstatement upon issuance of the final summary_judgment order.  

The City did not seek summary judgment.  Instead, in its response to Strouse’s motion, the City asserted, among
other things, the following:

*       The summary_judgment evidence, the pleadings, and the law show a genuine issue of material fact that
precludes summary judgment.

*       The City is not entitled to summary judgment.  

*       The City requests that the district court deny Strouse’s motion.

After a hearing, the district court signed an order in which it stated the following:

*       The district court grants in part Strouse’s motion for summary judgment.

*       The court orders the hearing examiner’s award vacated.
*       The court finds the hearing examiner was not within his jurisdiction to order the demotion of Strouse “and
certain other aspects of the award.”

Strouse filed a motion asking the district court to clarify and modify this order, asserting that the order was
unclear.  At the hearing on this motion, the district court stated that it did not believe it could modify the hearing
examiner’s award; rather, the court asserted it could only affirm the award or vacate it.  The court stated that, in
its prior order, it had vacated the entire award so that the parties could have another hearing before a hearing
examiner.  Strouse’s counsel argued that the district court lacked authority to vacate the award and remand for
another hearing before a hearing examiner.  The district court disagreed and refused to change its prior order.
The court then signed a final summary judgment incorporating the same language from its prior
summary_judgment order.  

Appeal to this Court

On appeal to this court, Strouse asserts that the district court erred in granting the summary_judgment relief
contained in the district court’s order.  We agree.  

The City did not seek summary judgment.  Strouse sought certain relief by summary judgment; however, the
district court did not grant any of this requested relief.  Instead, the district court granted relief that Strouse did
not seek and that he asserted was improper. The district court erred in granting summary_judgment relief not
requested in a summary_judgment motion.  See LaGoye v. Victoria Wood Condominium Ass’n, 112 S.W.3d 777,
786 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist.] 2003, no pet.) (holding trial court cannot grant relief on summary judgment
that was not requested by a movant for summary judgment).  Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s
summary judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

/s/      Kem Thompson Frost

Judgment rendered and Memorandum Opinion filed May 29, 2008.

Panel consists of Justices Fowler, Frost, and Seymore