In re Byrom, 316 S.W.3d 787 (Tex. App.—Tyler 2010, orig. proceeding [mand. denied]).                 ).

Estate Administration



Creditor presented Independent Executor with unsecured claims based on previous probate court orders stating that the claims were to be paid from estate funds within thirty days. When Creditor presented these claims, the thirty days had already elapsed. Executor rejected both claims. Two years later, Creditor filed suit to remove Executor. The trial court removed Executor from office but did not discharge him. The court also ordered Executor pay Creditor’s attorney fees and expenses within thirty days and to deposit estate property into the registry of the court. Executor did not comply with these orders and thus Creditor field a motion to enforce the orders by contempt. After hearing evidence, the court remanded Executor to jail unless he made the required payments. Because Executor did not comply, he was confined to jail. After posting bond, he was, however, released from jail. He filed for writ of habeas corpus which was denied and he was again taken to jail. Executor filed for a writ of mandamus.

The appellate court explained that a person who willfully disobeys a valid court order is guilty of contempt and that imprisonment is normally appropriate. However, Texas Constitution Article I, § 18, prohibits a person from being imprisoned for a debt. After a lengthy analysis of contempt law, the court concludes that Executor was held in contempt for failing to deposit funds which would be used to pay debts and thus the contempt order was unconstitutional. Thus, the court granted Executor’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

Moral: The ability to have a misbehaving executor imprisoned for violating court orders is limited because of the constitutional prohibition against debtor imprisonment.