On May 21, 1971, the Eastland court of appeals released Ex parte Sandefer, a follow up to an opinion of the year before which I previously blogged about. In Sandefer I, the court of appeals paraphrased (but did not quote from) the decree at issue which prohibited the parents from removing the children from the jurisdiction without the consent of the other parent or court order. It was undisputed the mother moved the children from Taylor County to Dallas County. While the trial court found her in contempt, the court of appeals reversed but it was not entirely clear why.
That confusion has been cleared up by Sandefer II, which presents what appears to be the exact same issues and in which the court of appeals quoted the decree: “(d) The minor children shall remain permanently within the jurisdiction of this Court and neither party shall remove said children from the jurisdiction of this Court unless by mutual agreement of the parties or further order of the court.” The court of appeals held that the trial court’s jurisdiction was not limited to the geographical restrictions of Taylor County as that county had concurrent jurisdiction with the other District Courts in the county. In other words, the word “jurisdiction” as used in the decree was not a reference to a map, but to subject matter.
It is remarkable that the confusion and equivocation over the meaning of one word resulted in Mrs. Sandefer being jailed twice, necessitating two habeas corpus proceedings. The Sandefer cases and Slavin at bottom are cases about unclear language, but the Sandefer cases turn upon the multiple, plausible meanings of one word. Nowadays, orders and decrees spell out the geographic restrictions which hopefully eliminate this kind of unnecessary confusion.