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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Christopher Ochoa and Richard Danziger were wrongfully imprisoned for more than 12 years following conviction for the October 1988 rape and murder of Nancy DePriest. Ochoa falsely confessed to the crime and falsely implicated Danziger as a participant. Pursuant to a plea agreement, Ochoa pleaded guilty to murder on May 5, 1989. As required by the terms of the agreement, Ochoa testified against Danziger. Danziger was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to life in prison on March 6, 1990. In 1996, another man confessed to the murder and was later linked to the crime by an extensive investigation conducted by the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. The court of criminal appeals granted habeas corpus relief on the basis of actual innocence to both Ochoa and Danziger in December 2001, and their indictments were dismissed by the district court in February 2002. Ochoa sued the city of Austin in federal district court and received a sizable settlement. Danziger, through his guardian Barbara Oakley, then brought suit against Ochoa for falsely implicating him in the murder. As part of a settlement agreement in that case, Ochoa assigned his right to compensation under Chapter 103 of the civil practices and remedies code to Oakley, as Danziger’s guardian. Oakley then brought suit against the state on behalf of Danziger as the assignee of Ochoa’s rights. The trial court denied the state’s plea to the jurisdiction. HOLDING:Affirmed. The state then concludes that Ochoa, not the assignee of his rights, is entitled to compensation as defined by the statute, and, accordingly, there is no waiver of sovereign immunity as to Oakley’s suit on behalf of Danziger. The plain language of the statute requires a petition to be filed by a person “entitled to compensation.” Technically, only Ochoa meets this definition for the purposes of this suit. Thus, the waiver of sovereign immunity may extend only to a suit brought on behalf of Danziger if the common-law notion that an assignee stands in the shoes of the assignor applies to the waiver of sovereign immunity under chapter 103. Chapter 103 could not be clearer that the state’s immunity is waived to allow suit for wrongful imprisonment. It is not further required, as the dissent suggests, that the statute mention that a claim may be assigned. Such a holding would ignore the Supreme Court’s teaching that when a statute is silent as to assignability, the court looks to the common law, including principles of equity and public policy, to determine whether a claim may be assigned. Assignment is a common-law principle allowing an assignee to stand in the shoes of the assignor precisely when there is no statutory or other right to assert such a cause of action. Although creating a waiver of immunity is the job of the legislature, the application of the common law governing assignability is the job of the courts. The court notes that there is no inherent reason to deprive a wrongfully convicted person of the right to assign such a cause of action. Although, the traditional common-law rule generally prohibited assignment of claims, this rule has steadily eroded and the general rule now favors assignability. All of the Supreme Court’s recent cases deciding whether certain causes of action may be assigned focus on the policy implications of assignment. The court does not find even a hypothetical risk that assignment of a claim under chapter 103 would somehow distort litigation in the manner discussed by the Supreme Court. A related consideration in determining whether a claim or cause of action may be assigned is whether the right asserted is regarded as personal to the holder. Claims that are property-based and remedial have historically been found assignable and claims that are personal and punitive have not. The state argues that Chapter 103 claims are analogous to DTPA claims and should likewise be found unassignable. The court distinguishes DTPA claims from Chapter 103 claims. The parties often contest whether a consumer was deceived in a DTPA action. By contrast, whether a person was wrongfully convicted will not be contested in a Chapter 103 claim because a claimant must have already been pardoned or granted relief on the grounds of actual innocence to be entitled to compensation. The facts of the underlying criminal prosecution, or the individual’s experience in prison, will be irrelevant to a chapter 103 claim. More importantly, the Supreme Court’s opinion in PPG Industries Inc. v. JMB/Houston Centers Partners Ltd. Partnership, 146 S.W.3d 79 (Tex. 2004), indicates that the damages available in a chapter 103 claim are not personal. Compensation is limited to the person’s lost wages and legal and medical expenses resulting from the wrongful imprisonment. It is difficult to imagine economic damages more remedial in nature. These are concrete, objectively measured economic damages that cannot be construed as personal. Because the only damages available under Chapter 103 are remedial, the court holds that such a claim is not personal and that it is assignable even though the right to compensation terminates on the death of the wrongfully convicted person. However, the assignee takes only those rights held by the assignor, and his right to payment would terminate if the wrongfully convicted person dies or is convicted of a felony prior to the assignee’s receipt of compensation under the statute. Based on the plain language of the statute and case law interpreting a similar provision in the tort claims act, the court holds that �103.153 does not bar this suit because Ochoa’s previous settlement of federal claims was not brought under Chapter 103. OPINION:Smith, J.; before Smith, Patterson and Puryear, JJ. DISSENT:Puryear, J. “The express language of chapter 103 shows a legislative intention that claims under chapter 103 be considered personal claims, albeit personal claims with relief limited to remedial compensation. Because chapter 103 claims are personal in nature and do not survive the claimant’s death, under Bay Ridge and Dearborn Stove, I would hold that chapter 103 claims are not assignable and may only be filed by the wrongfully imprisoned person him or herself. “I believe that the majority’s allowance of the assignment impermissibly broadens the waiver of immunity beyond the legislature’s intentions. Further, I would hold that Ochoa’s claim under chapter 103 is a personal claim and, because it cannot survive his death, I would hold that it may not be assigned to another party. For these reasons, I respectfully dissent.”

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