Opinion issued May 6, 2010
Court of Appeals
First District of Texas
MARCUS TAYLOR, Appellant V. CO. #3 ASHLEY, ANDREW J., CO. #4 MARR, ALEXANDERIA S., PROPERTY OFFICER CO. #5 LINVILLE, MARTINA, WARDER BAKER, EDDIE D., ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR BRISHER, V. L., UNIT GRIEVANCE COORDINATOR THAT INVESTIGATED GRIEVANCE # 2008102809, Appellees On Appeal from the 3rd District Court Of Anderson County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 3-408621
Originally appealed to the Twelfth Court of Appeals, this case was transferred to this Court by the Texas Supreme Court pursuant to its docket equalization efforts. See TEX. GOV’T CODE ANN. § 73.001 (Vernon 2005). We are unaware of any conflict between precedent of the Twelfth Court of Appeals and that of this Court on any relevant issue. See TEX. R. APP. P. 41.3.
MEMORANDUM OPINION Appellant, Marcus Taylor, filed an inmate civil action against numerous defendants employed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ ). The trial court dismissed the petition, finding the claim was “frivolous or malicious.” On appeal, Taylor contends the trial court erred in dismissing his petition and abused its discretion in failing to grant him a hearing and trial on his claim. We affirm. Background On September 7, 2008, Taylor, a prison inmate, brought a suit in forma pauperis. The suit alleged that on February 5, 2008, TDCJ employees
intentionally stole, lost, destroyed, or damaged his property, valued at $500. Taylor alleged that he exhausted his administrative remedies by filing Step 1 a nd Step 2 grievance forms. His Step 1 and Step 2 forms for Grievance # 2008102809 (“809”) were reviewed by administrators who determined that no further action was necessary. Taylor requested an evidentiary hearing and jury trial. Taylor sought damages for the missing property, as well as for “mental anguish, stress, pro se litigant’s fee’s, etc. etc.” While it is evident that the trial court clerk corresponded with Taylor, none of the letters issued by the trial court are part of the clerk’s record. It appears that
Taylor supplemented his petition in response to inquiries from the court on at least three occasions. In a “Notice” filed by Taylor on September 22, 2008, he also alleged that the defendants committed “criminal conspiracy . . . to murder [him].” The clerk’s record contains another petition filed by Taylor on October 16, 2008, which appears to be related to a different grievance. This petition, relating to Grievance # 2008158697 (“697”), named numerous TDCJ employees as defendants (some of whom differed from the original petition). Taylor alleged on April 21, 2008, the defendants stole his property that had a “$500 senimental [sic] value.” In this petition, Taylor requested that criminal charges be brought against listed TDCJ employees for theft, criminal mischief, conspiracy, and “obstructive [sic] justice.” On December 18, 2008, Taylor supplemented his first petition relating to grievance 809 with an “Affidavit of Facts” stating the date that the grievance was filed and the date the written response was received. Additionally, Taylor
provided the Step 1 and Step 2 grievance forms including the written responses. With these documents, Taylor filed a request to alter or amend his claim to include the documents in his case. On January 12, 2009, Taylor filed a “Motion to Amend Supplemental Affidavit” that listed previous lawsuits he filed. While the motion is very unclear, it appears that Taylor lists four previous law suits. However, there was no
statement of facts describing each suit or the disposition of each case. The trial court signed an order of dismissal on January 20, 2009. The order stated in relevant part: On September 15, 2008, Plaintiff filed their Civil Suit. It is obvious to the Court that this civil action is not brought under the Family Code and is governed by Chapter 13 and 14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. The Court finds that the claim to be frivolous or malicious. It is hereby, ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that the action of Plaintiff against Defendant be dismissed without prejudice. The trial court did not provide explanation for finding the claim “frivolous or malicious.” Further, the court ordered that Taylor pay the total amount of court fees and costs, which totaled $229, from the deposits made to his trust account. On appeal, Taylor argues that the trial court erred in dismissing his petition and abused its discretion in failing to grant him a hearing and trial on his claim. Dismissal of Inmate’s Claim Because this is a suit brought by an inmate in a district court in which the inmate filed an affidavit or unsworn declaration of inability to pay costs , the action is governed by Chapter 14. TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE. ANN. § 14.002 (Vernon 2002). An inmate who desires to proceed in forma pauperis, as here, must (1) file an affidavit or unsworn declaration describing all prior pro se lawsuits filed by the inmate, see id. § 14.004, (2) file an affidavit or unsworn declaration of the date that his current claim was filed with the prison grievance system and the date that a
written decision was received, see id. § 14.005, (3) file a copy of the written decision from the grievance system, see id. and (4) file a certified copy of the inmate’s trust account statement with the trial court, see id. § 14.006(f). “A trial court may dismiss an inmate’s lawsuit for failing to comply with the procedural requirements of Chapter 14.” Scott v. Gallagher, 209 S.W.3d 262, 265 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2006, no pet.) (citing Williams v. Brown, 33 S.W.3d 410, 412 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2000, no pet.)). “Under Chapter 14, a trial court may also dismiss a lawsuit that is malicious or frivolous. ” Id. (citing TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. § 14.003 (Vernon 2002)). A. Standard of Review We review a dismissal under Chapter 14 for an abuse of discretion. Id. (citing Clark v. J.W. Estelle Unit, 23 S.W.3d 420, 421 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2000, pet. denied)); Leachman v. Dretke, 261 S.W.3d 297, 303 (Tex. App.— Fort Worth 2008, no pet.). “A trial court commits an abuse of discretion if it acts without reference to guiding rules or principles.” Scott, 209 S.W.3d at 265 (citing Clark, 23 S.W.3d at 421). B. Section 14.004, Civil Practice and Remedies Code Section 14.004 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code requires that an inmate who files an affidavit or unsworn declaration of inability to pay costs to file a separate affidavit or declaration:
(1) identifying each suit, other than a suit under the Family Code, previously brought by the person and in which the person was not represented by an attorney, without regard to whether the person was an inmate at the time the suit was brought; and (2) describing each suit that was previously brought by: (A) stating the operative facts for which relief was sought; (B) listing the case name, cause number, and the court in which the suit was brought; (C) identifying each party named in the suit; and (D) stating the result of the suit, including whether the suit was dismissed as frivolous or malicious under section 13.001 or section 14.003 or otherwise. TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE. ANN. § 14.004(a) (Vernon 2002). “The purpose of Section 14.004 is to curb the constant, often duplicative, inmate litigation, by requiring the inmate to notify the trial court of previous litigation and the outcome.” Clark, 23 S.W.3d at 422. The notice allows the trial court to determine, based on the previous filings, whether the current suit is “substantially similar to a previous claim” making it frivolous. Id. C. Analysis It is undisputed that the requirements of Chapter 14 apply to this lawsuit by Taylor, an inmate who filed an unsworn declaration requesting permission to proceed in forma pauperis. In its order dismissing the case, the trial court stated its finding that that the claim was “frivolous or malicious.” Where an inmate fails to state the operative facts of prior suits filed by that inmate, as required by Section 14.004, “we must assume the suit is substantially
similar to a previously filed suit by the inmate, and is, therefore, frivolous. ” Clark, 23 S.W.3d at 422. In Clark, the inmate provided a list of previous filings, but he did not state the operative facts for which relief was sought in those suits. Id. This Court upheld the trial court’s dismissal concluding that Clark failed to comply with Section 14.004 and, accordingly, his claim was deemed frivolous. Id. We have reviewed the record and find Taylor’s affidavit is insufficient to meet the requirements of Section 14.004. While Taylor list previous filings, he did not state the operative facts for which relief was sought in those suits or the disposition of each case. Without that information, the trial court was unable to consider whether Taylor’s current claim was substantially similar to a previous claim. See id. “As such, we must assume the suit is substantially similar to a previously filed suit by the inmate, and is, therefore, frivolous.” Id. We hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing Taylor’s suit as frivolous. We overrule Taylor’s first issue. Failure to Grant Hearing Taylor further contends that the trial court abused its discretion by not granting him a hearing under Section 14.003. Subsection 14.003(c) provides that “the court may hold a hearing” to determine whether dismissal is proper under Subsection 14.003(a). TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE. ANN. § 14.003(c) (emphasis added). While it has the option to hold a hearing, “a trial court’s decision on
whether to hold a hearing on the dismissal of inmate litigation for failure to comply with the statutes governing such litigation is discretionary.” Moreland v. Johnson, 95 S.W.3d 392, 394 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2002, no pet.) (citing Williams, 33 S.W.3d at 411). We overrule Taylor’s second issue. Conclusion We affirm the trial court’s order of dismissal.
George C. Hanks Justice
Panel consists of Justices Jennings, Hanks, and Bland.