Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio
From the 250th District Court, Travis County, Texas Trial Court No. D-1-GN-11-003703 The Honorable Scott H. Jenkins, Judge Presiding
Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Justice Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice
Sandee Bryan Marion, Justice
Juan Enriquez, an inmate of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Correctional Institutions Division, who is appearing pro se and in forma pauperis, appeals the dismissal of his lawsuit. Appellant sued Oliver Bell, Brad Livingston, Rick Thaler, Becky Price, and Todd Foxworth, in their official capacities as officials of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and Texas Board of Criminal Justice (TBCJ) (collectively "appellees"), alleging causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and under the Texas and United States Constitutions. The trial court dismissed the suit as frivolous pursuant to Chapter 14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. We affirm.
On October 19, 1966, appellant was convicted of murder with malice in Karnes County and sentenced to death. On February 14, 1968, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction. Enriquez v. State, 429 S.W.2d 141, 145 (Tex. Crim. App. 1968). In 1969, appellant was also convicted of four counts of murder and was sentenced to ninety-nine years' imprisonment for each count. Three of these convictions were in Nueces County and one was in Wilson County. In 1972, the United States Supreme Court declared that, under the circumstances of the cases under review, the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment and remanded the cases to their respective state courts, one of which was Texas, for further proceedings. Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 239–40 (1972). In response to this mandate, Governor Preston Smith commuted appellant's death sentence to life in prison.
In May 2006, appellant filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal district court contending he was being illegally confined beyond the discharge of the three Nueces County ninety-nine year sentences. While the petition was pending, officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice signed certificates retroactively discharging the three Nueces County sentences as of November 18, 2002. The respondent then moved to dismiss appellant's habeas petition for lack of jurisdiction on the ground that appellant was no longer being confined pursuant to the Nueces County sentences. The court granted the motion to dismiss. Although the ninety-nine year sentences were discharged, appellant remained in custody pursuant to the commuted life sentence received in the Karnes County case.
In August 2008, appellant filed a document entitled "Motion for Nunc Pro Tunc Pronouncement of Sentence" in Karnes County district court. In his motion, appellant requested the court formally "pronounce the sentence granted to [him] by the Governor of Texas." The trial court held a hearing, at the conclusion of which it pronounced, as an order of the court, that "[appellant] is hereby sentenced to life imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice; the Institutional Division as it is currently called. And the Court hereby remands [appellant] to the custody of the Sheriff of Karnes County to carry out the terms of this sentence." The district court then signed a document entitled "Sentence" in conformity with its oral pronouncement in open court. On appeal, this court vacated the district court's "Sentence, " holding that, after a commutation, no additional court action is necessary to effectuate the commuted punishment. Enriquez v. State, No. 04-10-00071-CR, 2011 WL 2637370, at *1 (Tex. App.—San Antonio July 6, 2011, pet. ref'd). This court concluded appellant was incorrect in insisting the Karnes County district court was required to formally pronounce a sentence following the Governor's commutation of his death sentence to life imprisonment. Id.
In June 2009, appellant filed suit in Travis County alleging appellees violated his rights to due process and equal protection by confining him without the commitment warrant required by articles 42.02 and 42.09 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. Appellees filed a motion to dismiss the suit as frivolous pursuant to Chapter 14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. After conducting a non-evidentiary hearing on the motion, the court provided appellant an opportunity to amend his petition to allege a claim that had an arguable basis in law. Appellant filed an amended petition in November 2011. In December 2011, after a second non-evidentiary hearing on the State officials' motion to dismiss appellant's suit, the court signed an order dismissing the suit as frivolous pursuant to Chapter 14. The Third Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's dismissal order. Enriquez v. Crain, No. 03-12-00065-CV, 2013 WL 4056187, at *6 (Tex. App.—Austin Aug. 7, 2013, no pet.) (mem. op.).
Appellant filed his original petition in the underlying proceeding asserting causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging appellees violated his right to due process by depriving him of his "right to be free from classification as convicted of any offense but the one which he was legally convicted, " and of his "state and federal right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by subjecting him to punishment for a degree of offense and sentence which did not attach to his offense and for which he received clemency." Appellant also asserted a claim for equitable relief under the Texas and United States Constitutions alleging appellees "acted in violation of state law by failing and/or refusing to comply with Ex parte Enriquez,  which directed [appellees'] predecessors to treat the life sentence granted to [appellant] by the Governor as if it was originally imposed."
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Litigation where an inmate files an affidavit or unsworn declaration of inability to pay costs is governed by certain procedural rules set out in Chapter 14 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. §§ 14.001–.014 (West 2002). The procedural requirements placed on suits by indigent inmates under Chapter 14 are designed to control the flood of frivolous suits filed in the courts of this state by prison inmates. Simmonds v. Harrison, 387 S.W.3d 812, 814 (Tex. App.—Eastland 2012, no pet.). Chapter 14 allows a trial court to dismiss a suit filed by an inmate if the court finds the suit is frivolous or malicious. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 14.003. In determining whether a claim is frivolous or malicious, the trial court may consider whether:
(1) the claim's realistic chance of ultimate success is slight; (2) the claim has no arguable basis in law or fact; (3) it is clear that the party cannot prove facts in support of the claim; or (4) the claim is substantially similar to a previous claim filed by the inmate because the claim arises from the same operative facts.
Id. § 14.003(b). Trial courts are given broad discretion in determining whether a case should be dismissed because "(1) prisoners have a strong incentive to litigate; (2) the government bears the cost of an in forma pauperis suit; (3) sanctions are not effective; and (4) the dismissal of unmeritorious claims accrues to the benefit of state officials, courts, and meritorious claimants." Retzlaff v. Tex. Dep't of Criminal Justice, 94 S.W.3d 650, 653 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2002, pet. denied). However, an inmate's cause of action may not be dismissed merely because the court ...