Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin
FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF TRAVIS COUNTY, 126TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT NO. D-1-GN-09-002079, HONORABLE ORLINDA NARANJO, JUDGE PRESIDING
Before Chief Justice Jones, Justices Goodwin and Field.
J. Woodfin Jones, Chief Justice.
The opinion and judgment issued herein on August 7, 2013, are withdrawn, and the following opinion is substituted in lieu of the earlier one. Appellant's motion for rehearing is overruled.
Juan Enriquez, an inmate confined in the Institutional Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice who is appearing pro se and in forma pauperis, appeals the dismissal of his suit. Enriquez sued Cristina Melton Crain, individually and in her official capacity as former Chair of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice; Brad Livingston, individually and in his official capacity as Executive Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice; Nathaniel Quarterman, individually and in his official capacity as former Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice; and John Rupert, individually and in his official capacity as former Warden of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Michael Unit (collectively "the State officials") alleging causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and a claim for false imprisonment. Enriquez sought a declaration that the State officials had violated state law and an injunction requiring them to comply with that law. Enriquez sought actual and exemplary damages as well as unspecified "prospective equitable relief." The trial court dismissed the claims as frivolous pursuant to chapter 14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 14.001-.014. Enriquez perfected this appeal. We will affirm.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On October 19, 1966, Enriquez was convicted in Karnes County district court of murder with malice and sentenced to death. See Ex parte Enriquez, 490 S.W.2d 546, 547 (Tex. Crim. App. 1973) (setting out timeline). On February 14, 1968, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the judgment of conviction. Enriquez v. State, 429 S.W.2d 141, 145 (Tex. Crim. App. 1968). In 1969, Enriquez was also convicted of four counts of murder and was sentenced to 99 years' imprisonment for each count. Three of the convictions were in Nueces County district court and one was in Wilson County district court. On June 29, 1972, the United States Supreme Court declared the death penalty a void sentence and remanded all death sentences to state courts for further consideration. See Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972). In response to the Furman mandate, the court of criminal appeals determined that the Governor of Texas possessed the power under the Texas Constitution to commute all death sentences. See Whan v. State, 485 S.W.2d 275, 276 (Tex. Crim. App. 1972). On August 31, 1972, Governor Preston Smith commuted Enriquez's death sentence to life in prison.
In May 2006, Enriquez filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal district court contending that he was being illegally confined beyond the discharge of the three Nueces County 99-year sentences. See Enriquez v. Quarterman, C.A. No. C-06-207, 2009 WL 1405687, at *1 (S.D. Tex. May 18, 2009). 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. Quarterman then moved to dismiss Enriquez's habeas petition for lack of jurisdiction on the ground that Enriquez was no longer being confined pursuant to the three challenged sentences. Id. The court granted the motion to dismiss. Although the 99-year sentences were discharged, Enriquez remained in custody pursuant to the life sentence received as the result of the Governor's commutation of his death sentence. Id. at *2 ("[Enriquez] is still serving a life sentence for his conviction in cause number 3862 from Karnes County.").
In August 2008, Enriquez filed in Karnes County district court a document titled "Motion for Nunc Pro Tunc Pronouncement of Sentence." In his motion, Enriquez asserted that the Karnes County court had not sentenced him to life in 1972 and requested that the court formally "pronounce the sentence granted to [him] by the Governor of Texas." See Enriquez v. State, No. 04-10-00071-CR, 2011 WL 2637370, at *1 (Tex. App.-San Antonio July 6, 2011, pet. ref'd) (mem. op., not designated for publication). The trial court held a hearing, at the conclusion of which it pronounced, as an order of the court, that "Juan Rudy Enriquez 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 Juan Rudy Enriquez to the custody of the Sheriff of Karnes County to carry out the terms of this sentence." Id. The district court then signed a document entitled "Sentence" in conformity with its oral pronouncement in open court. Id. at *2. On appeal, the San Antonio Court of Appeals vacated the district court's "Sentence, " holding that, after a commutation, no additional court action is necessary to effectuate the commuted punishment. Id. at *3. The court concluded that Enriquez was incorrect in insisting that 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. at *2.
In June 2009, Enriquez filed his original petition in the underlying proceeding. He alleged that the State officials had violated his rights to due process and equal protection by confining him without the commitment sentence required by law. He further alleged that they had no authority to confine him without a commitment sentence. The State officials filed a motion to dismiss the suit as frivolous pursuant to chapter 14 of the civil practice and remedies code. After conducting a non-evidentiary hearing on the motion, the court provided Enriquez an opportunity to amend his petition to allege a claim that had an arguable basis in law. Enriquez filed an amended petition in November 2011. In December 2011, the court, after a second non-evidentiary hearing on the State officials' motion to dismiss Enriquez's suit, signed an order dismissing the suit as frivolous pursuant to chapter 14. Enriquez then perfected this appeal.
In his first issue, Enriquez contends that dismissal of his suit was improper because the State officials' motion to dismiss was based on a supplemental petition he had filed in June 2010, which he contends was superseded by his amended petition filed in November 2011. Enriquez argues that the trial court erred by permitting the State officials to challenge his first amended petition at the December 2011 hearing. Specifically, Enriquez asserts that "[t]he court did not have discretion to decide a motion challenging a legally dead pleading nor to use that motion to discount or dismiss the live pleading without examination which accepts the pleaded facts as true." We understand Enriquez's argument to be that the trial court has no discretion to dismiss pursuant to chapter 14 without a written motion to dismiss specifically directed at his live pleading.
Chapter 14 of the civil practice and remedies code applies to any suit, such as this one, filed by an inmate who declares himself unable to pay costs. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 14.002(b). Section 14.003 authorizes a trial court to dismiss an inmate's claims as frivolous even in the absence of a motion requesting it to do so. See id. § 14.003(a) (court may dismiss claim, "either before or after service of process, " if court finds that claim is frivolous); Conely v. Texas Bd. of Crim. Justice, No. 03-10-00422-CV, 2011 WL 3890404, at *4 (Tex. App.-Austin Aug. 31, 2011, no pet.) (mem. op.). Therefore, even if Enriquez is correct that the State officials' motion was not directed to his live pleading, the trial court had the authority to dismiss Enriquez's claims without such a motion, and we review that dismissal for an abuse of discretion. See Leachman v. Dretke, 261 S.W.3d 297, 303 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2008, no pet.). We overrule Enriquez's first issue.
Issues two through five assert that the trial court abused its discretion in dismissing his suit. As stated above, section 14.003 authorizes a trial court to dismiss an inmate's claim, filed in forma pauperis, either before or after service of process occurs, if it finds the claim to be frivolous. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 14.003(a)(2). A claim is frivolous if it has no basis in law or in fact. See id. § 14.003(b)(2). A claim is considered to have no arguable basis in law when either the legal theory on which it is based is indisputably meritless or the factual allegations on which it is based are wholly incredible or irrational. Nabelek v. District Att'y of Harris Cnty., 290 S.W.3d 222, 228 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2005, pet. denied). An ...