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Bovee v. Houston Press LLP

Court of Appeals of Texas, Tenth District

March 15, 2017

MATTHEW S. BOVEE, Appellant
v.
HOUSTON PRESS LLP, MARGARET DOWNING, DIANNA WRAY, PETER RYAN, DALLAS OBSERVER, LLP, KXAN, DAWN DENNY, PATRICK WILLIAMS, MEDIA GENERAL INC., VOICE MEDIA GROUP, DOES 1 THROUGH 5, AND JANE DOE, Appellees

         From the 249th District Court Johnson County, Texas Trial Court No. DC-C201500272

          Before Chief Justice Gray, Justice Davis, and Justice Scoggins

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TOM GRAY, CHIEF JUSTICE

         Matthew S. Bovee appeals the trial court's order pursuant to a Rule 76a motion to seal court records. Because the trial court did not err in implicitly overruling Bovee's motion for a bench warrant, did not err in reviewing documents in camera, and did not abuse its discretion in rendering the order, we affirm the trial court's order.

         Background

         Bovee, a prison inmate, sued Johnny Doe's mother and others alleging they conspired to publish defamatory news articles about Bovee. The articles pertained to Bovee's criminal actions, particularly sexual abuse of Johnny, at a summer camp. Johnny and his family's true identities were not disclosed in the articles. However, Bovee included Johnny's and Johnny's family's names in Bovee's civil pleadings. Johnny, as a non-party, filed a motion to seal court records to protect his anonymity and emotional well-being. After a hearing, the trial court issued an order redacting from all pleadings filed in the case Johnny's name and the name of any person if the use of that person's name would tend to identify Johnny and prohibiting the filing of future pleadings which use Johnny's name or the name of any person if the use of that person's name would tend to identify Johnny.

         Bench Warrant

         Because it could be dispositive of this case, we address Bovee's fifth issue first. In that issue, Bovee complains that the trial court erred in denying Bovee's motion for a bench warrant to be present at the hearing on Johnny Doe's motion to seal records. The motion to seal was filed on July 30, 2015, and a temporary order was signed on July 31, 2015. A hearing was set for August 28, 2015. Bovee's motion for a bench warrant was filed on August 17, 2015. Bovee's reason for requesting the bench warrant was "so that I may give testimony and oppose the Motion [to Seal]." Based on the record before us, we cannot tell that the trial court expressly ruled on Bovee's motion. Bovee, however, appeared at the hearing by telephone.[1] Thus, by proceeding with the hearing without issuing the bench warrant, and if the motion was timely called to the attention of the trial court, the trial court impliedly overruled Bovee's motion. See Tex. R. App. P. 33.1(a)(2)(A). From the record before us, we cannot tell if the motion was timely called to the trial court's attention. We will assume without deciding, however, that it was and proceed to address the merits of the implied ruling.

         Litigants cannot be denied access to the courts simply because they are inmates. See Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 523, 82 L.Ed.2d 393, 104 S.Ct. 3194 (1984). However, an inmate does not have an absolute right to appear in person in every court proceeding. In the Interest of Z.L.T., 124 S.W.3d 163, 165 (Tex. 2003). Instead, the inmate's right of access to the courts must be weighed against the protection of our correctional system's integrity. Id. Consequently, a prisoner requesting a bench warrant must justify the need for his presence. Id. A trial court has no independent duty to inquire into 1) relevant facts not provided by the inmate, or 2) the necessity of an inmate's appearance. See id. at 166.

         Bovee's request for a bench warrant stated no basis for why his appearance in court was necessary to preserve his constitutional right, and it included no information by which the trial court could assess the necessity of his appearance. Further, he failed to provide any factual information showing why his interest in appearing at the hearing outweighed the protection of the correctional system's integrity. Because Bovee failed to make the required showing and the trial court is not required, on its own, to seek out the necessary information, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by implicitly denying Bovee's request for a bench warrant.

         Bovee's fifth issue is overruled.

         Time Period

         In his first issue, Bovee argues the trial court erred in issuing a sealing order that did not comply with section (6) of Rule 76a. Specifically, he asserts the trial court failed to state a time period for the duration of the court's order. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 76a(6). Rule 76a(6) provides the written order sealing court records, "shall state:…the time period for which the sealed portions of the court records are to be sealed." Id.

         As a result of the hearing on the motion to seal, the trial court ordered the name of Johnny Doe and names of any other persons which, if used, would tend to identify Johnny Doe redacted from all pleadings on file in the case. The trial court further ordered, "[f]rom the date of this Order forward, no pleadings may use the actual names of ...


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