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Gonzalez v. Pena

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

August 2, 2017

America Amada GONZALEZ, Appellant
v.
Jose Gilberto PENA, Imelda B. Pena, and Maria Guadalupe Villarreal, Appellees

         From the 381st Judicial District Court, Starr County, Texas Trial Court No. DC-15-547 Honorable Jose Luis Garza, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice Irene Rios, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice

         This is an appeal from the trial court's dismissal of appellant's suit for want of prosecution. In three issues on appeal, appellant asserts the trial court erred in dismissing her suit because she did not receive adequate notice, the trial court erred by not reinstating her case, and the trial court intentionally dismissed her case without notice because the trial judge was biased. Because we conclude the trial court did not provide appellant with notice of its intent to dismiss her case, we reverse the trial court's order of dismissal and remand the cause to the trial court for further proceedings.

          DISMISSAL FOR WANT OF PROSECUTION

         In her first issue, appellant asserts the trial court erred by dismissing her suit because she did not receive notice from the district clerk that her case could be dismissed. Appellant contends-and appellees do not dispute-she had no past history of disregarding any court notifications of court hearings because the notifications were mailed to her and she did not provide an email address.

         Appellant, who was pro se at trial and is pro se on appeal, filed suit against appellees[1] on September 17, 2015. The clerk's record reveals that over the next year, appellant filed motions to recuse the trial judge and a motion for default judgment. Appellees also filed various motions. Each time a hearing was scheduled or an order signed by the trial court, the district clerk mailed notice to appellant and emailed notice to appellees' attorney.[2] On December 14, 2015, the district clerk issued a "Notice" stating a "Status-Docket Control Conference/DWOP" was set for January 13, 2016, and "Counsel's personal appearance is required." The "Notice" contains appellant's physical mailing address and an email address for the attorney representing appellee Guadalupe Villarreal. The attorney representing appellees Jose and Imelda Pena is not listed as an addressee in the "Notice." The clerk's record contains a copy of an envelope addressed to appellant. The district clerk's case management system print-out contains the following two notations regarding this "Notice":

12/14/15 Status-Docket Control Conference/DWOP for Jan. 13, 2016 - Efiled on 12/14/2015 2:48 PM. . . . Comments: MAIL COPY OF NOTICE TO PRO-SE [appellant].
12/16/15 Notice to Pro Se

          The trial court's docket sheet reveals the January 13, 2016 hearing was passed because the trial court was "Waiting for Fifth Administration Office to Assign Someone to Case, " presumably to hear appellant's motion to recuse. Following the denial of appellant's first motion to recuse, appellant and appellees filed other motions. On August 30, 2016, the district clerk issued a "Notice" stating an "Enter-Docket Control Order/DWOP" was set for September 28, 2016, and "Counsel's personal appearance is required." The "Notice" contains appellant's physical mailing address, the email address for Ms. Villarreal's attorney, and the name only (no contact information) for the Penas' attorney. The clerk's record does not contain a copy of an envelope addressed to appellant. The district clerk's case management system print-out contains the following single notation regarding this "Notice":

8/30/2016 NOTICE for Wednesday, September 28, 2016 at 1:00 p.m. - Efiled on 08/30/2016 11:50 AM. . . . Comments: [blank]

         The trial court conducted a hearing on September 28, 2016, at which only one of the appellees' attorneys appeared.[3] After noting appellant's absence, the trial court announced it would dismiss the case for want of prosecution. The trial court signed the order dismissing appellant's case for want of prosecution on October 3, 2016.

         The trial court's authority to dismiss for want of prosecution stems from two sources: (1) Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 165a, and (2) the court's inherent power. Villarreal v. San Antonio Truck & Equip., 994 S.W.2d 628, 630 (Tex. 1999). A trial court may dismiss under Rule 165a on "failure of any party seeking affirmative relief to appear for any hearing or trial of which the party had notice, " or when a case is "not disposed of within the time standards promulgated by the Supreme Court . . . ." Tex.R.Civ.P. 165a(1), (2). In addition, the common law vests the trial court with the inherent power to dismiss independently of the rules of procedure when a plaintiff fails to prosecute his or her case with due diligence. Villarreal, 994 S.W.2d at 630.

         However, a party must be provided with notice and an opportunity to be heard before a court may dismiss a case for want of prosecution under either Rule 165a or its inherent authority. Id.; see also Tex. R. Civ. P. 165a(1). A trial court's failure to provide adequate notice of its intent to dismiss requires reversal because a party's due ...


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