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Isaac v. Zocalo 3

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

January 11, 2018


         On Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 4 Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. CC-16-05241-D

          Before Justices Francis, Evans, and Boatright



         Appellant Gabriel Isaac appeals from a final judgment that included authorization of his eviction from his apartment.[1] Isaac asserts that the trial court lacked jurisdiction and erred by failing to postpone the trial. Isaac also accuses the Villas del Zocalo 3 ("Villas") of committing "fraud upon the court" by: (1) changing Isaac's name in the caption from "Isaac" to "Issac"; (2) failing to serve pleadings and motions in accordance with the local rules; and (3) fabricating evidence. We affirm.


         On October 14, 2016, Villas filed a petition for eviction against Isaac in Dallas County justice court. The justice court ordered that Villas receive possession of the premises and past due rent. Isaac appealed the judgment to the county court.

         Villas filed a first amended petition for forcible detainer in the county court. Isaac filed an answer and countersuit. Villas then filed a plea to the jurisdiction and motion to strike Isaac's counterclaim. The county court granted Villas's plea to the jurisdiction and motion to strike in part. The county court severed the counterclaim and gave Isaac thirty days to pay a filing fee or demonstrate inability to pay. A jury trial was conducted on Villas's forcible detainer action and the jury found in favor of Villas. The county court ordered Isaac to vacate the apartment and pay damages and fees. Isaac then filed this appeal.


         We start with the admonition that an appellant's brief must contain a clear and concise argument for the contentions made and citations to authorities and the record. Tex.R.App.P. 38.1(i). Rule 38 requires a party to provide us with such discussion of the facts and authorities relied upon as may be necessary to present the issue. Gonzalez v. VATR Const. LLC, No. 05-12-00277-CV, 2013 WL 6504813, at *4 (Tex. App.-Dallas Dec. 12, 2013, no pet.). Although we construe pro se pleadings and briefs liberally, we hold pro se litigants to the same standards as licensed attorneys and require them to comply with the applicable laws and rules of procedure. In re N.E.B, 251 S.W.3d 211, 211-12 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2008, no pet.); see also Gonzalez, 2013 WL 6504813 at *4 ("Appellate courts must construe briefing requirements reasonably and liberally, but a party asserting error on appeal still must put forth some specific argument and analysis showing that the record and the law support his contention."). To do otherwise would give a pro se litigant an unfair advantage over a litigant who is represented by counsel. In re N.E.B., 251 S.W.3d at 212. In addition, to guess at or make an argument for a party would violate the structure of our system of justice, be unwise, and change our role from neutral and impartial decision makers to advocates.

[C]ourts should rely on the adversary system of justice, which depends on the parties to frame the issues for decision and assigns to courts the role of neutral arbiter of the matters that the parties present. Greenlaw v. United States, 554 U.S. 237, 243 (2008). One rationale for this system is that the parties and their counsel usually know far better than the courts what is best for them, so they are responsible for advancing the facts and arguments entitling them to relief. Id. at 244. Resolving disputes only on grounds raised by the parties also serves judicial economy, keeps courts within their constitutionally assigned role as impartial and "neutral arbiter[s], " id. at 243, and enables courts to make well-informed decisions based on full adversary presentation and testing of the arguments on either side of the issue at hand.

Ward v. Lamar Univ., 484 S.W.3d 440, 453-54 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2016, no pet.) (footnotes and citations omitted).

         I. Failing to Postpone Trial

         In his second issue, Isaac argues that the trial court abused its discretion when it failed to grant his motion to postpone trial. The general rule is that the trial court's refusal to grant a postponement will not be disturbed unless the record shows a clear abuse of discretion. Crane v. Texas Dept. of Transp., 880 S.W.2d 55, 58 (Tex. App.-Tyler 1994, writ denied). Further, rule 251 provides that a continuance shall not be granted except for sufficient cause supported by affidavit, or by consent of the parties, or by operation of law. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 251. Here, Isaac requested a continuance on the day of trial and did not submit a written motion or an affidavit. Isaac argues that he was entitled to a postponement because he "was dumped with court proceedings of over (45) forty-five pages, inside the court-room." These documents included Villas's motion in limine. Isaac raised this issue to the court and the court stated as follows:

Look, it's proper to file a motion in limine. They don't have to do it prior to the trial, so long as it's done at least the morning of trial before we actually begin jury selection and the jury trial. They don't have to do it unless I sign an order saying that the motion in limine has to be filed by a certain date. That order did not exist here. It was timely for ...

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