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Stone v. Commerce & Industry Insurance

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

April 26, 2018

RANDALL STONE, Appellant,
v.
COMMERCE & INDUSTRY INSURANCE, Appellee. RANDALL STONE, Appellant,
v.
TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF INSURANCE- DIVISION OF WORKER'S COMPENSATION, Appellee.

          On appeal from the 24th District Court of Victoria County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Benavides and Longoria

          ORDER

          PER CURIAM

         Appellant filed timely notices of appeal from the trial court's ruling in appellate cause numbers 13-17-00620-CV and 13-17-00643-CV. Appellant asserts that he cannot afford to prosecute these appeals. Consequently, appellant has filed a "Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs"[1] pursuant to Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 145. Tex.R.Civ.P. 145(a) (providing that "[a] party who files a Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs cannot be required to pay costs except by order of the court as provided by this rule"). The court reporter contested appellant's statement. See id. R. 145(f)(3) (providing that a "court reporter may move to require the [person] to prove the inability to afford costs"). Upon receiving the court reporter's contest, we abated these appeals to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing on the matter. See id. R. 145(f)(5) (providing that a person who files a statement of inability to afford payment of costs "may not be required to pay costs without an oral evidentiary hearing"). After a hearing on the matter, the trial court sustained the court reporter's contest and found that appellant is able to afford payment of costs. Appellant now appeals the trial court's order, which we review for an abuse of discretion. See id. R. 145(g)(1) (permitting a person to appeal a trial court's order requiring him to pay costs); see also Arevalo v. Millan, 983 S.W.2d 803, 804 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1998, no pet.) (applying an abuse-of-discretion standard to review a trial court's order requiring appellant to pay costs).

         Under penalty of perjury, appellant represents that he no longer receives worker's compensation for a job-related injury he sustained, nor does he receive any other form of need-based public benefits. He states that he is currently unemployed with zero monthly income, has $25 in his bank account, owns one car, and cares for a fifteen-year-old son who depends on him financially. He also states that he owns two mobile homes that were built in the early 1980's, each worth $1, 000. Appellant further states that his monthly expenses total $1, 437 and that he is behind on his bills.

         Neither appellee nor the court reporter made any attempt to rebut these statements at the hearing, and the trial court gave no indication that it disbelieved appellant's testimony. Instead, the trial court found that appellant had the financial wherewithal to afford costs because he listed "2 motor homes" as assets. Appellant responds that the trial court's finding essentially means that he will have to sell his place of abode and "live on the streets" in order to afford costs. According to appellant, this amounts to an abuse of discretion. We agree. The comment to Rule 145 states:

The issue is not merely whether a person can pay costs, but whether the person can afford to pay costs. A person may have sufficient cash on hand to pay filing fees, but the person cannot afford the fees if paying them would preclude the person from paying for basic essentials, like housing or food.

Id. (emphasis added); see id. (declaring that "[a]ccess to the civil justice system cannot be denied because a person cannot afford to pay court costs"). By focusing exclusively on appellant's place of abode as an available asset, the trial court did not properly consider whether appellant can afford to pay costs without compromising the basic essential of housing. Under the current version of Rule 145, this is the critical inquiry. See id.

         Furthermore, Rule 145(f)(6) provides that "[a]n order requiring [a person] to pay costs must be supported by detailed findings that the [person] can afford to pay costs." Id. R. 145(f)(6) (emphasis added). Other than identifying appellant's mobile homes as assets, the trial court made no other finding to support its conclusion that appellant had the ability to afford payment of costs. We conclude that this single finding is deficient to satisfy Rule 145(f)(6)'s requirement that the trial court's order be supported by "detailed findings." See id.; see also Kelly Dean Hollingsworth v. Walaal Corp., No. 05-17-00555-CV, 2017 WL 2492788, at *2 (Tex. App.-Dallas June 9, 2017, no pet.) (mem. op.) (holding that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering payment of costs because its findings were not "'detailed findings that [the person] can afford to pay costs' as required by rule 145").

         We reverse the trial court's order, and we order that appellant may proceed with these appeals without payment of costs.[2]

---------

Notes:

[1] "Costs" as used in this context means "any fee charged by the court or an officer of the court that could be taxed in a bill of costs, including, but not limited to, filing fees, fees for issuance and service of process, fees for a court-appointed professional, and fees charged by the clerk or court reporter for preparation of the appellate record." Tex.R.Civ.P. 145(c).

[2] Simultaneous with this order, we hand down memorandum opinions in the underlying causes. Based on our disposition in those memorandum opinions, it is not necessary for the court reporter to prepare or file ...


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