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Hartfield v. Furr

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

June 28, 2018

BOBBY HARTFIELD, JR. TDCJ #1119719, Appellant,
v.
WARDEN FURR, ET AL, Appellees.

          On appeal from the 36th District Court of Bee County, Texas.

          Before Justices Contreras, Longoria, and Hinojosa Memorandum Opinion by Justice Hinojosa

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LETICIA HINOJOSA Justice

         Appellant Bobby Hartfield Jr., an inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, appeals from a judgment dismissing with prejudice his suit against Warden C. Furr and Medical Director K. Long, employees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Institutional Division. In the only cognizable issue that we find in Hartfield's brief, [1] he complains that the trial court abused its discretion under chapter 14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code in dismissing his suit with prejudice. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 14.003(a) (West, Westlaw through 2017 1st C.S.) (providing that a court may dismiss an inmate's claim, either before or after service of process, if the court finds any one of three factors). We modify the trial court's judgment and affirm it as modified.

         I. Background

         On March 24, 2017, Hartfield, an indigent inmate proceeding without counsel, sued Furr and Long, in their individual capacities, alleging what we construe to be a premises defect claim and seeking compensatory damages for injuries allegedly sustained when his foot got caught in a shower drain. Hartfield attached to his petition his: (1) affidavit relating to previous filings, which noted no previous filings; (2) unsworn declaration averring that the facts in his petition were true and correct; (3) Step 2 grievance form, which appeals the denial of his Step 1 grievance for injuries allegedly sustained by a shower drain; and (4) application to proceed in forma pauperis and a print out from Hartfield's prison trust account. A few days later, Hartfield filed with the trial court his Step 1 grievance, which alleges that his foot was injured after getting caught in the drain and that prison personnel improperly denied his request to shower in the medical unit.

         By written order, the trial court invited the Texas Attorney General's Office (the AG's Office) to file an amicus curiae advisory. The amicus curiae advisory filed by the AG's Office posited three grounds for dismissal under chapter 14. First, it alleges that Hartfield's suit was untimely because Hartfield's Step 2 grievance was overruled on November 8, 2016, and he filed suit outside the thirty-one day period required by chapter 14. See id. 14.005(b) (West, Westlaw through 2017 1st C.S.) ("A court shall dismiss a claim if the inmate fails to file the claim before the 31st day after the date the inmate receives the written decision from the grievance system."). Second, it alleges that Hartfield's affidavit relating to previous filings omitted a suit he filed in 2002 in federal court. The AG's Office attached a docket sheet from Hartfield's 2002 federal suit noting that it had been dismissed for want of prosecution and for failure to comply with one of the federal court's orders. Third, it alleges that Hartfield's affidavit of poverty is false. Specifically, the AG's Office alleged that Hartfield "has received money from his aunt and his aunt's church" and that his "trust fund account statement shows a six-month deposit of $75.00, and his balance dropped from $29.35 to $0.09 just two months prior to filing this suit, showing that Hartfield could pay court costs if he really wanted to."

         The trial court signed a final judgment that dismissed Hartfield's suit with prejudice as frivolous and for failure to comply with chapter 14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.

         Within thirty days, Hartfield filed: (1) a "motion to alter of [sic] amend the judgment," which alerted the court to the filing of a motion for leave to file an amended complaint and asserted that a "complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that Plaintiff can [sic] prove [a] set of facts in support of his claim . . . "; (2) a "motion to request leave of court to file amended complaint amending Hartfield's previous filing and affidavit of poverty," which asserted that he received his Step 2 grievance on December 5, 2016 (notwithstanding the notation that it was signed on November 8, 2016) and that he filed suit within thirty-one days; (3) an updated affidavit of poverty; and (4) an updated affidavit of previous filings acknowledging the 2002 federal court suit. In Hartfield's motion for leave, he pleaded that he "simply forgot" about the 2002 federal court suit and that he "never denied receiving money from his aunt and aunt's church" and that such funds were used for personal hygiene, cleaning supplies, writing materials, and other miscellaneous items.

         The trial court did not sign any further orders, and Hartfield timely perfected an appeal to this Court.

         II. Discussion

         In what we construe as Hartfield's first issue, he complains that the trial court abused its discretion under chapter 14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code in dismissing his suit with prejudice.

         A. Standard of Review

         We review a dismissal under chapter 14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code for abuse of discretion. Jackson v. Tex. Dep't of Crim. Justice-Inst. Div., 28 S.W.3d 811, 813 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2000, pet. denied). A trial court abuses its discretion if it acts arbitrarily, capriciously, and without reference to any guiding rules or principles. Lentworth v. Trahan, 981 S.W.2d 720, 722 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1998, no ...


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