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Malone v. Utmb

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

May 2, 2019

AARON MALONE, Appellant,
v.
UTMB, ET AL., Appellees.

          On appeal from the 139th District Court of Hidalgo County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Contreras and Justices Longoria and Perkes

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GREGORY T. PERKES JUSTICE

         Appellant Aaron Malone, an inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, appeals the trial court's dismissal of his suit against appellees Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), Russell Landry, Candace Moore, Veronica Inmon, Officer Jacoway, C. Martinez, Officer Almendarez, Dale Dorman, Sarah Poindexter, Captain Gonzales, Counsel Substitute Saenz, and K. Putnam (collectively referred to as TDCJ appellees); and against appellees University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), Martha Blackwell, Susanna Corbett, Georgy Samuel, Timothy Teboe, Rose Opara, and Dr. Isaac Kwarteng (collectively referred to as UTMB appellees). See generally Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. §§ 14.001-.014 (West, Westlaw through 2017 1st C.S.). By two issues, appellant argues the trial court erred in dismissing his lawsuit because: (1) he met all procedural requirements of chapter 14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code; and (2) his claims were not frivolous. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Appellant is an inmate in a TDCJ unit in Beeville, Texas. He brought a lawsuit against UTMB and several of its employees alleging they violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Appellant contends that from September 3, 2014, through mid-year 2015, the UTMB appellees "failed to provide adequate treatment to [appellant] and was [sic] deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs." He complained that UTMB appellees failed to properly treat his back injury and that UTMB and TDCJ failed to properly train their staff physicians, nurses, and employees.

         In addition, he sued TDCJ and several of its employees, alleging violations of his First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution; harassment; discrimination; retaliation; and violations of the Texas Penal Code. In this regard, he accused TDCJ appellees of filing improper disciplinary reports, making unreasonable disciplinary decisions, and making racial and discriminatory comments.

         The Office of the Texas Attorney General filed amicus curiae advisories in the trial court recommending dismissal of the claims against all appellees pursuant to chapter 14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.[1] The trial court subsequently dismissed appellant's entire suit with prejudice as "frivolous, malicious, and for the failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." This appeal followed.[2]

         II. Standard of Review

         Special procedural rules govern litigation by inmates in which the inmate files an affidavit or unsworn declaration of inability to pay. Thomas v. Knight, 52 S.W.3d 292, 294 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2003, pet. denied); see Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 14.001. Inmates must receive a decision from the highest authority in the prison grievance system before filing a claim in state court. Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 501.008(d)(1) (West, Westlaw through 2017 1st C.S.). Further, an inmate must file a claim in state court "before the 31st day after the date the inmate receives the written decision from the grievance system." Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 14.005(b). "A suit that is not timely filed pursuant to Section 14.005(b) is barred and may be dismissed with prejudice." Simmonds v. Harrison, 387 S.W.3d 812, 814-15 (Tex. App.-Eastland 2012, no pet.) (citing Moreland v. Johnson, 95 S.W.3d 392, 395 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2002, no pet.)); see also Readeaux v. Velasquez, No. 13-13-00217-CV, 2013 WL 4399189, at *1 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi Aug. 5, 2013, no pet.) (mem. op.). As explained by the Texarkana Court of Appeals:

The purpose of Section 14.005 is to allow the trial court to ensure that an inmate proceeding in forma pauperis has first used TDCJ's grievance procedure, if it is applicable to his claim. Though Section 14.005 does not explicitly so provide, its obvious purpose is to allow the trial court to dismiss a suit when it becomes clear that the inmate has failed to provide the information the statute requires. Therefore, it is incumbent on the inmate to provide the required information before it comes to the trial court for review. This is especially true because Section 501.008 of the Texas Government Code precludes an inmate from filing a claim until he has exhausted his remedies through the grievance system.

Smith v. Tex. Dep't of Criminal Justice, 33 S.W.3d 338, 341 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2000, pet. denied).

         The trial court has broad discretion to dismiss a lawsuit under chapter 14 as frivolous or malicious. Jackson v. Tex. Dep't of Criminal Justice, 28 S.W.3D 811, 813 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2000, no pet.). To establish an abuse of discretion, an appellant must show the trial court's actions were arbitrary or unreasonable considering all circumstances. Harrison v. Tex. Dep't of Criminal Justice, 164 S.W.3d 871, 874 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2005, no pet.). The standard is clarified by asking whether the trial court acted without reference to any guiding rules or principles. Id.

         III. ...


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