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Smith v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Sixth District, Texarkana

May 8, 2019

TRENT ALVON SMITH, Appellant
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE, AND THE TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE - INSTITUTIONAL DIVISION, Appellees

          Date Submitted: March 14, 2019

          On Appeal from the 126th District Court Travis County, Texas Trial Court No. D-1-GN-14-001313

          Before Morriss, C.J., Burgess and Stevens, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          SCOTT E. STEVENS, JUSTICE

         The trial court dismissed Trent Alvon Smith's lawsuit pursuant to Chapter 14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, finding that the indigent inmate's suit was not timely filed. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. §§ 14.001-.014 (West 2017).[1] Smith filed this appeal arguing that the trial court erred because his petition was filed in Travis County, Texas, in January 2014, and it "relates back" to his previous filing of the same lawsuit in May 2011 in Walker County, Texas.

         Because Smith failed to timely file his lawsuit, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         I. Background

         Smith claimed that he was injured on February 3, 2011, when the State vehicle in which he was being transported collided with another State vehicle. Smith sought relief through the grievance system, and he received a final denial of his grievance on or about May 10, 2011. Eight days later, Smith mailed his petition and its attachments to the Walker County District Clerk's Office. Even so, the clerk did not file the petition. In a letter dated May 20, 2011, the clerk returned Smith's unfiled petition to him and informed him that she could not accept his petition for filing until he paid the $504.84 in outstanding costs assessed against him in a prior, unrelated case that had been dismissed as "frivolous."

         On January 15, 2014, Smith filed the petition in a Travis County district court.[2] The State answered and moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing in part that, under Section 14.005(b), the court had to dismiss the lawsuit because Smith failed to file it within thirty-one days of receiving the written decision from the grievance system. The trial court granted the State's motion and dismissed Smith's petition.

         II. Analysis

         In his sole point of error on appeal, Smith argues that the trial court erred in dismissing his lawsuit because his 2014 filing in Travis County related back to his attempted filing in Walker County in 2011.

         Chapter 14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code governs suits brought by an inmate in which the inmate files an indigence affidavit. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 14.002(a). Before filing suit, inmates must exhaust their administrative remedies through a grievance system. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 14.005. After receiving a written decision from the grievance system, an inmate must file his lawsuit within thirty-one days, or the trial court will dismiss the suit as untimely. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 14.005(b).

         To avoid dismissal, Smith had until June 9, 2011, to file his suit. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 14.005(b). But Smith's lawsuit was not filed until January 15, 2014, several years after the expiration of the thirty-one-day deadline. See id. Smith argues that, under Rule 5 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, commonly known as the mailbox rule, his lawsuit was timely filed by operation of law in May 2011, because his suit was properly deposited in the mail on or before the deadline and sent "to the proper clerk" in Walker County. He contends that his 2014 filing in Travis County "relates back" to his attempted filing in Walker County in 2011. We disagree.

         Smith's petition was never filed in Walker County because, under Section 14.011(a), the district clerk could not accept his petition for filing until the previously assessed costs and fees were paid.[3]See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 14.011(a) ("[A] clerk of a court may not accept for filing another claim by the inmate until the fees and costs assessed under Section 14.006 are paid."). When provisions of Section 14.011(a) conflict with the mailbox rule, Section 14.011(a) prevails because it is a later, more specific statute. See Tex. Gov't Code Ann. §§ 311.025, 312.014 (West 2013); see Tex. Lottery Comm'n v. First State Bank of DeQueen, 325 S.W.3d 628, 637 (Tex. 2010). Here, there is no indication in the record that ...


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