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Prieto v. Alamia

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

June 7, 2019

ALEJANDRO CASILLAS PRIETO, Appellant
v.
RICHARD RENE ALAMIA, ET AL., RAFAEL DE LA GARZA, II & (FNU) DE LA GARZA, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 416th Judicial District Court Collin County, Texas, Trial Court Cause No. 416-02393-2016

          Before Justices Schenck, Osborne, and Reichek.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LESLIE OSBORNE JUSTICE.

         Appellant Alejandro Casillas Prieto, an incarcerated federal prisoner, appeals the trial court's take-nothing judgment in favor of appellee, Rafael De La Garza and the trial court's dismissal for want of prosecution against appellee Richard Rene Alamia.[1] Prieto claims that the trial court abused its discretion by conducting the trial in his absence. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Background

         Prieto, acting pro se, filed a civil lawsuit claiming legal malpractice, breach of contract, misrepresentation, and fraudulent concealment against Alamia and De La Garza, attorneys Prieto had retained to represent him in a criminal matter in federal court.

         At Prieto's request, the lawsuit was set for trial on December 20, 2017. On that day, Prieto was absent from the courtroom. The trial court noted that Prieto was "currently incarcerated in Federal prison." The trial court had the bailiff "call the hall for him anyways just in case." The bailiff reported to the trial court that when he "called the hall" he did not receive a response from Prieto.

         The trial court judge stated that it had received correspondence from Prieto "asking several times for appointment of counsel." The trial court denied those motions on the grounds that the lawsuit was a civil matter.

         The trial court also stated that "[a]t the end of his final request for appointment of counsel, the first time he has made a request to represent himself and be present at the proceedings." The trial court judge stated that the "letter" was not received until December 11, 2017. The trial court judge further stated that the court had "not received a bench warrant or anything else that would facilitate his (Prieto's) appearance here today." The trial court thereafter found that the case had been "set for trial at his (Prieto's) request, but that he has taken no further action to be present at the proceedings, so we will proceed without him."

         After hearing from De La Garza's attorney, the trial court rendered judgment in favor of De La Garza:

There was no evidence presented against Defendant Rafael De La Garza, III. For this reason, the Court finds that Defendant Rafael De La Garza, III is entitled to judgment. Additionally, the Court found that Plaintiff is still in jail and has not shown actual innocence as required under the law. His conviction has not been overturned. Based on the applicable case law[2] . . . and the lack of evidence on the elements, the Court finds that Defendant Rafael De La Garza, III is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. After considering the evidence, the Court finds that judgment should be entered in favor of Defendant Rafael De La Garza, III, and that Plaintiff shall take nothing.

         The trial court further held "because Mr. Alamia is not present, I am going to dismiss the case against him for wont (sic) of prosecution."

         Standard of Review

         We review a trial court's decision to allow or deny an incarcerated person the opportunity to personally appear in a self-initiated civil suit under an abuse of discretion standard of review. See In re Z.L.T., 124 S.W.3d 163, 165 (Tex. 2003); Brewer v. Taylor, 737 S.W.2d 421, 424 (Tex. App.-Dallas 1987, no writ). A trial court abuses its discretion only if it reaches a decision so arbitrary and unreasonable as to amount to a clear and prejudicial error of law or if it clearly fails to ...


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