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Hoffman v. Muro

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

June 20, 2019

FRED HOFFMAN, Appellant,
v.
SGT. JAVIER MURO, ET AL., Appellees.

          On appeal from the 343rd District Court of Bee County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Contreras and Justices Benavides and Longoria

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORA L. LONGORIA JUSTICE

         Appellant Fred Hoffman is an inmate housed in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Institutional Division (TDCJ-ID) at the McConnell Unit in Beeville, Texas. Hoffman brought suit pro se and in forma pauperis against multiple defendants employed by TDCJ-ID for breach of contract, conversion, conspiracy, retaliation, replevin, detinue, bailment, vicarious liability, and various claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The trial court dismissed Hoffman's claims with prejudice pursuant to Chapter 14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. §§ 14.001-.014. By five issues, Hoffman argues that the trial court erred by: (1) dismissing his case (issues one, four, and five); (2) failing to hold an oral hearing on his motion to reinstate (issue two); and (3) failing to file findings of fact and conclusions of law (issue three). We affirm.

         I. Background

         On November 27, 2017, Hoffman filed suit against Javier Muro, Jonathan Montoya, Miguel Martinez, and the TDCJ-ID. In his petition, Hoffman alleged that when he suffered a serious seizure on May 14, 2017, Muro and Montoya "took[, ] . . . irreversibly damaged and/or lost" his property, including a typewriter, I.D. card, legal materials, and stamps. According to Hoffman's affidavit, on May 18, 2017, Hoffman filed a step one grievance, which was returned to him on August 24, 2017. On August 28, 2017, Hoffman filed a step two grievance, which was returned to him on November 10, 2017.

         On December 21, 2017, notice was sent to the parties that the case was being assigned to an associate judge. Even though they do not appear in the record, Hoffman asserts that he filed multiple objections to the use of an associate judge in this case. On February 26, 2018, the Office of the Attorney General filed an amicus curiae advisory asking the court to dismiss the case; the amicus brief alleged that Hoffman's claims were barred by sovereign immunity and that Hoffman failed to properly exhaust all administrative remedies. Later that day, the associate judge dismissed Hoffman's claims with prejudice for failure to comply with Chapter 14 and found that Hoffman was not indigent. Hoffman filed a motion to reinstate the case. On April 16, 2018, Judge Janna Whatley reinstated the case, removed the associate judge from the case, and "set[] The Attorney General Office's Amicus Curiae Chapter 14 motion for consideration by submission" for May 21, 2018. The trial court emphasized that all "pleadings, briefs, and written arguments that the parties want the Court to consider must be filed by that date" because no oral arguments would be heard. On May 25, 2018, Judge Whatley dismissed all of Hoffman's claims for failure to comply with Chapter 14 and found that Hoffman was not indigent. See id. §§ 14.003-.005. Hoffman requested findings of fact and conclusions of law; the trial court did not respond to Hoffman's request. This appeal ensued.

         II. Chapter 14 Dismissal

         In his fourth and fifth issues, Hoffman argues that the trial court abused its discretion by dismissing his claims when he had presented sufficient evidence to support his claims. In his first issue, Hoffman asserts that the trial court abused its discretion by dismissing his claims even though the record did not contain his brief.

         A. Issues Four and Five

         1. Standard of Review

         We review a dismissal under Chapter 14 for an abuse of discretion. See Moreland v. Johnson, 95 S.W.3d 392, 394 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2002, no pet.); Jackson v. Tex. Dep't of Criminal Justice-Inst. Div., 28 S.W.3d 811, 813 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi-Edinburg 2000, pet. denied). A trial court abuses its discretion if it acts arbitrarily, capriciously, and without reference to any guiding principles or rules. Brewer v. Collins, 857 S.W.2d 819, 822 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1993, no writ). However, the specific issue of whether there is an arguable basis in law is reviewed de novo. See Moreland, 95 S.W.3d at 394.

          2. Applicable Law

         Trial courts have broad discretion in dismissing a case under Chapter 14 because: "(1) prisoners have a strong incentive to litigate; (2) the government bears the cost of an in forma pauperis suit; (3) sanctions are not effective; and (4) the dismissal of unmeritorious claims accrues to the benefit of state officials, courts, and meritorious claimants." Retzlaff v. Tex. Dep't of Criminal Justice, 94 S.W.3d 650, 653 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist.] 2002, no pet.); see Tex. Civ. Prac. & ...


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