Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg
appeal from the 343rd District Court of Bee County, Texas.
Chief Justice Contreras and Justices Benavides and Longoria
L. LONGORIA JUSTICE
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.
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
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.
Chapter 14 Dismissal
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.
Issues Four and Five
Standard of Review
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
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. & ...