Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg
appeal from the 156th District Court of Bee County, Texas.
Chief Justice Contreras and Justices Benavides and Longoria
L. LONGORIA, JUSTICE
Salvador Zavala is an inmate housed in the Texas Department
of Criminal Justice-Institutional Division (TDCJ-ID) in the
McConnell Unit in Beeville, Texas. Zavala brought suit pro se
and in forma pauperis for conversion against
multiple defendants employed by TDCJ-ID. The trial court
dismissed Zavala'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. Zavala argues that: (1) the trial
court improperly dismissed his claims with prejudice and (2)
the associate judge did not have authority to rule on the
case because an objection was filed. We affirm.
October 10, 2017, Zavala filed a complaint regarding an
incident where he alleged that a letter he attempted to send
to the United Kingdom, containing a twenty-dollar bill, was
wrongfully confiscated by appellees Janet Salles, Jennifer
Smith, and Sharon Ruiz, employees of TDCJ-ID.
September 11, 2017, the presiding Judge of the 4th
Administrative Judicial Region, pursuant to Texas Government
Code Chapter 74, assigned Judge Joel Johnson to preside in
the 156th District Court. On November 16, 2017, Zavala was
sent a "notice of assignment" which notified him of
the appointment of Judge Johnson to his case.
January 8, 2018, the Office of the Attorney General filed an
amicus curiae motion to dismiss. On March 26, 2018, the trial
court dismissed this case for failure to comply with Chapter
14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. This appeal
first issue, Zavala argues that the trial court abused its
discretion by dismissing his claim.
Applicable Law and Standard of Review
review a trial court's 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 Crim. 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); see Clark v. J.W. Estelle
Unit, 23 S.W.3d 420, 421 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.]
2000, pet. denied).
14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code governs
lawsuits brought by an inmate in which the inmate has filed
an affidavit or unsworn declaration of inability to pay
costs. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann.
§ 14.002(a); Donaldson v. Tex. Dep't of Crim.
Justice-Corr. Insts. Div., 355 S.W.3d 722, 724 (Tex.
App.-Tyler 2011, pet. denied); In re Simmonds, 271
S.W.3d 874, 876 (Tex. App.-Waco 2008, orig. proceeding). An
inmate who seeks to file a suit under Chapter 14 must: (1)
file an affidavit or unsworn declaration detailing all prior
pro se lawsuits filed by the inmate; (2) an affidavit or
unsworn declaration stating the date the grievance was filed
and the date the written decision was received by the inmate;
and (3) a certified copy of the inmate's trust account
statement, reflecting the balance of the account at the time
the claim was filed and activity in the account during the
six months preceding the date the claim is filed.
See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann.
§§ 14.004(a)(1), 14.005(a)(1), 14.006(f).
court may dismiss an inmate's claim, either before or
after service of process, on any number of grounds, including
an inmate's failure to comply with the procedural
requirements. See id. §§ 14.003-.006;
Scott v. Gallagher, 209 S.W.3d 262, 265 (Tex.
App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2006, no pet.). Additionally, a
trial court has the discretion to dismiss an inmate's
lawsuit if the allegation of poverty in the indigence
affidavit is false. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann.
§ 14.003(a)(1). The trial courts are given broad
discretion to determine whether a suit brought by an inmate
should be dismissed because: (1) prisoners have a strong
incentive to litigate; (2) the government bears the costs of
an in forma pauperis suit; (3) sanctions are not