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Zavala v. Salles

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

July 3, 2019

SALVADOR ZAVALA, Appellant,
v.
JANET D. SALLES, ET AL., Appellees.

          On appeal from the 156th District Court of Bee County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Contreras and Justices Benavides and Longoria

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORA L. LONGORIA, JUSTICE

         Appellant 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.

         I. Background

         On 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.

         On 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.

         On 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 followed.

         II. Discussion

         In his first issue, Zavala argues that the trial court abused its discretion by dismissing his claim.

         A. Applicable Law and Standard of Review

         We 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).

         Chapter 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).

         A trial 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 ...


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