Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg
appeal from the 156th District Court of Bee County, Texas.
Justices Benavides, Hinojosa, and Perkes.
LETICIA HINOJOSA, JUSTICE.
Salvador Zavala appeals the trial court's order
dismissing his lawsuit against appellees, L. Carrera, Corey
Furr, Joe Gonzales, Brian Crook, C. Martinez and TDCJ-CID,
frivolous for failure to comply with Chapter 14 of the Texas
Civil Practice and Remedies Code. See Tex. Civ.
Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 14.010(a). In two issues,
Zavala argues that: (1) the trial court improperly dismissed
his claim without holding a hearing; and (2) Judge Joel
Johnson did not have the authority to rule on the case
because Zavala timely and properly filed an objection to the
assignment of his case to an associate judge. We affirm.
is a Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) inmate at
the McConnell Unit in Beeville, Texas. Zavala sued appellees
for violations of his due process and equal protection
rights, breach of contract, fraud, and declaratory relief. In
his petition, Zavala alleged that he was denied a fair
disciplinary hearing regarding his use of vulgar language.
Zavala also alleged that the disciplinary charge against him
was brought in retaliation for his prior lawsuit and
grievance against appellees. His breach of contract claim was
premised on appellees' alleged failure to follow
disciplinary rules. Finally, Zavala claimed that appellees
fraudulently represented that the disciplinary hearing would
be conducted fairly. In his petition, Zavala included an
objection to the assignment of his case to an "associate
judge." Additionally, Zavala filed a declaration of
inability to pay court costs.
Zavala filed his petition, Presiding Judge Patrick Flanagan
assigned Judge Joel Johnson, a senior judge, to hear
Zavala's case pursuant to Chapter 74 of the Texas Civil
Practice and Remedies Code. See id. ch. 74. The
Texas Office of the Attorney General filed an amicus curiae
motion to dismiss on behalf of appellees, arguing that Zavala
failed to comply with Chapter 14 of the Texas Civil Practice
and Remedies Code and that his claims were frivolous.
trial court entered an order dismissing as frivolous all
claims against appellees for failure to comply with Chapter
14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. This appeal
Objection to an Associate Judge
second issue, which we address first, Zavala contends that
the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to render
an order to dismiss. Specifically, Zavala argues that Judge
Johnson should not have been able to rule on Zavala's
case because Zavala properly objected to the assignment of
his case to an associate judge.
Standard of Review and Applicable Law
a trial court has jurisdiction is a question of law that we
review de novo. Harris County v. Annab, 574 S.W.3d
609, 612 (Tex. 2018). Associate judges are appointed by a
judge of a district or statutory county court to a full-time
or part-time position serving a particular court.
See Tex. Gov't Code Ann. §§ 54A.101,
54A.102. A person does not have to have been an elected judge
to qualify as an associate judge. See id. §
54A.103. The ruling of an associate judge is subject to de
novo review. See id. § 54A.115. A party can
file a written objection concerning the appointment of an
associate judge hearing a trial on the merits or presiding at
a jury trial no later than the tenth day after the party
receives notice that the associate judge will hear the trial.
Id. § 54A.106.
other hand, assigned judges are active, retired or senior
judges. See id. § 74.054. An assigned judge may
not hear a case if a party submits a timely objection no
later than seven days after the party receives actual notice
of the assignment or before the first hearing of the trial.
See id. § 74.053. A timely objection to a judge
"assigned" under Chapter 74 has automatic effect
and any subsequent order by the assigned judge is void.
In re Canales, 52 S.W.3d 698, 701 (Tex. 2001).