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Thomas v. Pugliese

Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth

July 11, 2019

Kelly Thomas, Appellant
v.
Carl Pugliese; Seth Johns, CMO of Carl's Handyman; and Culpepper Plumbing & Air Conditioning, Inc., Appellees

          On Appeal from County Court at Law No. 2 Denton County, Texas Trial Court No. CV-2016-01764

          Before Kerr, Bassel, and Womack, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ELIZABETH KERR JUSTICE

         This is the fifth appeal filed by pro se litigant Kelly Thomas arising from her suit against Carl Pugliese, the owner of Carl's Handyman; Seth Johns, the alleged "CMO" of Carl's Handyman; and Culpepper Plumbing and Air Conditioning, Inc.[1]This time, Thomas appeals from the trial court's order dismissing all her claims with prejudice. We will affirm.

         Background

         In August 2016, Thomas, proceeding pro se, sued Pugliese and Johns (collectively, Carl's Handyman) and Culpepper Plumbing alleging that they performed defective plumbing work at her home.[2] Thomas later retained counsel, and in April 2017, counsel filed an amended petition on her behalf asserting claims for negligence, breach of contract, and violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Shortly thereafter, Carl's Handyman moved to abate the case because Thomas had not given the written notice required by statute. See Tex. Bus. & Com. Code Ann. § 17.505. The trial court abated the case for 60 days.

         During the abatement, Thomas fired her attorney. After the case was reinstated, Thomas's attorney moved to withdraw. The trial court granted the motion.

         In October 2017, Culpepper Plumbing specially excepted to Thomas's amended petition. The following month, Carl's Handyman and Culpepper Plumbing moved for sanctions against Thomas, complaining that Thomas and her attorney had filed several documents while the case was abated and that throughout the litigation, Thomas had filed-and continued to file-numerous voluminous pleadings without any legal or factual basis.

         The trial court heard the special exceptions and the sanctions motion on November 21, 2017. During the hearing, Carl's Handyman asked to join Culpepper Plumbing's special exceptions, and Thomas did not object. On November 28, 2017, the trial court sustained the special exceptions, [3] ordered Thomas to amend or replead the 31 paragraphs constituting the factual-background and causes-of-action sections of her petition within 30 days, and warned that if she failed to comply, the trial court would strike those paragraphs. The trial court also granted the sanctions motions and awarded Carl's Handyman and Culpepper Plumbing $2, 000 each in monetary sanctions, payable in $200 monthly payments due on the first day of the month. Similar to the special-exceptions order, the trial court warned Thomas that if she failed to make the payments, "either timely or in full," the trial court would strike her pleadings and dismiss her claims.

         In December 2017, Thomas twice moved to recuse the trial-court judge. See Tex. R. Civ. P 18a(a), 18b(b). The trial-court judge referred each motion to the regional presiding judge. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 18a(f)(1)(B). The regional presiding judge considered the motions separately and denied Thomas's first motion on January 8, 2018, and her second motion on February 12, 2018. After the regional presiding judge denied her second recusal motion, Thomas requested findings of fact and conclusions of law. The regional presiding judge denied the request.

         In the meantime, on January 12, 2018, Carl's Handyman and Culpepper Plumbing jointly moved to strike Thomas's pleadings and to dismiss her claims because she had failed to comply with the special-exceptions and sanctions orders. After a hearing, the trial court signed a final judgment on March 1, 2018, granting the dismissal motion and dismissing Thomas's claims with prejudice.

         Thomas has appealed.[4]

         Thomas's Issues and Appellate Arguments

         We construe briefs liberally. See Tex. R. App. P. 38.9. But a pro se litigant is held to the same standards as a licensed attorney and must comply with applicable laws and procedural rules. Flores v. Office Depot, Inc., No. 02-10-00311-CV, 2011 WL 2611140, at *2 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth June 30, 2011, no pet.) (mem. op.); Strange v. Cont'l Cas. Co., 126 S.W.3d 676, 677 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2004, pet. denied). On appeal, a pro se appellant must properly present her case. Flores, 2011 WL 2611140, at *2; Strange, 126 S.W.3d at 678. To do so, her brief must contain, among ...


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