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442.00 Current Money of United States v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth

July 25, 2019

$2, 442.00 Current Money of the United States, Appellant
v.
The State of Texas, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 362nd District Court Denton County, Texas Trial Court No. 18-8118-362

          Before Sudderth, C.J.; Gabriel and Birdwell, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Wade Birdwell, Justice.

         James Crowder Jr. appeals the denial of his motion for new trial seeking to set aside a default judgment. We affirm.

         I. Background

         On August 20, 2018, police executed a search warrant at a residence in Denton. In Crowder's bedroom, police found a digital scale, forty-four bags containing crack cocaine, and $1, 705 in cash. Crowder had an additional $737 in his pocket. He was arrested the same day.

         On September 5, 2018, the State petitioned for forfeiture of the money as contraband. See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 59.02(a). Crowder did not answer, and the trial court rendered a default judgment of forfeiture on October 9, 2018.

         On November 8, 2018, Crowder filed a motion for new trial. In his unsworn declaration, Crowder stated that he had won the money in question at a casino in Oklahoma. Crowder stated that he had remained in the county jail since his arrest, and he had been served with citation for the forfeiture suit while in jail. After he received notice of the default judgment, he asked his criminal defense counsel how to proceed. His counsel helped him file a belated answer and a motion for new trial, along with his unsworn declaration.

         The focus of this appeal is whether Crowder has stated a valid excuse for failing to respond to the State's forfeiture action. In his declaration, Crowder explained that because he was not an attorney, he "did not understand the significance of any deadlines contained in" the papers that were served on him, and he "did not possess the legal experience or knowledge of legal matters necessary to enable" him to file an answer. According to Crowder, he "simply did not understand what was required of [him] by the legal papers concerning the civil lawsuit." Crowder admitted that he had criminal defense counsel when he received the petition but that he failed to notify counsel of the forfeiture suit. Nonetheless, Crowder maintained, "My failure to timely file an answer to this suit was not intentional or the result of conscious indifference."

         At the hearing on the motion for new trial, the State did not put on evidence to controvert Crowder's declaration. After reviewing Crowder's declaration, the trial court denied the motion for new trial. This appeal ensued.

         II. Discussion

         In his sole issue, Crowder contends that the trial court erred by denying his motion. Crowder contends that he satisfied all three of the elements necessary to set aside a default judgment, and the trial court therefore abused its discretion in refusing a new trial.

         We review a trial court's denial of a motion for new trial for abuse of discretion. In re R.R., 209 S.W.3d 112, 114 (Tex. 2006). A default judgment should be set aside and a new trial granted if (1) the failure to answer was not intentional or the result of conscious indifference but was due to a mistake or accident, (2) the defendant sets up a meritorious defense, and (3) the motion is filed at such time that granting a new trial would not result in delay or otherwise injure the plaintiff. Id. at 114-15 (citing Craddock v. Sunshine Bus Lines, Inc., 133 S.W.2d 124, 126 (Tex. 1939)). The defendant's burden as to the first Craddock element has been satisfied when the factual assertions, if true, negate intentional or consciously indifferent conduct by the defendant and the factual assertions are not controverted by the plaintiff. Sutherland v. Spencer, 376 S.W.3d 752, 755 (Tex. 2012).

         Consciously indifferent conduct occurs when "the defendant knew it was sued but did not care." Id. "When determining whether the defendant's failure to file an answer was intentional or due to conscious indifference, a court looks to the knowledge and acts of the defendant." R.R., 209 S.W.3d at 115. Some excuse, although not necessarily a good one, will suffice to show that a defendant's failure to file an answer was not because he did not care. Sutherland, 376 S.W.3d at 755. However, not understanding a citation and then doing nothing ...


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