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Sprowl v. Stiles

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

August 5, 2019


          On Appeal from the 298th Judicial District Court Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. DC-18-07952

          Before Justices Myers, Molberg, and Carlyle



         Linda Sprowl appeals pro se from the trial court's grant of a no-evidence summary judgment in favor of Mercedes P. Stiles. Despite prompting and multiple opportunities from this Court, Sprowl has not filed a brief that complies with the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure. See Tex. R. App. P. 38.1. We therefore dismiss her appeal. See Tex. R. App. P. 42.3; Bolling v. Farmers Branch Indep. Sch. Dist., 315 S.W.3d 893, 895 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2010, no pet.).

         I. Background

         Sprowl sued Stiles in March 2017, alleging "destruction of private property, fraud, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, harassment and, physical damages resulting from [an] assault" that purportedly occurred in March 2016. Sprowl amended her petition in August 2017, and the case was set for trial in January 2018. Following an agreed motion to continue, the trial was re-set for June 2018.

         A year after the case was filed, in March 2018, Stiles filed a motion for summary judgment under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 166a(i) contending there was no evidence to support one or more of the essential elements for each of Sprowl's claims. Stiles set that motion for hearing on May 2, 2018, and Sprowl did not timely file a response. Instead, the day before the hearing, she filed a Second Amended Petition and a motion to strike Stiles's summary-judgment motion.

         In her Second Amended Petition, Sprowl added SAFECO Inc. as a party, although she did not identify any facts or claims specific to SAFECO. In her motion to strike, Sprowl neither attached evidence nor directly addressed the merits of Stiles's no-evidence motion. Instead, she argued the court should strike Stiles's motion because she never received a hardcopy of it-despite evidence in the record showing she opened an electronically served copy on March 10, 2018.[1] She also contended Stiles should be responsible for obtaining any evidence. According to Sprowl: "[F]or [her] to supply Defendant(s) with all evidence necessary it is 'too burdensome, expensive and can be obtained via an easier source'." Although "more evidence is available," she said, "[Stiles] must pay for it, not [her]." Citing federal authorities, Sprowl further argued that her petition should not be "dismissed unless 'frivolous on its face or wholly unsubstantial." Finally, she argued summary judgment could not be awarded to Stiles without a record or evidence of Stiles's innocence.

         Alternatively, Sprowl asked for a continuance, stating that she had "a solid and meritorious case for each and every count set forth in her Petition and, if given time, [would] be able to present a solid case for damages with sufficient evidence available." In support of her request, Sprowl alleged she needed more time to both find an attorney and conduct discovery, citing the discovery requests she filed that day.[2] She said she would need "a minim[um] of ninety (90) days to complete gathering evidence in preparation to meet the charge set forth in Defendant's MSJ and/or trial of this matter."

         There is no reporter's record of the May 2 hearing. Nevertheless, the trial court granted Stiles's no-evidence motion for summary judgment by written order that day and dismissed Sprowl's claims against Stiles. Later that week, Stiles non-suited her counterclaims and filed a motion asking the trial court to sever the judgment in her favor into a separate case so it would become final and appealable. The motion to sever was set for hearing on June 15 and granted that day.

         Sprowl contends she was locked out of the June 15 hearing because she showed up late, which she attributes to the clerk's office taking too long to process documents she waited until immediately before the hearing to file. Among the documents Sprowl filed that day was a motion to reconsider the no-evidence summary judgment granted to Stiles. In her motion for reconsideration, Sprowl contended, among other things, that she failed to timely respond to Stiles's motion because she did not know how to use the e-filing system through which the motion was served, and her computer was not equipped to view the motion. And because she purportedly could not view the motion, she could not substantively respond. She also explained her belief that filing a motion to strike "would serve the same purpose" as filing a response.

         Stiles responded to the motion for reconsideration and pointed out both that Sprowl admitted receiving but not opening the package Stiles sent by certified mail (which purportedly contained a hard copy of the motion). At the July 3 hearing on her motion to reconsider, Sprowl reiterated the arguments in her motion[3] and asked the court to consider exhibits she brought to the hearing. The trial court asked whether any of the exhibits had been filed previously. Sprowl replied that the exhibits were not filed because it would have been difficult to file through the court's e-filing system. The trial court explained that, as a pro se litigant, Sprowl was not required to use the e-filing system. The court further explained that, "even though you're representing yourself, you are responsible for following the rules as if you were a lawyer. . . . And one of the rules, having to do with summary judgment, is that a written response with evidence has to be filed seven days prior to the hearing. So, bringing them here today is not the same thing as following the rules."

         The trial court denied Sprowl's motion to reconsider by written order on July 17. Soon after, Sprowl informed the trial court that she wished to dismiss her claims against SAFECO so she could pursue an appeal. The trial court thus entered a final judgment in favor of SAFECO, and Sprowl filed her notice of appeal on September 12. The notice of appeal, which Sprowl amended on September 17, challenges "the order granting Interlocutory Partial 'No-Evidence' Summary Judgment filed on May 2, 2018."

         Sprowl filed her "Amended Appellant's Brief and Memorandum of Points and Authorities" on October 16. This Court then notified her on October 26 that her brief did not conform to the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure. Our notice stated that "[f]ailure to file an amended brief that complies with the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure within 10 days of the date of this letter may result in dismissal of this ...

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