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McCann v. De Hoyos

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

August 15, 2019

MICHAEL McCANN, Appellant,
v.
JESUS DE HOYOS, ET AL., Appellees.

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

          Before Justices Benavides, Hinojosa, and Perkes

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LETICIA HINOJOSA, JUSTICE

         This is an inmate litigation case brought under Chapter 14 of the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code. By two issues, appellant Michael McCann asserts: (1) the trial court erred when it dismissed his chapter 14 civil lawsuit and (2) it was error to allow an associate judge to preside over his case. We affirm.

         I. Background

         McCann is an inmate at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) McConnell Unit in Beeville, Texas. He claims that on November 27, 2017, TDCJ employee Jesus De Hoyos unlawfully seized some of his legal documents while he was exiting the unit's garment factory. McCann claims that De Hoyos read his personal legal papers and refused to return them. McCann also complains that TDCJ employees Corey Furr and C. Perales assisted De Hoyos by failing to return his paperwork. According to McCann, the employees retaliated against him by filing a disciplinary case against him after he complained about De Hoyos to De Hoyos's supervisor.

         After exhausting his administrative remedies, McCann filed a lawsuit in district court against De Hoyos, Furr, and Perales "in their official and personal capacities" on April 30, 2018. McCann's lawsuit alleged breach of contract, theft, conversion, and retaliation causes of action. He also asserted that defendants' actions violated the Equal Protection Clause. In his petition, McCann objected "to the referral of this case to any judge not elected to the district filed in." He sought recovery in the form of damages, declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and court costs.

         The Fourth Administrative Judicial Region assigned Judge Joel Johnson to preside over this case on May 3, 2018. McCann then filed a formal "Objection to Assigned Judge" under § 74.053 of the Texas Government Code. Although this motion's certificate of service was dated May 11, 2018, it was not postmarked until May 31, 2018.

         The trial court dismissed McCann's lawsuit without prejudice "as frivolous and for failure to comply with Chapter 14's" procedural requirements. McCann now appeals.

         II. Chapter 14 Inmate Litigation

         In McCann's first issue, he contends that the trial court abused its discretion by improperly dismissing his lawsuit.

         A. Standard of Review and Applicable Law

         We generally review a trial court's dismissal of a claim pursuant to Chapter 14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies code under an abuse of discretion standard. Wanzer v. Garcia, 299 S.W.3d 821, 827 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2009, pet. denied); see also Zavala v. Salles, No. 13-18-00104-CV, 2018 WL 3386368, at *1 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi-Edinburg July 12, 2018, no pet.) (mem. op.). The trial court abuses its discretion if it acts arbitrarily, unreasonably, or without reference to any guiding rules and principles. Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.3d 238, 241-42 (Tex. 1985). "The mere fact that a trial judge may decide a matter within his discretionary authority in a different manner than an appellate judge in a similar circumstance does not demonstrate that an abuse of discretion has occurred." Id. at 242.

         A trial court may dismiss an inmate's claim as frivolous or malicious under Chapter 14 based on the following factors: the claim's ultimate chance of success; whether the claim has an arguable basis in law or fact; whether it is clear that the party cannot prove facts in support of the claim; or whether the claim is substantially similar to a previous claim filed by the petitioner because it arises from the same operative facts. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem Code Ann. § 14.003(a)(2), (b)(2); see also Zavala v. Bustos, No. 13-17-00597-CV, 2018 WL 3764568, at *2 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi-Edinburg Aug. 9, 2018, pet. denied) (mem. op.). "A claim has no arguable basis in law if it relies upon an indisputably meritless legal theory." Fernandez v. T.D.C.J., 341 S.W.3d 6, 13 (Tex. App.-Waco 2010, no pet.). Dismissal with ...


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