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Lewis v. 350th District Court

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

October 1, 2019

DARREN LEWIS (TDCJ No. 2210403), Petitioner,
v.
350th DISTRICT COURT, Respondent.

          FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          DAVID L. HORAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Petitioner Darren Lewis, a Texas prisoner, filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, see Dkt. No. 3, which was construed as an attempt to initiate a federal habeas action under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. His action was referred to the undersigned United States magistrate judge for pretrial management under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and a standing order of reference from Senior United States District Judge A. Joe Fish.

         On July 23, 2019, the Court ordered the Clerk of Court to provide Lewis a form petition for habeas corpus relief under Section 2254. See Dkt. No. 4 (citing Rule 2(c), Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts). The Court then ordered Lewis to “complete the form petition, sign and date it, and return it to the Court no later than August 22, 2019.” Id. (emphasis omitted). And he was warned “that failure to comply with this order will result in a recommendation that the Court dismiss this action without prejudice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) for failure to prosecute and obey an order of the Court.” Id.

         Lewis did subsequently file a motion requesting exculpatory and mitigating evidence. See Dkt. No. 5. But he has failed to follow the Court's order to amend his claims on a form petition as required by the Habeas Rules. And it is now more than one month past deadline to do so.

         The undersigned therefore enters these findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation that the Court should dismiss this action without prejudice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b).

         Legal Standards and Analysis

         Like all rules in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 41 generally applies to habeas proceedings under Section 2254. See Rule 12, Rules Governing Section 2254 in the United States District Courts.

         Rule 41(b) “authorizes the district court to dismiss an action sua sponte for failure to prosecute or comply with a court order.” Griggs v. S.G.E. Mgmt., L.L.C., 905 F.3d 835, 844 (5th Cir. 2018) (citing McCullough v. Lynaugh, 835 F.2d 1126, 1127 (5th Cir. 1988) (per curiam)); accord Nottingham v. Warden, Bill Clements Unit, 837 F.3d 438, 440 (5th Cir. 2016) (failure to comply with a court order); Rosin v. Thaler, 450 Fed.Appx. 383, 383-84 (5th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (failure to prosecute).

         This authority “flows from the court's inherent power to control its docket and prevent undue delays in the disposition of pending cases.” Boudwin v. Graystone Ins. Co., Ltd., 756 F.2d 399, 401 (5th Cir. 1985) (citing Link v. Wabash R.R. Co., 370 U.S. 626 (1962)); see also Lopez v. Ark. Cnty. Indep. Sch. Dist., 570 F.2d 541, 544 (5th Cir. 1978) (“Although [Rule 41(b)] is phrased in terms of dismissal on the motion of the defendant, it is clear that the power is inherent in the court and may be exercised sua sponte whenever necessary to ‘achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases.'” (quoting Link, 370 U.S. at 631)).

         The Court's authority under Rule 41(b) is not diluted by a party proceeding pro se, as “[t]he right of self-representation does not exempt a party from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law.” Wright v. LBA Hospitality, 754 Fed.Appx. 298, 300 (5th Cir. 2019) (per curiam) (quoting Hulsey v. Texas, 929 F.2d 168, 171 (5th Cir. 1991) (quoting, in turn, Birl v. Estelle, 660 F.2d 592, 593 (5th Cir. Nov. 1981))).

         A Rule 41(b) dismissal may be with or without prejudice. See Long v. Simmons, 77 F.3d 878, 879-80 (5th Cir. 1996).

Although “[l]esser sanctions such as fines or dismissal without prejudice are usually appropriate before dismissing with prejudice, ... a Rule 41(b) dismissal is appropriate where there is ‘a clear record of delay or contumacious conduct by the plaintiff and when lesser sanctions would not serve the best interests of justice.'”

Nottingham, 837 F.3d at 441 (quoting Bryson v. United States, 553 F.3d 402, 403 (5th Cir. 2008) (per curiam) (in turn quoting Callip v. Harris Cnty. Child Welfare Dep't, 757 F.2d 1513, 1521 (5th Cir. 1985))); see also Long, 77 F.3d at 880 (a dismissal with prejudice is appropriate only if the failure to comply with the court order was the result of purposeful delay or contumacious conduct and the imposition of lesser sanctions would be futile); cf. Nottingham, 837 F.3d at 442 (noting that “lesser sanctions” may “‘include assessments of fines, costs, or damages against the plaintiff, conditional dismissal, dismissal without prejudice, and explicit warnings'” (quoting Thrasher v. City of Amarillo, 709 F.3d 509, 514 (5th Cir. 2013))).

         “When a dismissal is without prejudice but ‘the applicable statute of limitations probably bars future litigation, '” that dismissal operates as - i.e., it is reviewed as - “a dismissal with prejudice.” Griggs, 905 F.3d at 844 (quoting Nottingham, 837 F.3d at 441); see, e.g., Wright, 754 Fed.Appx. at 300 (affirming dismissal under Rule 41(b) - potentially effectively with prejudice - where “[t]he district court had warned Wright of the consequences and ...


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