Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg
appeal from the 156th District Court of Bee County, Texas.
Chief Justice Contreras and Justices Hinojosa and Tijerina
LETICIA HINOJOSA JUSTICE
an inmate litigation case brought under Chapter 14 of the
Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. See Tex.
Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 14.001 et al.
By two issues, appellant Richard Smith complains that the
trial court abused its discretion by: (1) dismissing his
lawsuit against appellees Jodie Rayford, Corey Furr, Garrett
Saxon, Cinthia Guzman, Kathryn Gaitan, Nancy Trevino, and
James Thompson, all employees of the Texas Department of
Criminal Justice; and (2) allowing an assigned judge to
preside when Smith objected to the assignment prior to his
final hearing. We affirm.
is an inmate at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
McConnell Unit in Beeville, Texas. In his original petition,
Smith alleges that Rayford, an officer at the McConnell Unit,
issued a false disciplinary report against him for allegedly
threatening her on July 14, 2017. Smith asserted that
Rayford's fellow employees-Furr, Saxon, Guzman, Gaitan,
Trevino, and Thompson-supported Rayford in her "bogus
report" by making "false representations" and
"alter[ing] witness statements." He further alleged
that they "hid exculpatory evidence" and
"alter[ed] the charging instrument." Smith also
asserted that nepotism was involved in the incident because
Rayford's husband is a warden at the McConnell Unit.
to Smith, his "disciplinary case was finally overturned
at the Step 2 Grievance level." On December 19, 2017,
Smith sued appellees for threat of bodily injury, fraud,
breach of contract, respondeat superior, conspiracy, and
assisting and encouraging. He cited the grievance decision as
proof of his claim. In his original petition, he
"object[ed] to the referral of this case to an associate
judge for hearing a trial on the merits or presiding at a
jury trial." He sought exemplary damages, declaratory
relief, and injunctive relief.
December 21, 2017, Judge David Peeples, Presiding Judge of
the Fourth Administrative Judicial Region of Texas, assigned
Senior Judge Joel B. Johnson to preside over this case. Smith
then filed "Plaintiff[']s Objection to Assigned
Judge and to Recuse [sic]." It was dated January 9, 2018
and postmarked January 10, 2018. He filed another objection
on March 21, 2018. The trial court dismissed the case as
frivolous on May 31, 2018. The final judgment does not state
whether the dismissal is with prejudice. Smith appealed.
Dismissal of Chapter 14 Litigation
first issue, Smith complains that the trial court dismissed
his lawsuit against appellees "for failure to comply
with Chapter 14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies
Standard of Review & Applicable Law
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 McCann v. De Hoyos, No.
13-18-00528-CV, 2019 WL 3820427, at *1-2 (Tex. App.- Corpus
Christi-Edinburg Aug. 15, 2019, no pet. h.) (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.
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). "A claim has no
arguable basis in law if it relies upon an indisputably
meritless legal theory." Fernandez v. Tex. Dep't
of Crim. Justice, 341 S.W.3d 6, 13 (Tex. App.-Waco 2010,
no pet.). Dismissal with prejudice is improper if the
dismissal is based on procedural defects that the inmate can
correct. See id. However, if the claim has no
arguable basis in law, then dismissal with prejudice is