Opinions Released December 21, 2016

In this weekly blog, the Law Offices of Brandy Wingate Voss, PLLC will summarize recent decisions from the Thirteenth Court of Appeals and provide links to decisions on the court’s website.

Schmotzer v. Menchaca Co., No. 13-15-00416-CV (Memorandum Opinion by Justice Garza; Panel Members: Justices Rodriguez and Longoria)

In this direct appeal, an inmate challenges the trial court’s dismissal of his claim for noncompliance with Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Chapter 14.

Christopher Schmotzer was an inmate at a Texas Department of Criminal Justice (“TDCJ”) facility in Beeville, Texas, where Rafael Menchaca served as a correctional officer. In December 2014, Menchaca allegedly forced the inmates—including Schmotzer—to produce all personal property stored in their lockers. Menchaca then told Schmotzer that he “had too much stuff” and confiscated his items.

Schmotzer filed suit claiming that Menchaca violated his constitutional and statutory rights by taking his property. Schmotzer also claimed that Menchaca threatened to destroy his property, and sought injunctive relief. Three months later, Schmotzer filed a motion for summary judgment. The motion acknowledged that Schmotzer’s property had been returned—rendering the requested TRO and injunction moot—but Schmotzer claimed that the return of his property was an admission of guilt by the TDCJ and asked for a declaration of his rights, an order voiding the garnishment, and court costs. Schmotzer amended the motion for summary judgment approximately six weeks later, claiming that his property had again been seized for alleged improper storage.

The trial court dismissed Schmotzer’s petition as frivolous under Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Chapter 14. Schmotzer appealed.

Held: The trial court did not err in dismissing Schmotzer’s case because Schmotzer’s case was frivolous and failed to comply with multiple provisions of Chapter 14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.

Chapter 14 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code allows an inmate to file suit on an affidavit or declaration of his inability to pay costs if the inmate complies with specific requirements. Such suits may be dismissed at any time if they are found to be frivolous or out of compliance with the necessary procedures.

One requirement set forth in Chapter 14 applies when the inmate’s claim is subject to the grievance system. In such an instance, the inmate must file an affidavit or written declaration stating the date the grievance was filed and the date the written decision was received, along with a copy of the written decision. Schmotzer filed a declaration providing the date on which he filed a grievance, but he did not mention or provide a copy of the written declaration stemming from his grievance.

Furthermore, Chapter 14 requires the inmate to file an affidavit or declaration identifying all actions previously filed by the inmate and detailing the style, court, parties, cause number operative facts, and result of each case. Schmotzer did not comply with this requirement.

Additionally, Schmotzer’s summary judgment motion admitted that his property was returned to him, making his claim for injunctive relief moot. Although Schmotzer amended his motion for summary judgment six months later to claim that his property had been taken again, he never amended his petition. Thus, the petition reflected only a moot claim. Maintenance of this claim was frivolous.

The trial court’s judgment dismissing Schmotzer’s case was independently supported by each of these three grounds. Thus, the judgment was affirmed.

Read the Full Opinion Here