Dismissal of An Inmate's Claim In Texas

Section 14.003 provides that a trial court may dismiss a claim if the court finds the claim is frivolous or malicious. TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. 14.003 (a)(2) (Vernon Supp. 1999). In determining whether a claim is frivolous or malicious, the court may consider, among other things, whether the claim is "substantially similar" to a previous claim filed by the inmate because the claim arises from the same operative facts. Id. 14.003(b)(4). In making its determination under section 14.003, the court may also take into consideration the requirements imposed by section 14.004, which provides: (a) An inmate who files an affidavit or unsworn declaration of inability to pay costs shall file a separate affidavit or declaration: (1) identifying each suit, other than a suit under the Family Code, previously brought by the person and in which the person was not represented by an attorney, without regard to whether the person was an inmate at the time the suit was brought; and (2) describing each suit that was previously brought by: (A) stating the operative facts for which relief was sought; (B) listing the case name, cause number, and the court in which the suit was brought; (C) identifying each party named in the suit; and (D) stating the result of the suit, including whether the suit was dismissed as frivolous or malicious under Section 13.001 or Section 14.003 or otherwise. Id. 14.004. We review a trial court's dismissal of an inmate's claim pursuant to section 14.003(a) under an abuse of discretion standard. See Thomas v. Wichita General Hosp., 952 S.W.2d 936, 939 (Tex. App.--Fort Worth 1997, writ denied). A court abuses its discretion if it acts without reference to guiding rules or principles. Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238, 241-42 (Tex. 1985). In Bell v. TDCJ-ID, the Fourteenth Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's dismissal of an inmate's suit because his affidavit did not meet the requirements of section 14.004. 962 S.W.2d 156, 158 (Tex. App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 1998, no writ). Bell did not list the facts or the identity of the parties in four previous suits. Id. The court found that, without this required information, the trial court was unable to consider whether the current claim was substantially similar to a previous claim. Id. The trial court was entitled to assume the suit was substantially similar to one previously filed by Bell and did not abuse its discretion by dismissing it as frivolous. Id.