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In re Douglas – Case Brief Summary (Texas)

In In re Douglas, 333 S.W.3d 273 (Tex. App.--Houston 1st Dist. 2010, pet. denied), Douglas filed a pro se suit from prison against the victims of his own crime.

The trial court dismissed the suit with prejudice because the contested issues had already been considered by another court. Id. at 279.

Douglas petitioned for a bill of review, contending that he still had a meritorious claim. Id. He then moved for summary judgment on that claim, even though the defendants named in his petition had not been served with citation, nor had they even entered an appearance. Id.

After various filings, the trial court sent notice that it would consider dismissing Douglas's case and declaring him a vexatious litigant sua sponte. Id.

The trial court subsequently found that Douglas's action was malicious, frivolous, and without basis in law, and it entered an order prohibiting him as a vexatious litigant from filing any new suits in Harris County without the leave of a local administrative judge. Id. at 279-80.

On appeal, Douglas argued that the trial court had abused its discretion because the notice to declare him a vexatious litigant was untimely under Section 11.051. Id. at 282.

Under that provision, a defendant is afforded ninety days from the date of his original answer to move the court for an order declaring the plaintiff a vexatious litigant. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 11.051.

The First Court of Appeals rejected Douglas's argument, noting that under Section 11.101, the trial court has the authority "on its own motion" to enter an order prohibiting a person from filing new litigation if the court finds that the person is a vexatious litigant. Douglas, 333 S.W.3d at 285, 287.

Thus, even though the defendants had never filed an answer, the court upheld the trial court's power to act sua sponte. Id. The court also observed that its reading of the various provisions was consistent with the inherent right of trial courts to control their own dockets. Id. at 285.