Summary Judgment Against a Pro Se Party in Texas

In Wheeler v. Green, 157 S.W.3d 439, 443 (Tex. 2005), summary judgment was granted against a pro se party based upon deemed admissions. After the adverse ruling, the party hired counsel and filed a motion for new trial, contending that the summary judgment based upon the deemed admissions was improper, but the trial court denied the motion. 157 S.W.3d at 442. Reversing the trial court's granting of summary judgment, the supreme court "recognized that trial courts have broad discretion to permit or deny withdrawal of deemed admissions, but they cannot do so arbitrarily, unreasonably, or without reference to guiding rules or principles." Id. at 443; see also Tex. R. Civ. P. 198.3. Comparing requests for admissions to all other forms of discovery, the court noted that "we have held for all other forms of discovery that absent flagrant bad faith or callous disregard for the rules, due process bars merits-preclusive sanctions." Wheeler, 157 S.W.3d at 443-44. Applying this principle to the deemed admissions before it that were used to preclude the presentation of the merits of the case, the supreme court found "no evidence of flagrant bad faith or callous disregard for the rules" by the party and held that "the trial court should have granted a new trial and allowed the deemed admissions to be withdrawn upon learning that the summary judgment was solely because the party's responses were two days late." Id. In Wheeler v. Green, the trial court granted summary judgment based on deemed admissions. Id. at 441. It was uncontested that the appellant (Sandra) had filed responses to the requests for admissions 27 days after she received the requests, but 35 days after the "mailbox rule" deemed they were served, thus making the responses two days late under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 21(a) (providing service occurs upon mailing and extending response time by three days). Id. Sandra did not file a response to the motion for summary judgment, but she did file a motion for new trial in which she argued her responses to the requests for admissions were timely, and therefore the summary judgment was improperly granted on deemed admissions. Id. at 441-42. The Supreme Court held that the effect of Sandra's argument in the motion for new trial was a request that the deemed admissions be withdrawn, stating: . . . although Sandra never filed a motion to withdraw deemed admissions or a motion to allow a late response to the summary judgment, the arguments and requests in her motion for new trial were sufficient to put the trial court on notice of exactly that complaint. See Tex. R. App. P. 33.1(a). (Id. at 442.)