Morris v. Milligan et al
MEMORANDUM ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS. Plaintiff's objections are OVERRULED and the Report of the Magistrate Judge 12 is ADOPTED as the opinion of the District Court. Defendants' motion to dismiss 8 is GRANTED andthe abov e-styled civil action is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The Clerk shall transmit a copy of this opinion to the Administrator of the Strikes List for the Eastern District of Texas. Any and all motions which may be pending in this action are herebyDENIED. Signed by Judge Michael H. Schneider on 09/10/14. (mll, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
ROBERT MORRIS #1311083
SHERRI MILLIGAN, ET AL.
CIVIL ACTION NO. 6:14cv54
MEMORANDUM ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
AND ENTERING FINAL JUDGMENT
The Plaintiff Robert Morris, proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights lawsuit under 42 U.S.C.
§1983 complaining of alleged violations of his constitutional rights in the Texas Department of
Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division. This Court ordered that the case be referred to
the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1) and (3) and the Amended Order
for the Adoption of Local Rules for the Assignment of Duties to United States Magistrate Judges.
As Defendants, Morris named TDCJ officers Sherri Milligan, Elizabeth Cross, and Robert Becraft.
Morris filed a previous lawsuit, cause no. 6:09cv236, against various prison officials,
including Milligan, Cross, and Becraft. While this lawsuit was pending, on January 14, 2010, Morris
claims these three officers retaliated against him by seizing his legal and personal property.
On February 2, 2010, Morris sought to amend cause no. 6:09cv236 to add the incident of
January 14. An evidentiary hearing was conducted on February 11, 2010. At this hearing, Morris
acknowledged that he had not exhausted his administrative remedies for the January 14 incident.
On February 1, 2011, the district court entered final judgment in cause no. 6:09cv236; this final
judgment specified that the case was dismissed with prejudice with the exception that Morris’ claims
concerning the January 14 incident would be dismissed without prejudice.
On appeal, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court. Morris v. Cross, 476
Fed.Appx. 783, 2012 WL 1557341 (5th Cir., May 3, 2012). In so doing, the Fifth Circuit specifically
held that because Morris did not dispute that he had not exhausted his administrative remedies
concerning the January 14 incident, the district court did not err in dismissing these claims without
prejudice. Morris sought a writ of certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court, which was denied, and
rehearing of that denial, which was itself denied.
The present lawsuit concerns the January 14, 2010 incident. Morris argues that his lawsuit
should not be barred by limitations because the prior case did not become final until the Supreme
Court denied rehearing on January 14, 2013, and the limitations period should not begin to run until
that date. He also states that while deciding whether to seek certiorari, he filed a lawsuit in state
court concerning the same incident. The state court lawsuit was dismissed as time-barred without
a ruling on the merits; Morris states that he appealed this decision, but was denied by the Texas
Supreme Court on September 13, 2013. Morris contends that the limitations period should be tolled
while his state and federal lawsuits were pending, rendering the present lawsuit timely.
The Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss
The Defendants were served with process and filed a motion to dismiss arguing that the
present lawsuit is barred by the statute of limitations. They argue that equitable tolling does not
apply because there were no extraordinary circumstances preventing Morris from filing his new
complaint. There were no administrative proceedings which would toll the statute and the prior
lawsuit was dismissed on February 1, 2011, as against Milligan and Cross. The Defendants assert
that nothing prevented Morris from seeking redress between the date this lawsuit was dismissed and
January 14, 2012, when the two-year limitations period expired. Finally, the Defendants maintain
that the claims against Becraft were dismissed with prejudice in the prior case on September 14,
Morris’ Response to the Motion to Dismiss
In his response to the motion to dismiss, Morris again claims that his appeals process was
completed on January 14, 2013, when the Supreme Court denied his motion for rehearing, and the
limitations period should begin to run on that date. He says that he exhausted his administrative
remedies on the January 14, 2010 incident on March 31, 2010. Morris contends that the limitations
period should be tolled because it is obvious that he diligently pursued his rights; he claimed in the
prior case that the January 14 incident was part of a continuing act of harassment and retaliation, and
when the district court disagreed, Morris raised this specific issue on direct appeal and in seeking
Morris also asserts that Texas courts have held that tolling is permissible during the pendency
of an appeal of an underlying case and that had he filed a separate lawsuit while his appeal was
pending, complications could have arisen had he prevailed in the Fifth Circuit or the Supreme Court.
He also argues that it was a different claim against Becraft which was dismissed with prejudice and
that all of the claims concerning the January 14, 2010 incident were dismissed without prejudice.
The Magistrate Judge’s Report
After review of the pleadings, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report recommending that the
motion to dismiss be granted and that the lawsuit be dismissed. According to the Magistrate Judge,
Texas law provides that if a person is prevented from exercising his legal remedy by the pendency
of legal proceedings, the time during which he was thus prevented should not be counted against him
in determining whether the statute of limitations has barred his right. Slack v. Carpenter, 7 F.3d 418,
419 (5th Cir. 1993) (emphasis in original); Hughes v. Mahaney & Higgins, 821 S.W.2d 154, 157
In the present case, the Magistrate Judge concluded that the pendency of Morris’ prior federal
court case did not prevent him from exercising his remedy for the January 2010 claim in a separate
proceeding because that claim was dismissed without prejudice. The fact that Morris tried to litigate
that claim in his prior lawsuit despite knowing that he had not exhausted his administrative remedies
does not show that he was prevented from exercising his legal rights in a separate lawsuit; on the
contrary, the Magistrate Judge said, Morris’ knowledge of his failure to exhaust - as he admitted at
the evidentiary hearing - served to place him on notice that the proper place to litigate these claims
was in a separate lawsuit once exhaustion had been attained.
Morris argued that under Texas law, tolling is permissible “during the pendency of the appeal
of the underlying case,” citing American Centennial Ins. Co. v. Canal Ins. Co., 843 S.W.2d 480 (Tex.
1992). However, that decision held that the limitations period is tolled when the viability of the
second cause of action depends on the outcome of the first. That circumstance did not exist in this
case. See also Lariscey v. Smith, 66 F.3d 323, 1995 WL 535010 (5th Cir., August 18, 1995) (stating
that under Texas law, tolling the statute of limitations based on the pendency of other legal
proceedings “is unavailable unless the earlier proceeding’s outcome is a necessary prerequisite to
the filing of the suit in issue.”)
The Magistrate Judge determined that the statute of limitations also was not tolled by Morris’
previous state court lawsuit because that lawsuit sought a remedy which he need not have pursued.
While Morris was correct in stating that the administrative remedies he had to pursue did toll the
limitations period, these administrative remedies were completed on March 31, 2010, and the
limitations period commenced to run at that time, expiring on March 31, 2012. Because Morris
signed the present lawsuit on January 23, 2014, the Magistrate Judge concluded that this lawsuit is
barred by the statute of limitations.
Morris’ Objections to the Report
In his objections to the Magistrate Judge’s Report, Morris first argues, citing Walker v.
Hanes, 570 S.W.2d 534, 540 (Tex.Civ.App.-Corpus Christi 1978), that limitations should be tolled
while the prior submission of the same case was appealed. That case involved a will contest, and
the Court of Civil Appeals held that the time during which the same case was pending during a prior
appeal should not have been counted in determining whether the proponents of a second will served
the beneficiaries of the first will within the limitations period. Here, by contrast, Morris is raising
the same claim but it is not the same case, because the claim at issue was dismissed without
prejudice in the initial action. This objection is without merit.
Next, Morris quotes the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a case involving a lawsuit for
monetary damages for the failure to apply jail time credits to a sentence, as saying that “it would
hardly promote the goals of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 to twice deny prisoners a federal forum for
§1983 complaints, once for being too early and once for being too late.” Young v. Kenny, 907 F.2d
874, 878 (9th Cir. 1989), overruled by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). That circumstance
does not exist in this case. The raising of Morris’ claim about the January 2010 incident in his first
lawsuit was premature because he had not exhausted his administrative remedies, but he had ample
time after completing the exhaustion process in which to refile this claim in a new case. This
objection is without merit.
Finally, Morris argues that the federal court is not necessarily bound by the state’s
determination of when its statute of limitations is tolled when the question arises in a federal civil
rights action, citing Kaiser v. Cahn, 510 F.2d 282, 287 (2nd Cir. 1974). The Fifth Circuit has applied
this principle in “exceptional situations in which state statutes of limitations eradicate rights or
frustrate policies created by federal law.” Rodriguez v. Holmes, 963 F.2d 799, 805 (5th Cir. 1992).
Morris has not shown that the statute of limitations has eradicated his rights or frustrated policies
created by federal law, nor that exceptional circumstances otherwise exist. As the Magistrate Judge
explained, Morris’ prior civil action was not a necessary prerequisite to bringing a separate lawsuit
concerning the events of January 14, 2010. Thus, it did not toll the limitations period, which period
expired on March 31, 2012. Morris signed the present lawsuit on January 23, 2014, which is well
outside of the limitations period. His objections are without merit.
The Court has conducted a careful de novo review of the pleadings and records in this case,
the Report of the Magistrate Judge, and the Plaintiff’s objections thereto. Upon such de novo review,
the Court has concluded that the Report of the Magistrate Judge is correct and the Plaintiff’s
objections are without merit. It is accordingly
ORDERED that the Plaintiff’s objections are OVERRULED and the Report of the
Magistrate Judge (docket no. 12) is ADOPTED as the opinion of the District Court. It is further
ORDERED that the Defendants’ motion to dismiss (docket no. 8) is hereby GRANTED and
the above-styled civil action is hereby DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE for failure to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted. It is further
ORDERED that the Clerk shall transmit a copy of this opinion to the Administrator of the
Strikes List for the Eastern District of Texas. Finally, it is
ORDERED that any and all motions which may be pending in this action are hereby
It is SO ORDERED.
SIGNED this 10th day of September, 2014.
MICHAEL H. SCHNEIDER
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?