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Texas Prisoner's Premises Defect Suit Against Dallas County Reinstated

by Matthew T. Clarke

A Texas court of appeals has reinstated the pro se, in forma pauperis negligence and premises defect tort suit brought by a Texas prisoner against Dallas County and the Sheriff of Dallas County after finding that the trial court abused its discretion in dismissing the suit.

Brian Parsons, a Dallas County Jail prisoner, sued Dallas County and the Dallas County Sheriff in state district court after he was injured in a fall caused by the unexpected shifting of an unanchored table top he was leaning against in the jail. He also alleged that his injuries were exacerbated by the jail's use of a steel food cart instead of a wheelchair to transport him when he returned from the hospital and needed to be taken to the nurse's office and by the mishandling of his Dallas County Jail medical records and medical information after he was transferred to the Collin County Jail.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the suit, claiming that Parsons had: (1) failed to give the notice required by § 101.101, Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code (TCPARC); (2) failed to file an affidavit setting forth his prior litigation history; (3) failed to filed a certified trust fund account balance, and (4) set forth claims with no arguable basis in law and no realistic chance of success. The district court held a hearing without allowing Parsons to participate in person or by phone. During the hearing, the defendants' attorney misrepresented the facts of the case (claiming that the injury was caused by Parsons falling out of bed) and the district court granted the motion and dismissed the suit. Parsons appealed.

The court of appeals held that Parsons had properly pleaded that he gave notice to the defendants of the injuries as required by §101.101 TCPARC. Furthermore, the defendants' employees arranged for the transport of the injured Parsons to a hospital immediately following the injury. This showed that defendants had actual notice of the injuries and their cause. The defendant's attorney alleged that the Dallas County Commissioners Court Administrator signed an affidavit attesting to the fact that the Commissioners Court had not received notice of the claim, but the actual affidavit said no such thing. Therefore, the suit should not have been dismissed. for failure to give notice of claim.

The other grounds for dismissing the suit were equally bogus. The court of appeals found that Parsons had included an affidavit attesting to his prior lawsuit history and a certified trust fund account balance statement, as required by §14.002(a), TCPARC, when he filed his suit. Furthermore, because he alleged personal injuries caused by tangible property (the table, food service cart and medical records), the Texas Tort Claims Act, §301.101, et seq. TCPARC, operated to waive sovereign immunity, giving the suit an arguable basis in both fact and law and making the dismissal of the suit an abuse of discretion by the trial court. The dismissal was reversed and the case returned to the trial, court for further proceedings. See: Parsons v. Dallas County, 197 S.W.3d 915 (Tex.App.-Dallas 2006).

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Related legal case

Parsons v. Dallas County