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Texas Supreme Court: Error to Dismiss Appeal for Untimely Indigence Affidavit

On November 2, 2007, the Supreme Court of Texas held that a court of appeals may not dismiss an appeal because the appellant failed to file an affidavit of indigence “with or before” the notice of appeal.

Linda Sprowl, a Texas citizen, filed a paternity suit which the trial court dismissed based on res judicata. Sprowl filed a timely notice of appeal, “but did not pay to have the record prepared or file an affidavit of indigence ‘with or before’ the notice as Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 20.1(c)(1) requires.” Sprowl filed the affidavit seven days after her notice of appeal. The clerk contested its timeliness. The trial court sustained the contest, holding the affidavit of indigence was untimely. The court of appeals agreed and ordered Sprowl to file proof of payment or payment arrangements for the appellate record within ten days the dismissed the appeal when she failed to do so. Sprowl filed a pro se petition for review with the Texas Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court held that filing an affidavit of indigence is no longer a jurisdictional requirement for an appeal. Since Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 44.3 prohibits dismissal of an appeal for formal defects without having first allowed the appellant a reasonable time to correct the defect, an appeal cannot be dismissed for failure to file an affidavit of indigence unless the appellant is made aware of the defect and refuses to correct it within a reasonable time. In this case, Sprowl corrected the defect by filing the affidavit before the court even made her aware of the defect. Thus, it was not even necessary for the court to order her to correct the defect or give her an additional reasonable amount of time to do so. Therefore, the court of appeals erred when it dismissed the appeal. The dismissal was reversed and the case returned to the court of appeals for further proceedings. See: Sprowl v. Payne, 236 S.W.3d 786 (Tex. 2007).

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Related legal case

Sprowl v. Payne