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Hayes v. Turner

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

May 31, 2017

DAVID LAMAR HAYES
v.
GLEN TURNER, WARDEN

          Assigned on Briefs May 1, 2017

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for Hardeman County No. 15563 William C. Cole, Chancellor

         This appeal arises from the dismissal of a pro se inmate's complaint for failure to prosecute. After filing his complaint in 2005, the plaintiff took no action in the case for more than 10 years. In 2015, the trial court directed the plaintiff to show cause why the case should not be dismissed for failure to prosecute. Instead of providing an explanation for the delay, the plaintiff sought a default judgment against the defendant. The trial court then dismissed the case with prejudice. On appeal, we find no abuse of discretion in the trial court's decision. We therefore affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed and Remanded

          David Lamar Hayes, Whiteville, Tennessee, Pro se.

          James I. Pentecost and Jonathan D. Buckner, Jackson, Tennessee, for the appellee, Glen Turner, Warden, Hardeman County Correctional Facility.

          Arnold B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., and John W. McClarty, J., joined.

          OPINION

          ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, JUDGE.

         Background and Procedural History

         Petitioner/Appellant David Hayes is an inmate at the Hardeman County Correctional Facility in Whiteville, Tennessee. Respondent/Appellee Glen Turner is the warden of that facility. On August 10, 2005, Mr. Hayes filed a pro se action against Mr. Turner in the Hardeman County Chancery Court seeking to obtain documents related to his incarceration. On September 6, 2005, Mr. Turner submitted the requested documents to the trial court for release to Mr. Hayes as determined by the court. No further action was taken in the case until December 2015.

         On December 1, 2015, the trial court issued a written notice to Mr. Hayes that the case would be dismissed for failure to prosecute absent a showing of good cause. Mr. Hayes responded by filing a motion for default judgment against Mr. Turner in the amount of $12 million.[1] Mr. Turner then filed a motion to dismiss and a response in opposition to Mr. Hayes's motion for default judgment. On May 18, 2016, the trial court entered an order denying Mr. Hayes's motion for default judgment and dismissing the case with prejudice. Thereafter, Mr. Hayes timely filed a notice of appeal to this Court.

         Discussion

         Mr. Hayes challenges the trial court's decision to dismiss the case for failure to prosecute. As he did in the trial court, Mr. Hayes represents himself pro se on appeal. Parties who decide to represent themselves are entitled to equal treatment by the courts. Murray v. Miracle, 457 S.W.3d 399, 402 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2014). Nevertheless, the courts must not excuse pro se litigants from complying with the same substantive and procedural rules that represented parties are expected to observe. Hessmer v. Hessmer, 138 S.W.3d 901, 903 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2003). Accordingly, Mr. Hayes, like any other plaintiff in a civil proceeding, had an obligation to pursue his claims in a manner consistent with the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. See Morris v. State, 21 S.W.3d 196, 202 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999).

         Trial judges inherently possess broad authority to control their dockets and the proceedings in their courts. Hodges v. Attorney Gen., 43 S.W.3d 918, 921 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000). Moreover, the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure expressly authorize trial judges to dismiss cases for failure to prosecute. Tenn. R. Civ. P. 41.02. The decision to dismiss a case for failure to prosecute lies within the sound discretion of the trial judge, and we will not reverse that decision unless it appears that ...


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