Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Texas

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court dismissing Plaintiff’s suit against Nueces County, holding that governmental immunity barred the suit. Plaintiff served as an assistant district attorney in Neuces County for two years. After he was fired, Plaintiff sued the County, the district attorney’s office, and the then-district attorney (collectively, the County), alleging wrongful termination and seeking actual damages and exemplary damages. The trial court dismissed the case on the ground that governmental immunity barred Plaintiff’s claims. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that neither Sabine Pilot Service, Inc. v. Hauck, 687 S.W.2d 733 (Tex. 1985), nor the Michael Morton Act waived the County’s governmental immunity from Plaintiff’s claim. View "Hillman v. Nueces County, Texas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court in this case brought by three pensioners, holding that the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System did not violate Tex. Const. art. XVI, 66 by amending its pension plan to reduce the interest rate paid on Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) accounts. Petitioners elected DROP before the amendment in this case and argued that the change in interest rate reduced or impaired service retirement benefits granted or accrued in violation of section 66. The trial court initially rendered judgment for Petitioners but, on reconsideration, ruled that reducing the DROP account interest rate prospectively did not violate section 66. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding the the pension plan amendments did not violate section 66 because the DROP account interest rate change was prospective and will not impact funds deposited before the amendments became effective. View "Eddington v. Dallas Police & Fire Pension System" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed as modified the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the trial court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to dismiss this suit seeking to remove Defendant from a county hospital district board, holding that the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA), Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 27.003, applied to the State’s removal action and that the State failed to establish a prima facie case for removal. Defendant argued that the removal petition should be dismissed because the State could not establish a prima facie case for removal. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals reversed and remanded to the trial court for a determination of Defendant’s request for attorney fees and costs. The Supreme Court affirmed as modified, holding (1) the TCPA applies to a removal petition, and a removal petition does not constitute an “enforcement action” under the TCPA; and (2) Defendant was not entitled to dismissal of or attorney’s fees for the state’s allegation that he violated the Open Meetings Act. View "State ex rel. Best v. Harper" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals holding that Emergency Medical Training Services (EMTS) did not provide clear and specific evidence under the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA), Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 27.003, of a prima facie case that a former employee (Defendant) breached nondisclosure agreements she signed in connection with her employment, holding that EMTS established a prima facie case of each essential element of a breach of contract cause of action. EMTS sued Defendant for breach of contract and moved for injunctive relief. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to the TCPA, arguing that her actions were an exercise of her right to petition and her right of free speech. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that EMTS established all the elements of a breach of contract claim with the exception of the damages element. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that EMTS established a prima facie case by clear and specific evidence of each essential element of a breach of contract cause of action. View "S&S Emergency Training Solutions, Inc. v. Elliott" on Justia Law

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Jefferson County v. Jefferson County Constables Ass’n, __ S.W.3d __, __ (Tex. 2018), in which the Supreme Court held that the Fire and Police Employee Relations Act applies to deputy constables because they qualify as “police officers” under the Act’s definition of that term, resolved the issue presented in this case and necessitated reversal of the court of appeals’ judgment. Petitioner was terminated from his employment as a deputy constable in Jefferson County and sued for a declaratory judgment and a writ of mandamus seeking to compel the County to participate in a binding arbitration under the terms of the applicable collective bargaining agreement between the County and its deputy constables’ bargaining association. The trial court granted Petitioner’s requests and ordered the parties to participate in binding arbitration. The court of appeals dismissed the case for want of jurisdiction, holding that deputy constables are not “police officers” under the Act and have no right to bargain collectively with their public employers. The Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded this case for further proceedings, holding that this issue was definitively resolved against the County in Jefferson County. View "Stines v. Jefferson County, Texas" on Justia Law

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Because the workers’ compensation carrier in this case signed away its right to recover benefits it paid to an injured employee and received a high premium in exchange for assuming that risk it cannot later seek indirectly to recover the same proceeds it agreed not to pursue directly. The carrier her paid benefits to the employee and later sought reimbursement of those payments from any settlement proceeds the employee might receive from a third party. The policy, however, included an endorsement waiving the carrier’s right to recover from a third party sued by the employee. The employee moved for summary judgment declaring that the carrier had waived its right to recover any proceeds from the lawsuit, whether directly from the third party or indirectly from any settlement the third party pays to the employee. The trial court granted summary judgment for the employee, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the waiver foreclosed the carrier’s right to recover from a liable third party, and that waiver included direct recovery from the third party or indirect recovery of the same proceeds after the third party paid them to the employee. View "Wausau Underwriters Insurance Co. v. Wedel" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the City of Houston does not have governmental immunity from a suit by the Houston Municipal Employees Pension System. This case arose from a dispute over the City of Houston’s creation of local government corporations to which the City transferred some of its employees. At issue was the adoption of resolutions by the Houston Municipal Employees Pension System’s Board of Trustees (Board) related to those employees, their status regarding the City’s pension fund, the correct interpretation of the governing statute. The Houston Municipal Employees Pension System (System) brought this suit seeking to enforce the City’s purported obligation to make contributions to the pension fund. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that governmental immunity barred the System’s claims. The trial court denied the City’s plea. The court of appeals reversed in part. The Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals and directed that the City’s plea should be denied in full, holding (1) the employees at issue are “members” of the System; (2) the System’s ultra vires and mandamus claims are not barred; and (3) the System’s claims for information pursuant to the Texas Public Information Act are not barred. View "City of Houston v. Houston Municipal Employees Pension System" on Justia Law

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An individual qualifies as “unemployed” for purposes of the Texas Unemployment Compensation Act while taking unpaid leave from her job under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but eligibility for unemployment benefits requires more than “unemployed” status. Julia White went on FMLA leave for severe anxiety and depression. Before White returned to work for Wichita County, she filed a claim for unemployment benefits. The County contested the claim on the ground that White remained a County employee and thus did not qualify for benefits. The Texas Workforce Commission determined that White was “unemployed” while on her unpaid leave of absence and that it could pay her benefits if she met all other requirements. The trial court reversed. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that it would be “absurd” for an individual to be entitled to unemployment benefits during FMLA leave. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) an individual on unpaid medical leave, even if protected under the FMLA, satisfies the Act’s definition of unemployed and may qualify for unemployment benefits if she meets the Act’s eligibility requirements; and (2) substantial evidence supported the Commission’s decision in this case. View "Texas Workforce Commission v. Wichita County" on Justia Law

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The Texas Whistleblower Act (WBA) does not apply to open-enrollment charter schools operated by a tax-exempt entity. Petitioner operated an open-enrollment charter school that provided tuition-free public education to students on multiple campuses. Respondent, a teacher for the school, sued the school for violating the WBA by retaliating against her. The trial court denied the school’s plea to the jurisdiction asserting immunity from suit. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the WBA contains no specific statement that it applies to open-enrollment charter schools, see section 12.1058(c) of the Texas Charter Schools Act, it does not apply to open-enrollment charter schools. View "Neighborhood Centers Inc. v. Walker" on Justia Law

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In this dispute governed by a collective bargaining agreement between a county and its deputy constables, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals ruling that deputy constables are “police officers” entitled to enter into collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) with their public employers under Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code Ann. 174 and that the arbitrator did not exceed his authority in awarding relief to the deputy constables. The county petitioned to vacate the arbitrator’s award, arguing that the arbitrator exceeded his authority in concluding that the county violated the CBA by eliminating several deputy constable positions without regard to seniority and ordering the county to reinstate the deputies in order of seniority. The trial court granted the county’s motion for summary judgment and rendered final judgment in its favor. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that deputy constables are “police officers” under the CBA, that the CBA was valid and enforceable, and that the arbitrator did not exceed his authority in ordering the deputies’ reinstatement on a seniority basis. View "Jefferson County v. Jefferson County Constables Ass’n" on Justia Law