Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Texas

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In this admiralty law case, a certain vessel - taken out of service, subjected to a twenty-month conversion process, and unable to engage in transportation during the entirety of the claimant’s onboard employment - was “out of navigation” as a matter of law and thus outside the Jones Act. Kelvin Gold, an employee of Helix Energy Solutions Group, reported injuries suffered aboard the HELIX 534 and sued Helix for additional maintenance-and-cure benefits, as well as actual and punitive damages. Gold claimed those remedies under the Jones Act as a “seaman” aboard a “vessel in navigation.” During the entire time Gold worked aboard the 534 the ship lacked the ability to navigate on her own due to the overhaul of her engines. The trial court granted summary judgment for Helix, concluding that the 534 was not a vessel in navigation under undergoing the overhaul. The court of appeals reversed, finding a fact question. The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals and reinstated the trial court’s summary judgment, holding as a matter of law that the 534 was not in navigation and therefore that the Jones Act did not apply during the course of Gold’s employment. View "Helix Energy Solutions Group, Inc. v. Gold" on Justia Law

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This action stemmed from a “without cause” termination of Plaintiff’s five-year employment contract at the end of his third contract year. Plaintiff brought claims against his former employer, its chief executive officer, and its professional services company for, inter alia, breach of contract and tortious interference with contract. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendants. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the claims for breach of contract and tortious interference. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and reinstated the trial court’s judgment in favor of Defendants, holding (1) the employer was entitled to summary judgment on the breach of contract claim where the employer was not required to prove the reasons it terminated Plaintiff’s employment contract “without cause” an the relevant provisions of the contract were not ambiguous; (2) Defendants were entitled to summary judgment on the tortious interference claim where Plaintiff presented no evidence of willful or intentional interference; and (3) the employer’s professional services company was entitled to Plaintiff’s tortious interference claim where it conclusively established its justification defense to the claim. View "Community Health Systems Professional Services Corp. v. Hansen" on Justia Law

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A jury awarded Plaintiff future lost profits based on Defendants’ failure to comply with their covenants not to compete and covenants not to solicit. The jury also awarded Plaintiff exemplary damages and attorney fees. The trial court awarded Plaintiff the full amount of damages. The court of appeals reversed and rendered a take-nothing judgment in part and remanded in part, concluding, inter alia, that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the jury’s award of future lost profits and that the exemplary damages award was unconstitutionally excessive. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the court of appeals did not err in concluding that the evidence of future lost profits was legally insufficient; (2) the court of appeals’ remitted exemplary damages award was unconstitutionally excessive; and (3) the court of appeals properly found that remand of the issue of attorney’s fees was proper. The court remanded the case to the court of appeals so that it may reconsider its suggested remittitur of exemplary damages. View "Horizon Health Corp. v. Acadia Healthcare Co." on Justia Law

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When Respondent’s employer received a report that Respondent failed an employment-related drug test, the employer ceased assigning Respondent any work. Respondent filed this lawsuit against his employer, WHM Custom Services, Inc.; the owner of the refinery, Exxon Mobil; and the drug-testing administrator, DISA, Inc. , asserting various claims against each of the three defendants. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendants on all but one claim, which it dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The court of appeals reversed and reinstated three of Respondent’s claims against Exxon, four claims against WHM, and two claims against DISA. The Supreme Court reversed in part, vacated in part, and rendered judgment reinstating the trial court’s take-nothing judgment against Respondent, holding that the trial court correctly granted summary judgment for Exxon, WHM, and DISA. View "Exxon Mobile Corp. v. Rincones" on Justia Law

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Galveston County Commissioners Court may set a salary range for a county judicial employee while letting Galveston County district judges decide if compensation within that range is reasonable. While the judicial branch may direct the Commissioners Court to set a new range, it cannot dictate a specific salary outside that range. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment in this long-running dispute over who has the authority to set the compensation of a county judicial employee, holding that, in this case, the trial court lacked the authority to require a county judge to reinstate a county judicial employee at a specific salary, thus encroaching on the county’s legislative branch - the Commissioners Court. View "Honorable Mark Henry v. Honorable Lonnie Cox" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that several members of the Harris County Appraisal Review Board were presently or formerly employed by the Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD) under provisions of the Texas Unemployment Compensation Act (TUCA) such that when their workload was reduced or their terms of service ended, they became eligible for unemployment compensation benefits. The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) determined that the claimants were entitled to unemployment compensation. The district court set the TWC’s decisions aside. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the TWC did not arbitrarily or unreasonably ignore its own regulation; (2) the Tax Code does not prohibit or prevent a Board member from being an employee of HCAD for TUCA purposes; and (3) there was substantial evidence to support the TWC’s determination that the claimants were entitled to unemployment compensation. View "Harris County Appraisal District v. Texas Workforce Commission" on Justia Law

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Paul Green, a former bus monitor for Dallas County Schools (DCS), was terminated because he admitted to “urinating on [himself] and in a water bottle while onboard [a] school bus[.]” Green filed this lawsuit, alleging that DCS terminated his employment because he was disabled. During trial, the jury heard testimony about Green’s heart condition and the drug he was taking that purportedly caused urinary incontinence. The trial court rendered judgment for Green. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that there was no evidence that DCS fired Green “because of” his disability. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the court of appeals erred by treating Green’s heart condition as his only disability; and (2) the evidence supported a finding that Green was terminated because of a different disability - urinary incontinence. View "Green v. Dallas County Schools" on Justia Law

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Laura Murphy, who at the relevant period worked as an independent practitioner under contract with West Texas OB Anesthesia, filed claims against El Paso Healthcare System, d/b/a Las Palmas Medical Center, for statutory retaliation and tortious interference with the continuation of the business relationship between Murphy and West Texas OB. The trial court entered judgment on the jury’s verdict, which found El Paso Healthcare liable on both causes of action and awarded $631,000 in damages. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and rendered judgment that Murphy take nothing on her claims, holding that Murphy failed to establish that El Paso Healthcare illegally retaliated against her or interfered with her legal rights under her existing agreement with West Texas OB. View "El Paso Healthcare System, Ltd. v. Murphy" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a complaint against her former employer (Defendant), claiming assault, sexual assault, and battery, among other causes of action. Defendant moved for summary judgment on all claims, arguing, in part, that the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act’s (TCHRA) statutory cause of action preempted Plaintiff’s common law claims. The trial court granted the motion without providing a basis for its ruling. Plaintiff appealed only the trial court’s ruling on her assault claim against Defendant. The court of appeals affirmed on the ground that the TCHRA preempted Plaintiff’s assault claim. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) where the gravamen of a plaintiff’s claim is not harassment, but rather, assault, the TCHRA does not preempt the plaintiff’s common law assault claim; and (2) because the gravamen of Plaintiff’s complaint in this case was assault, Defendant did not establish, as a matter of law, that Plaintiff’s claim was preempted by the TCHRA. Remanded. View "B.C. v. Steak N Shake Operations, Inc." on Justia Law

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Under Chapter 614, Subchapter B of the Texas Government Code, a covered peace officer cannot be disciplined based on a complaint unless certain procedural requirements are met. At issue in this case was whether Subchapter B’s disciplinary procedures apply to at-will employment relationships, whether those procedures apply to any complaint of misconduct or only citizen-generated complaints, and whether a complaint must be signed by the victim of the alleged misconduct and presented to the employee before discipline is imposed. When a deputy sheriff’s (Employee) employment was terminated, Employee appealed to the sheriff, complaining of procedural irregularities in the process leading to his discharge. The sheriff summarily upheld the termination decision. The employee then sued the sheriff and the county (collectively, Employer), alleging that the sheriff’s department violated Government Code sections 614.022 and 614.023 by terminating his employment without giving him a copy of a signed complaint and without allowing him an opportunity to respond to the allegations before he was disciplined. The trial court granted partial summary judgment for Employer. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Employer violated Chapter 614. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, assuming that Chapter 614, Subchapter B applied under these circumstances, Employer complied with the statute. View "Colorado County, Texas v. Staff" on Justia Law