Articles Posted in Texas Supreme Court

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Jimmy Carty died in an accident during his employment for the state. The workers’ compensation carrier for state employees (carrier) began paying death benefits to Christy, Jimmy’s wife, and the couple’s three minor children. Christy, individually, as representative of her deceased husband’s estate, and as next friend of the couple’s children, brought suit against two defendants. The Cartys settled with the defendants. The district court subsequently calculated the carrier's reimbursement and apportioned the remainder of the settlement funds among Christy and the children “in the same ratio as they received death benefits.” The carrier appealed, challenging the apportionment. The court of appeals certified to the Supreme Court the question of “how a net recovery in excess of the amount of benefits paid by the workers’ compensation carrier should be apportioned among beneficiaries when multiple beneficiaries recover from a third-party tortfeasor.” The Supreme Court answered that when multiple beneficiaries recover compensation benefits through the same covered employee, the workers’ compensation carrier’s right to a third-party settlement is determined by treating the recovery as a single, collective recovery rather than separate recoveries by each beneficiary. View "State Office of Risk Mgmt. v. Carty" on Justia Law

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Shayn Proler, a firefighter with the Houston fire department, filed an administrative grievance seeking reassignment to a fire suppression unit under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. After a hearing, Proler was reassigned to fire suppression. The City appealed, and Proler counterclaimed for disability discrimination. The trial court granted Proler’s plea to the jurisdiction. After a trial, the trial court entered judgment in favor of Proler on his disability claim. The court of appeals (1) reversed the order granting Proler’s plea to the jurisdiction insofar as the City claimed the hearing examiner exceeded his jurisdiction by awarding overtime compensation and insofar as the City requested declaratory judgment relief on this issue; and (2) affirmed the trial court’s judgment awarding injunctive relief and attorney fees to Proler on his disability discrimination claim. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the court of appeals’ judgment reversing the order granting Proler’s plea to the jurisdiction; and (2) reversed the court of appeals’ judgment insofar as it affirmed the trial court’s judgment granting injunctive relief and attorney fees to Proler on his disability discrimination claim, as there was no evidence Proler was discriminated against on account of a disability. View "City of Houston v. Proler" on Justia Law

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Most of the employees at a La Porte unit (“Unit”) of E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (“DuPont”) were covered by a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”). When DuPont announced plans to spin off part of its operations, including the Unit, into a wholly owned subsidiary, DuPont Textiles and Interiors (“DTI”), almost all of the Unit employees moved to DTI, even though the CBA gave the employees the right to transfer to other DuPont jobs. DuPont subsequently sold DTI to Koch Industries, which reduced the former DuPont employees’ compensation and retirement benefits. Several of the former DuPont employees sued DuPont for fraudulently inducing them to terminate their employment and accept employment with DTI by misrepresenting that DTI would not be sold. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals certified questions of law to the Texas Supreme Court, which answered by holding (1) at-will employees cannot bring an action against their corporate employer for fraud that is dependent on continued employment; and (2) employees covered under a cancellation-upon-notice CBA that limits the employer’s ability to discharge its employees only for just cause cannot bring Texas fraud claims against their employer based on allegations that the employer fraudulently induced them to terminate their employment. View "Sawyer v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co." on Justia Law

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When Tyco Valves & Controls, L.P. decided to close one of its facilities located in Houston, Tyco offered certain employees retention agreements providing that, if the employees remained with the company through the facility’s closure, they would receive severance payments in the event they were not offered comparable employment with Tyco. After Tyco sold one of the production units located in the facility to another company, Plaintiffs, several former employees who had worked in that unit and been denied severance, filed a breach of contract action against Tyco. The trial court ruled in favor of the employees and awarded the severance pay. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Employee Retirement Income and Security Act of 1974 preempted Plaintiffs’ breach-of-contract claims. View "Arsenio Colorado v. Tyco Valves & Controls, L.P." on Justia Law

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Respondent, a principal at a school in the Yesleta Independent School District (ISD), reported various "asbestos hazards" in the school to certain school officials. Eventually, the ISD indefinitely suspended Respondent. Respondent filed this whistleblower claim, alleging that the ISD violated the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (Act) by failing to respond to his asbestos reports. In so claiming, Respondent submitted no evidence showing that the ISD enforced the Act beyond its own internal compliance or that he reported the allegations to anyone other than school officials. The trial court denied the ISD's plea to the jurisdiction, concluding that Respondent produced sufficient evidence of his good faith belief that the ISD's superintendent and trustees were authorized to regulate under or enforce the Act. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and granted the plea to the jurisdiction, holding that a report to personnel whose only power is to oversee compliance within the entity itself is not enough to confer "law-enforcement authority" status. View "Ysleta Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Franco" on Justia Law

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Respondent, a firefighter for the Houston Fire Department, suffered an on-the-job injury in 1988. The City of Houston and Respondent entered into a settlement agreement under which Respondent would receive lifetime medical expenses in exchange for releasing the City from any further claims derived from the injury. In 2004, the City stopped paying for many of Respondent's medical expenses, concluding they were not reasonable or necessary. A jury found for Respondent and awarded him $127,500 in damages. The City petitioned for the Supreme Court's review, arguing (1) the trial court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case because Respondent did not exhaust his administrative remedies as required by statute; and (2) governmental immunity shielded the City from suit. The Supreme Court reversed and dismissed Respondent's action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that Respondent failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by statute, and therefore, the trial court was divested of jurisdiction. View "City of Houston v. Rhule" on Justia Law

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Claimant suffered a compensable injury to his right ankle in 1991 and developed reflex sympathetic dystrophy in the injured ankle. In 1997, the appeals panel determined Claimant was entitled to Lifetime Income Benefits (LIBs). The workers' compensation carrier for Claimant's employer (Insurer) did not seek judicial review of that decision. More than a decade later, Insurer sought a new contested case hearing on Claimant's continuing eligibility for LIBs. A hearing officer found that Insurer could re-open the previous LIB determination but that Claimant remained entitled to LIBs. The appeals panel affirmed. Both parties sought judicial review. The trial court granted Claimant's motion for summary judgment, concluding that the hearing officer lacked jurisdiction to re-open the previous LIB determination. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Legislature does not allow permanent benefit determinations like LIBs to be re-opened. View "Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Adcock" on Justia Law

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Respondent was employed by the Canutillo Independent School District as executive director of facilities and transportation. After reporting alleged financial improprieties to the District authorities, Respondent was fired for allegedly making threatening personal phone calls to another man during work hours. Respondent subsequently sued the District for violation of the Texas Whistleblower Act and for breach of contract. The trial court granted Respondent's plea to the jurisdiction. The court of appeals held that the trial court erred in granting the plea as it related to Respondent's whistleblower claim but otherwise affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the court of appeals' judgment, holding that the trial court properly granted the plea to the jurisdiction, holding (1) Respondent's complaints to District authorities were not good-faith complaints of a violation of law to a "law enforcement authority" under the Whistleblower Act, and thus, the plea to the jurisdiction was well taken; and (2) Respondent's breach of contract claim failed because Respondent failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. View "Canutillo Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Farran" on Justia Law

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A staffing services company (Company) furnished workers for the City, including Respondent. During the course of his employment, Employee lost an arm working on a garbage truck driven by an employee of the City. Respondent sued the City and its employee (collectively, Petitioners). Petitioners filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting governmental immunity based in part on the exclusive remedy under the Texas Labor Code, which provides that recovery of workers' compensation benefits is the exclusive remedy of an employee covered by workers' compensation insurance. The trial court dismissed the case. The court of appeals reversed, holding that a fact question remained whether Respondent, who was paid by Company, was within the specific terms of the City's workers' compensation coverage. The Supreme Court reversed and dismissed the case, holding that, as a matter of law, the City provided Respondent's workers' compensation coverage, and therefore, Respondent's exclusive remedy was the compensation benefits to which he was entitled. View "City of Bellaire v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Three retired fire fighters (Respondents) previously employed by the Houston Fire Department (HFD) sued the City of Houston to recover allegedly unauthorized deductions from their termination pay upon retirement. Specifically, Respondents asserted (1) the City wrongfully deducted pay for overtime hours that the HFD required fire rights to work after the implementation of a new shift schedule; and (2) the City incorrectly calculated each fire fighter's salary for purposes of paying termination pay upon their retirement. The trial court found in favor of Respondents on both claims and awarded two of Respondents reimbursement for overtime pay and all Respondents additional termination pay for accrued and unused sick and vacation leave. The Supreme Court (1) reversed as to the first claim related to the overtime pay, holding that the two Respondents were not entitled to receive reimbursement for overtime pay; and (2) affirmed as to the second claim related to additional termination pay, holding that all Respondents were entitled to recover additional termination pay. View "City of Houston v. Bates " on Justia Law