Articles Posted in Texas Supreme Court

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In 2003, the Legislature enacted the Medical Liability Act, which contains a statute of repose that operates as a bar to claims that are not brought within ten years of the date of the medical treatment. In this case, alleged negligence occurred during the birth of a child in 1996. No suit was filed until 2011, five years after the repose statute’s deadline. The hospital moved for summary judgment, asserting that the repose statute barred the claim. The mother responded that the Act’s ten-year statute of repose violates the open court and retroactivity provisions of the Texas Constitution. The Supreme Court upheld the Act’s repose statute against the mother’s as-applied constitutional challenges, holding (1) the mother’s open courts challenge failed due to the mother’s lack of diligence in filing suit; and (2) the mother’s retroactivity challenge failed because a compelling public purpose justified the legislation and granted the mother a three-year grace period to file suit. View "Tenet Hosps. Ltd. v. Rivera" on Justia Law

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A trial court may substitute a regular juror with an alternate if the regular juror is unable to fulfill or is disqualified from fulfilling his duties. A trial court may only dismiss a juror and proceed with fewer than twelve jurors if the dismissed juror is constitutionally disabled. In this child custody dispute, the trial court empaneled twelve jurors and retained one alternate. The trial court subsequently substituted the alternate juror for a regular juror whom it found to be disqualified. During the trial, the trial court found that one of the jurors had become disabled and proceeded with eleven jurors. The eleven-member jury returned a unanimous verdict. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that dismissal of the disqualified juror resulted in an eleven-member jury in violation of the constitutional right to a jury trial. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals failed to property examine the two dismissals under their appropriate standards. Remanded. View "In re Interest of M.G.N." on Justia Law

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The Porretto family owned several acres of property between the Galveston Seawall and the Gulf of Mexico. Due to the State’s repeated recharacterization of the Porretto’s property as public property, the Porrettos had difficulty selling the property. The Porrettos sued the State, arguing that the State’s claims made it impossible for them to sell their property and therefore amounted to a compensable taking. The trial court held that the State’s actions had resulted in a compensable taking and awarded the Porrettos $5.012 million as damages for the lost market value of the property taken. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the State’s actions did not constitute a taking. The Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeals' conclusion that the State’s conduct did not constitute a taking and affirmed. View "Porretto v. Tex. Gen. Land Office" on Justia Law

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A lessee leased a marina from a governmental entity providing that the premises be used only as a "marina, restaurant, gasoline and sundry sales and as a recreational facility.” When the governmental entity terminated the lease the business sued for breach of contract. The government entity filed a plea to the jurisdiction asserting governmental immunity. At issue in this case was whether Chapter 271 of the Texas Local Government Code waived the governmental entity’s immunity from suit. The trial court concluded that it did, and the court of appeals agreed. The Supreme Court disagreed with the lower courts and dismissed the lessee’s claims for lack of jurisdiction, holding that the parties’ lease agreement did not constitute a written contract stating the essential terms of an agreement for providing goods or services to a local government entity, and therefore, Chapter 271 did not waive the governmental entity’s immunity from suit. View "Lubbock County Water Control & Improvement Dist. v. Church & Akin, LLC" on Justia Law

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Russell Gordon was stopped by City of Watauga police officers and arrested. Gordon subsequently sued the City for injuries to his wrists caused by the officers' use of handcuffs. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asserting that it was immune from suit under the intentional-tort exception to the Tort Claims Act’s governmental immunity waiver. The Act waives sovereign immunity for certain negligent conduct but does not waive immunity for claims arising out of intentional torts, such as battery. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the underlying claim was for negligence, and therefore, the City was not entitled to immunity. The Supreme Court reversed and dismissed the case, holding that the underlying claim was for battery, not negligence, and the City’s governmental immunity had not been waived for this intentional tort. View "City of Watauga v. Gordon" 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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Defendant was a public nonprofit organization that provided mental health care to county residents. Plaintiff was a patient who sued Defendant after being struck by a falling whiteboard. Defendant pled immunity under the Texas Tort Claims Act, arguing that Plaintiff's alleged injury did not arise from Defendant's "use" of personal property. The trial court denied Defendant's plea. Defendant appealed, arguing for the first time that the property's "condition" did not cause the accident. The court of appeals declined to consider this argument because Defendant had not originally asserted it in the trial court. The court of appeals then affirmed the judgment of the trial court, thus rejecting Defendant's arguments that Plaintiff's pleadings failed to demonstrate a waiver of Defendant's immunity. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) pursuant to Rusk State Hospital v. Black, the appellate court should have considered all of Defendant's immunity arguments; and (2) the patient's alleged injuries were not caused by the "use" of the whiteboard, and the court of appeals erred to the extent it held otherwise. Remanded. View "Dallas Metrocare Servs. v. Juarez" on Justia Law

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The city of Laredo filed suit to condemn Respondents' property. A jury found that the City had no authorized public use for the property and awarded Respondents attorney's fees and expenses under Tex. Prop. Code 21.019(c), a fee-shifting statute that authorizes the trial court to award a property owner reasonable and necessary fees and expenses when condemnation is denied. The court of appeals reformed the award in part and, as reformed, affirmed. The City appealed, asking the Supreme Court to remand the attorney's fees award for reconsideration because of inadequacies in Respondents' proof. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that deficiencies remained in Respondents' proof of attorney's fees. Remanded. View "City of Laredo v. Montano" on Justia Law

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Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 101.106 bars a suit against a governmental unit after a plaintiff sues the unit's employee regarding the same subject matter. However, if the employee is sued for acts conducted within the general scope of employment, and suit could have been brought under the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA), then the suit is considered filed against the governmental unit. Plaintiff sued an employee (Employee) of the Texas Adjutant General's Office (TAGO). Employee filed a motion to dismiss himself pursuant to section 101.106(f). Plaintiff then filed an amended petition adding TAGO as a defendant and alleging that TAGO's sovereign immunity was waived under the TTCA. The trial court denied Employee's motion to dismiss. Thereafter, TAGO unsuccessfully filed a plea to the jurisdiction and motion to dismiss. The court of appeals reversed the denial of Employee's motion to dismiss but affirmed the denial of TAGO's plea to the jurisdiction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Employee was entitled to dismissal because the suit against him arose from conduct within his general scope of employment; and (2) the suit against TAGO should proceed because Plaintiff was entitled to, and did, amend his pleadings to assert a TTCA claim against the government. View "Tex. Adjutant General's Office v. Ngakoue" on Justia Law

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The Time Cole Act (Act) entitles a person who has been wrongfully imprisoned to compensation from the State. Payments terminate, however, if, after the date the person becomes eligible for compensation, the person is convicted of a crime punishable as a felony. Michael Blair had a lengthy criminal record. Blair was first convicted in 1988. In 1993, Blair was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. In 2004, Blair pleaded guilty to four indictments of indecency with a child, for which he was given three consecutive life sentences. In 2008, the court of criminal appeals set aside Blair's murder conviction based on DNA evidence, and the State dismissed the charge. Defendant subsequently applied for compensation for having been wrongfully incarcerated from 1993 to 2004. The Comptroller denied compensation. The Supreme Court concluded that the Comptroller correctly denied Blair's claim for compensation, holding that the Act does not require payments to a felon who remains incarcerated for a conviction that occurred before he became eligible for compensation. View "In re Blair" on Justia Law