Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Texas Supreme Court

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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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A 2003 amendment to the Texas Constitution allowed the Legislature to delegate to a state agency the power to interpret certain provisions of the Constitution governing home equity lending. The state agency quickly issued final interpretations of the aforementioned provisions of the Constitution. Six homeowners then brought this action against the agency, challenging several of the interpretations. A bankers association intervened. The trial court invalidated many of the interpretations. The court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the agency's interpretations of the provisions of the Constitution governing home equity lending were subject to judicial review; (2) the homeowners had standing to assert their claims; and (3) of the three interpretations at issue in this appeal, one was valid and two were invalid. View "Fin. Comm'n of Tex. v. Norwood" on Justia Law

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Juvenile was charged with attempted capital murder, aggravated assault on a public servant, and deadly conduct. The jury adjudicated Juvenile of aggravated assault and deadly conduct, assessing determinate sentences for forty years and ten years, respectively. The court of appeals affirmed the aggravated assault adjudication but reversed on deadly conduct, concluding that the trial court committed reversible error by submitting elements of the offense to the jury disjunctively, allowing for a non-uanimous verdict. The State appealed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court's disjunctive jury instruction, given without objection, was not reversible error, as the harm to Juvenile, given the jury's other findings and the evidence, was only theoretical, not actual. View "In re L.D.C." on Justia Law

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This case involved an inverse-condemnation dispute over ten acres. At issue was who had title to the parcel: the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the City of Edinburg (City), or API Pipe Supply and Paisano Service Company (collectively, API). In 2003, the trial court awarded the City a "fee title" to the property subject to a drainage easement granted to TxDOT. In 2004, the trial court entered a judgment purporting to render the 2003 judgment null and void. API claimed the judgment gave API fee-simple ownership, subject to a drainage easement granted to the City, and, via subsequent conveyance, to TxDOT. In 2005, TxDOT began its drainage project. API, relying on the 2004 judgment, brought a takings claim for the value of the removed soil. The trial court held in favor of API, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and dismissed the suit, holding (1) the 2004 judgment was void and therefore could not supersede the valid 2003 judgment; (2) API was statutorily ineligible for "innocent purchaser" status, and equitable estoppel was inapplicable against the government in this case; and (3) because API held no interest in the land, API's takings claim failed. View "Dep't of Transp. v. A.P.I. Pipe & Supply, LLC" on Justia Law

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Southern Crushed Concrete (SCC) filed a municipal permit application with the City of Houston to move a concrete-crushing facility to a new location. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (Commission) had previously issued a permit authorizing construction of the facility at the proposed location. The City, however, denied the permit because the concrete-crushing operations would violate a city ordinance's location restriction. SCC sued the City, arguing that the ordinance was preempted by the Texas Clean Air Act (TCAA), which provides that a municipal ordinance may not make unlawful a condition or act approved or authorized under the TCAA or the Commission's rules or orders. The trial court granted summary judgment for the City, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the ordinance was preempted by the TCAA and unenforceable. View "S. Crushed Concrete, LLC v. City of Houston" on Justia Law

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The State brought an action for forfeiture of a vehicle and $90,235 found in it following a traffic stop, alleging that the property was contraband. The driver of the vehicle (Driver) answered the suit, asserting that he owned the property and requesting dismissal of the forfeiture action. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Driver. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the State failed to present sufficient evidence that a substantial connection existed between the property and illegal drug dealing activities. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the determination of whether law enforcement officers had probable cause to seize the property, that is, a reasonable belief in a substantial connection between the property and illegal activities, must be assessed in light of the facts as the seizing officers reasonably believed them to be; and (2) Driver did not conclusively negate such a belief. Remanded. View "States v. Ninety Thousand Two Hundred Thirty-Five Dollars" on Justia Law

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Respondent sued the City of Houston. After an attempted settlement, Respondent asserted that the City breached the settlement agreement. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which the trial court denied. The court of appeals affirmed, but the Supreme Court reversed. On remand, the City filed another plea to the jurisdiction (2006 plea), arguing that it was immune from suit. The trial court implicitly denied the City's plea and set the case for trial. The City did not appeal. After Respondent died, the case was transferred to probate court. There the City filed a motion for summary judgment and an amended plea to the jurisdiction. The probate court denied the City's motion for summary judgment and, construing the City's amended plea as a motion to reconsider the 2006 plea, denied it. The City filed an interlocutory appeal. The court of appeals dismissed part of the appeal but considered the merits of part of it. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding the court of appeals erred by failing to dismiss the entire appeal for lack of jurisdiction because the amended plea was a motion to reconsider the 2006 plea, and time had expired for interlocutory appeal from it. View "City of Houston v. Estate of Jones" on Justia Law

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This special defect case involved a concrete guardrail. Jose Perches was killed while navigating an underpass. Perches's parents sued the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). The trial court denied TxDOT's immunity-based jurisdictional plea. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that although the Percheses had not shown an immunity waiver for their negligent maintenance and implementation claims, they pleaded sufficient facts to demonstrate TxDOT's waiver of immunity with respect to their special defect claims. The Supreme Court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and rendered judgment dismissing the Percheses' claims under the Texas Tort Claims Act, holding (1) concrete guardrails placed in accordance to plan cannot constitute a special defect under the Act, and therefore, under the Act, the State's sovereign immunity was not waived; and (2) the Percheses did not plead sufficient facts demonstrating a waiver of immunity under the Act with respect to their premise liability claims. Remanded. View "Tex. Dep't of Transp. v. Perches" on Justia Law

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This appeal questioned the validity of certain conditions a grantor placed on a dedicated public-street easement. The easement in question provided for a 100-foot-wide public right of way, but the instrument dedicating the land also provided that the street's curb lines were to be fifteen feet inside the street's boundary lines. The issue was whether this curb-line condition limited the dedication such that only the seventy-foot area between the curb lines could be used for vehicular traffic. The court of appeals concluded that the curb-line condition effectively limited the public easement in this way. The court further suggested that the State would have to use its eminent domain powers if the public roadway needed to be improved or widened beyond the existing curb lines. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding (1) the State need not condemn property already already dedicated for a public street before widening the existing roadway; and (2) therefore, the State had the right to improve the existing roadway to the boundary of the dedicated street line notwithstanding the curb-line condition. View "State v. NICO-WF1, LLC" on Justia Law

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A school district (District) obtained an in rem delinquent property tax judgment against an oil and gas lease that Respondent owned and operated. Respondent did not appeal, and the District foreclosed its judgment lien on the leasehold, taking ownership. The Railroad Commission ordered Respondent to plug a well on the lease. Respondent did not comply, and the Commission plugged the well and brought an enforcement action in court to recover the costs of the operation and the penalty. Respondent and the Commission settled. Respondent then sued the District, alleging in part that the District's actions had resulted in a taking of his property requiring compensation. The trial court dismissed Respondent's action for want of jurisdiction, but the court of appeals reversed and remanded with respect to the takings claim. The Supreme Court reversed and dismissed the case, holding that the trial court correctly dismissed Respondent's case, as Respondent did not assert on appeal that the District took his property without compensation. View "W. Hardin County Consol. Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Poole" on Justia Law