The Texas Supreme Court issued opinions in four cases today, including the long-discussed Entergy Gulf States case. (You may need to refresh your memory of roman numerals to follow that judgment.)
The Court did not grant any new petitions for review or other extraordinary motions in this week’s orders.
Entergy: Same Judgment, Divergent Opinions
In Entergy Gulf States, Inc. v. Summers, No. 05-0272 (DB), the Court voted 6-3 to reverse and render judgment, the same ultimate disposition the Court reached in 2007. This blog covered some of the rehearing papers and the legislative response, including some legislators’ amicus filings.
The new opinion is far more fragmented. The original opinion was a 9-0 decision authored by Justice Willett.
The new opinion, authored by Justice Green, is described this way:
Justice Green delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Justice Wainwright and Justice Brister joined, and in Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VIII and IX of which Justice Hecht joined, and in Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, and IX of which Justice Johnson joined, and in Parts I, II, III, VI, VII, and IX of which Justice Willett joined.
So, it looks like Part VII got five votes (but not that of Justice Hecht, who wrote a concurrence explaining his disagreement about statutory construction). And it looks like Part VIII (the broadest public-policy section) actually did not get five votes.
Justice O’Neill wrote a dissent that was joined by the Chief Justice and Justice Medina.
A separate post about this case is coming
soon There is much to mine in this case about statutory construction and the relationship between the Legislature and the courts.
Workers Compensation for General Contractors
In HCBeck, Ltd. v. Charles Rice, No. 06-0418, (DB) the Court faced the question how the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act’s shield against lawsuits applies to general contractors who “provide” workers compensation insurance to subcontractors and their employees.
Here, there was a contract that “require[d] only that the subcontractor enroll in the site ownerâ€™s workersâ€™ compensation insurance plan.” The court of appeals held that was not enough.
The Texas Supreme Court reversed, holding, “A general workplace insurance plan that binds a general contractor to provide workersâ€™ compensation insurance for its subcontractors and its subcontractorsâ€™ employees achieves the Legislatureâ€™s objective to ensure that the subcontractorsâ€™ employees receive the benefit of workersâ€™ compensation insurance.”
Justice Green delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Jefferson, Justice Hecht, Justice Wainwright, and Justice Brister joined, and in Parts I, II, III, IV, V, and VII of which Justice Willett joined.
Justice Johnson delivered a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Medina joined. (Justice O’Neill did not sit.)
Integrity of the Jury Process May Permit Discovery in Later Cases: Ford Motor Co. v. Castillo
It’s a rare case in which failure to permit discovery is deemed harmful enough error to reverse a judgment.
In Ford Motor Co. v. Ezequiel Castillo, No. 06â€‘0875 (DB), the Texas Supreme Court faced a situation in which a defendant sought discovery into the jury deliberation process to argue a settlement had been procured by fraud. The trial court denied the discovery.
The Texas Supreme Court ultimately reversed and remanded to the trial court to permit discovery. Justice Johnson wrote the opinion of the Court. Justice Wainwright delivered a concurring opinion, with which Justice Medina joined.
Relocation Damages Not Generally Available for Takings Cases
In Southwestern Bell Telephone, L.P. v. Harris County Toll Road Authority, No. 06-0933 (DB), a company sought relocation expenses when it was forced to move by new road construction.
The Chief Justice wrote for a unanimous Court. This sums it up:
A telephone company that was forced to relocate its facilities due to road construction demanded reimbursement from the county and its toll road authority. Neither our statutes nor our constitution, however, authorize the relief sought. Because the utility has no vested property right to relocation of its facilities at county expense, and because the Legislature has not waived the governmental entitiesâ€™ immunity from suit, we affirm the court of appealsâ€™ judgment.