The Texas Supreme Court issued several opinions with today’s orders list. The Court also chose six cases for future oral arguments, including the family-law case I wrote about yesterday. I’m breaking those grants into a separate post.
Do the findings of a city nuisance panel foreclose a takings claim in court? No, but the suit must be brought promptly.
Today the Court denied rehearing in City of Dallas v. Stewart, No. 09-0257, in which it had held that a citizen whose property was taken by a city administrative body should be able to challenge that finding in court.
A number of cities and government groups had filed amicus briefs, arguing that the new rule was unworkable. Justice Guzman noted many of those critics in her opinion today dissenting from the denial of rehearing (opinion).
Chief Justice Jefferson also reworked his five-vote majority opinion, adding a new section to respond to those critics. He noted how rare it is for property owners to file these suits for judicial review, both because of the short time window available and because the property owner bears the risk of paying the city’s legal costs if it loses.
In a related case, the Court today resolved Patel v. Everman, No. 09-0506 by per curiam opinion. In that case, the property owner had filed a suit for judicial review — but then non-suited it. Later, he filed a separate suit to challenge the taking. The Court rejected this as an attempt to circumvent the time limits: “Patel cannot attack collaterally what he declined to challenge directly.”
Workers Comp coverage extends to temporary workers, even if neither the employer nor the insurance carrier intend it to do so
Port Elevator-Brownsville, L.L.C. v. Rogelio Casados and Rafaela Casados, No. 10-0523 (Guzman, J.)
Casados was a temporary worker who was killed on the job. Port Elevator (the company that had hired him through the temp agency) did have workers compensation coverage, although it had not separately paid to cover its temporary workers. Its workers comp carrier (Texas Mutual) also denied coverage to Casados.
When Casados filed a lawsuit, Port Elevator invoked the workers-comp bar as a defense. Today’s opinion for a unanimous Texas Supreme Court holds that his lawsuit was barred by the Texas Workers Compensation statute because Port Elevator had obtained coverage for at least part of its workforce.
The key to the Court’s reasoning was its conclusion that Texas law did not permit an employer to “split” its workforce with regard to workers comp. Either all the workers are covered, or none are covered. For this reason, the Court concluded that it did not matter if Texas Mutual had actually charged or collected a premium for temporary workers — they were covered the same as full employees.
Here, Casados offered several reasons why the Court should, in its words, “adopt an additional, intent-based exception to the rule against splitting workforces.” That framing sounds a little ominous. Really, the Court is asking if the statute restricts the freedom of contract by carriers and employers to choose a narrower range of coverage. The Court’s holding is, yes, it does. Whether the parties wanted narrower coverage is irrelevant; the statute makes coverage all or nothing.
In this case, that’s very bad for Casados — perhaps doubly so because his workers comp claim has already been denied. In the longer term, this holding may cut both ways for employers. A bar to suit is nice, but firms that employ a significant number of temporary workers may see higher premiums to compensate.
How does supersedeas apply to the decisions of state licensing bodies?
In re Carl Bass, Patricia Grutzmacher, and Thomas Bauer, No. 11-0245
We don’t know the answer to that question just yet. But the Texas Supreme Court is showing some interest in it, today ordering that a trial court provide more detail about its reasoning.
A state board suspended the license of three accountants. They sued to invalidate those suspensions under the Open Meetings Act. The district court agreed with them on the merits of that claim — but allowed the state to supersede that judgment pending appeal without posting any sort of security (which had the practical effect of reinstating the suspensions).
The accountants argued that Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 24.2(a)(3) should give the trial court discretion to deny supersedeas, even when a state agency is involved that normally does not have to post a bond. The district court and court of appeals rejected that argument.
With today’s order, the Texas Supreme Court paused its own proceedings to ask the trial court to formally state its conclusions of law and findings of fact.
The State is urging an absolute rule that it can supersede all judgments, regardless of trial court discretion.
The order by the Texas Supreme Court asks the trial court to state whether that is the principle on which it ruled for the State, or whether it did so under its general discretion over supersedeas. If the former, then the case presents a pure question of law. If the latter, then t is a much more challenging mandamus.