With today’s orders list, the Texas Supreme Court issued opinions in a dozen cases. The Court also chose two new petitions for oral argument this fall.

Today’s Decisions

  • Larry York d/b/a York Tank Trucks v. State of Texas and Wise County, Texas, No. 09-0905 (DB) (Hecht, J.). A state-court judgment in violation of the bankruptcy automatic stay is void as a matter of state law. The Court also held that government conduct did not fit the “police power” exception when it was not exercised for a legitimate purpose (here, refusing to return a truck to its rightful owner, when that owner was known and well-established). And it reiterated that a takings claim could not be brought where the owner had other, more direct avenues of recourse against the government. Opinion (Hecht): PDF

  • Ford Motor Co. v. Patricia Chacon, et al., No. 10-0506 (DB) (per curiam). This guardian ad litem was, the Court held, appointed for the limited purpose of evaluating one particular settlement offer. He thus could not recover fees for actions taken beyond the narrow scope of that appointment. Per Curiam: PDF

  • American Zurich Ins. Co. v. Daniel Samudio, No. 10-0554 (DB) (Lehrmann, J.). This is a workers comp case in which the beneficiary argued that the district court had no power to review the agency decision. The reason? Because the agency had chosen an invalid classification, which the beneficiary argued placed it outside the district court’s subject-matter jurisdiction. The Texas Supreme Court reversed, holding that this was not a jurisdictional bar. Opinion (Lehrmann): PDF

  • Texas West Oaks Hospital, LP and Texas Hospital Holdings, LLC v. Frederick Williams, No. 10-0603 (DB). Divided 6-3, the Court holds that an employee’s claim against their employer hospital can be a “health care liability claim” subject to the special procedural rules and liability limits of the Texas medical-malpractice statute. The majority noted that, in this case, the substantive proof for “injuries arising out of inadequate training, supervision, risk-mitigation, and safety in a mental health facility.” A dissent, written by Justice Lehrmann and joined by Justices Medina and Willett, argues that it stretches the statute too far to apply it outside of a patient-provider relationship. (The dissent begins by tweaking the opening line of one of Justice Wainwright’s own dissents: “A whole new world [of health care liability claims], hinted by opinions in the last few years, is here.” ) Majority (Wainwright, for 6 votes): PDF. Dissent (Lehrmann, for 3 votes): PDF

  • Robert Sutherland, Jesus de la Garza and Southern Customs Paint and Body v. Robert Keith Spencer, No. 10-0750 (DB). The question was whether the first element of the Craddock test was met, allowing a defendant to obtain a new trial after a no-answer default judgment. Here, the evidence was that “the citation was left in a stack of papers on a desk and forgotten about because of limited time spent at the office due to weather conditions over a nearly three-week period during the Christmas holiday season.” The majority, written by Justice Green for 7 Justices, held that this would satisfy the first element of Craddock if not controverted (as it was not here). But Chief Justice Jefferson, joined by Justice Willett, dissented. They characterized this type of an excuse as “I forgot,” and said, “[w]e reject this excuse when tax returns are late, or when homework is missing, but a defendant can now use it to disregard an official [citation].” Your malpractice carrier is probably glad that the dissenters didn’t carry the day on this one. Opinion (Green, for 7 votes): PDF. Dissent (Jefferson, for 2 votes): PDF

  • Mission Consolidated Independent School District v. Gloria Garcia, No. 10-0802 (DB). Divided 6-3, the Court held that a plaintiff suing for age discrimination under the TCHRA cannot establish a prima facie case when the evidence is undisputed that the plaintiff was replaced by someone older. Majority (Willett, for 6 votes): PDF. Dissent (Jefferson, 3 votes): PDF

  • In re XL Specialty Ins. Co. and Cambridge Integrated Services Group, Inc., No. 10-0960 (DB). “[I]n a bad faith action brought by an injured employee against a workers’ compensation insurer,” does the attorney-client privilege apply to “communications between the insurer’s lawyer and the employer during the underlying administrative proceedings. We hold that the privilege does not apply.” Justice Willett dissented to the Court taking up this issue when it had already issued Ruttiger holding that this substantive claim does not exist. Majority (Jefferson, for 8 votes): PDF Dissent (Willett): PDF

  • Jerry McGinty and Villas by Design, Inc. v. Thomas J. Hennen, No. 11-0288 (DB) (per curiam). This was a case about mold damage to a house, which the jury found caused either $651,000 in repair costs or $262,000 in reduction in market value. The plaintiff elected a judgment based on repair costs. The Texas Supreme Court reversed both measures of damage. It found that there was no evidence that the repair cost was “reasonable and necessary” under Mustang Pipeline. And it found that there was no evidence of the difference in value at the time of the sale, as opposed to the time of the trial. The Court thus reversed and rendered a take-nothing judgment. Per curiam: PDF

  • Michael B. Wansey, individually and d/b/a Rio Grande Defensive Driving School v. Cheryl D. Hole, No. 11-0348 (DB) (per curiam). “In this case, we must decide whether a plaintiff may recover on a claim for negligent hiring and supervision despite suffering no harm at the hands of the employee who was allegedly negligently hired.” The Court rejected this type of claim. Per curiam: PDF.

  • City of North Richland Hills, Texas v. Laura Friend, individually and as personal representative of the estate of Sarah Friend, deceased and Luther Friend, No. 11-0367 (DB). The Court held that failure of a city-owned water park to quickly provide a defibrillator did not constitute the “use of tangible personal property” and, thus, the city’s immunity was not waived. Opinion (Lehrmann): PDF

  • Reddy Partnership/5900 North Freeway LP and Reddy Partnership, et al. v. Harris County Appraisal District, No. 11-0400 (DB) (per curiam). The Court held that what it called a “trivial misnomer” in a property owner’s challenge to a property tax did not deprive the trial court of jurisdiction to hear the challenge. Per curiam: PDF

  • Evanston Insurance Co. v. Legacy of Life, Inc., No. 11-0519 (DB) (Guzman, J.). This was a certified question from the Fifth Circuit asking whether, under Texas law, a company’s liability insurance policy covered claims involving mistreatment of a deceased relative’s remains. The Texas Supreme Court answered that this did not qualify under the policy’s provision covering “bodily injury” or “property damage.” Opinion (Guzman): PDF

New Grants

The Court chose two new cases for argument in December. (The Court has already filled its argument calendar for September, October, and November. You can see a list of which grants were assigned to which dates on last week’s orders.)

  • Petroleum Solutions, Inc. v. Bill Head d/b/a Bill Head Enterprises and Titeflex Corp., No. 11-0425 (DB). The case grows out of a diesel spill at a truck stop. The issues are about the trial court’s decisions involving a defense of limitations (which it did not allow), spoliation, and indemnification. Set for argument December 4, 2012.

  • Texas Adjutant General’s Office v. Michele Ngakoue, No. 11-0686 (DB). Set for argument December 4, 2012. This is (yet another) case about §101.106 of the Tort Claims Act.