The Texas Supreme Court released two opinions with today’s orders list. It did not grant any new cases for review.


The scope of “abuse” in parental-termination case can include risk of harm, including evidence that other children in the home were abused

This is an expedited parental-termination appeal. The Court heard oral argument in April, and today it issues an opinion upholding the state’s decision to terminate.

A key issue in the case was whether the statute allowed removal of a child based on evidence, not that the child himself or herself had been abused, but that another child in the same house had been. The Court concluded that the statute permitted this because the concept of “abuse” was written broadly enough to include risk from an unsafe environment:

Consistent with chapter 262’s removal standards, ‘abuse or neglect of the child’ necessarily includes the risks or threats of the environment in which the child is placed. Part of that calculus includes the harm suffered or the danger faced by other children under the parent’s care.

Whistleblower Act and internal university policies

In this per curiam opinion, the Court revisits the case The University of Houston v. Stephen Barth, No. 08-1001 . This time, the Court reached the merits and held that the Whistleblower Act did not protect a report of violation of mere university rules to an internal official of the university lacking law-enforcement authority.

The specific decision here is narrow enough that the Court thought a per curiam was appropriate, even though (as the Court noted), “We have never before construed the phrase ‘a rule adopted under a statute or ordinance'” — the statutory language at issue. The Court had previously held that a rule adopted by a University’s board of regents could qualify under the statute. So the question here became whether the particular policy at issue had been approved by the Board of Regents (and thus was law enough for Whistleblower Act protection).

The Court examined the trial record here, and found that the record and testimony was not specific on that point and thus there was no evidence to support a waiver of immunity. (( Page 6: “In fact, the record is unclear as to which party enacted the SAM’s administration’s policies.” )) The Court also took judicial notice of the Board of Regents policies, which suggested that the rules in question normally would have been approved by the Chancellor (and, implicitly, not the Board of Regents).