Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Paul Green, a former bus monitor for Dallas County Schools (DCS), was terminated because he admitted to “urinating on [himself] and in a water bottle while onboard [a] school bus[.]” Green filed this lawsuit, alleging that DCS terminated his employment because he was disabled. During trial, the jury heard testimony about Green’s heart condition and the drug he was taking that purportedly caused urinary incontinence. The trial court rendered judgment for Green. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that there was no evidence that DCS fired Green “because of” his disability. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the court of appeals erred by treating Green’s heart condition as his only disability; and (2) the evidence supported a finding that Green was terminated because of a different disability - urinary incontinence. View "Green v. Dallas County Schools" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a complaint against her former employer (Defendant), claiming assault, sexual assault, and battery, among other causes of action. Defendant moved for summary judgment on all claims, arguing, in part, that the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act’s (TCHRA) statutory cause of action preempted Plaintiff’s common law claims. The trial court granted the motion without providing a basis for its ruling. Plaintiff appealed only the trial court’s ruling on her assault claim against Defendant. The court of appeals affirmed on the ground that the TCHRA preempted Plaintiff’s assault claim. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) where the gravamen of a plaintiff’s claim is not harassment, but rather, assault, the TCHRA does not preempt the plaintiff’s common law assault claim; and (2) because the gravamen of Plaintiff’s complaint in this case was assault, Defendant did not establish, as a matter of law, that Plaintiff’s claim was preempted by the TCHRA. Remanded. View "B.C. v. Steak N Shake Operations, Inc." on Justia Law

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The City of Dallas sought relief from two attorney general decisions concluding that the City must disclose confidential attorney-client communications pursuant to public-information requests the City received regarding the McCommas Bluff Landfill and a convention-center hotel. The information constituted public information under the Texas Public Information Act (PIA), but because the information was subject to the attorney-client privilege, the City argued that the information was excepted from disclosure under the PIA. This dispute arose because the City failed to timely request an attorney general decision affirming that the requested information fell within one of the asserted exceptions, as required by the PIA. The lower courts determined that the attorney-client confidences at issue need not be disclosed to the public-information requestors. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) failing to meet the PIA’s deadline to assert a statutory exception to disclosure does not, in and of itself, constitute waiver of the attorney-client privilege, and therefore, requested information is not subject to compelled disclosure under the PIA solely on that basis; and (2) there was a compelling reason to withhold information covered by the attorney-client privilege in this case. View "Paxton v. City of Dallas" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Rights

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The Texas Medical Board disciplined Minda Lao Toledo, a physician, for unprofessional conduct and issued a press release regarding the matter. After KBMT Operating Company aired a report of the Board’s action Toledo sued KMBT and three of its employees (collectively, KBMT) for defamation. KBMT filed a motion to dismiss under the Texas Citizens Participation Act, which allows for the early dismissal of a legal action implicating a defendant’s rights of free speech unless the plaintiff can establish each element of the claim with clear and specific evidence. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals affirmed, ruling that Toledo established a prima facie case of defamation. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the truth of a media report of official proceedings of public concern must be measured against the proceedings themselves and not against information outside the proceedings; and (2) in this case, Toledo did not meet her burden of establishing a prima facie case that KBMT’s broadcast was false, and therefore, the Act requires that Toledo’s action be dismissed. View "KBMT Operating Co., LLC v. Toledo" on Justia Law

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After arresting Miguel Herrera, police officers seized his Lincoln Nagivator. An inventory search of the vehicle revealed drugs in the vehicle. The state filed a notice of seizure and intended forfeiture, asserting that the Navigator was “contraband” under Chapter 59 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The trial court denied the seizure, concluding that the vehicle search was unlawful and, therefore, the evidence should be excluded. The court of appeals affirmed, ruling (1) the stop leading up to the arrest was unlawful; (2) Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. 59.03(b) precludes the state from initiating a civil-forfeiture proceeding based on an illegal search; and (3) after the evidence found in the vehicle was excluded, the state was left with no evidence that the Navigator was contraband. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that an illegal seizure does not require exclusion in a Chapter 59 civil-forfeiture proceeding. Remanded. View "State v. One (1) 2004 Lincoln Navigator" on Justia Law

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In In re P.M., the Supreme Court concluded that, in government-initiated parental rights termination proceedings, the statutory right of indigent parents to counsel endures until all appeals are exhausted. In this case, the trial court terminated the parental rights of C.S.F. The court of appeals affirmed. Acting pro se and outside the time for filing a petition for review, C.S.F. filed a motion in the Supreme Court seeking an extension of time and a hand-written indigency affidavit. The Supreme Court referred the case to the trial court for appointment of counsel to represent C.S.F. in the Supreme Court, holding that C.S.F. should be able to pursue any argument regarding her case with the assistance of new counsel. View "C.S.F. v. Dep’t of Family & Protective Servs." on Justia Law

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After a retrial, a jury found that Mother had endangered her daughter and that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the daughter’s best interest. The court of appeals affirmed. The attorney in Mother’s second appeal moved to withdraw. The court of appeals granted the motion to withdraw without considering whether new counsel should be appointed. Mother, who was indigent, filed a motion for appointment of counsel, which motion was transferred to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court abated the case to consider the issue of Mother’s right to counsel. The Supreme Court granted counsel’s motion to withdraw and Mother’s motion for appointment of counsel, holding (1) the court of appeals did not abuse its discretion by allowing counsel to withdraw; and (2) the right to counsel under Tex. Fam. Code Ann. 107.103(a) includes all proceedings in the Court, including the filing of a petition for review, and if a court of appeals allows an attorney to withdraw, it must provide for the appointment of new counsel to pursue a petition for review. View "In re P.M." on Justia Law

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During nationwide tobacco litigation in the 1990s, the State individually settled its lawsuit against several of the largest tobacco companies over smoking-related Medicaid costs. In return for the manufacturers’ commitment to make annual payments of $500 million to the State in perpetuity, the State waived, without limitation, any future reimbursement claims against the settling manufacturers. In 2013, the Legislature passed legislation that sought to recover the State’s health costs costs imposed by non-settling manufacturers’ products through a tax on those manufacturers. Respondents - manufacturers, retailers, and distributors who are subject to this taxation scheme - sued the State alleging that the tax is unconstitutional under the Equal and Uniform Clause of the Texas Constitution and the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the United States Constitution. The trial court declared the tax unconstitutional under both the state and federal Constitutions. The court of appeals affirmed by addressing only the Equal and Uniform Clause claim. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the taxation scheme does not violate the Equal and Uniform Clause of the Texas Constitution. Remanded. View "Hegar v. Texas Small Tobacco Coalition" on Justia Law

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Respondents, a same-sex couple who were married in Massachusetts, sought a divorce in Texas. The two women settled their differences, and the trial court orally granted an ostensible divorce pursuant to the parties’ agreement. The State filed a petition in intervention seeking to oppose the petition for divorce and to defend the constitutionality of Texas law that limits divorce actions to persons of the opposite sex who are married to one another. The State argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to render a divorce. The trial court ultimately decided not to entertain the State’s petition, concluding that the attempted intervention was untimely. The court of appeals dismissed the State’s appeal for want of jurisdiction, also ruling that the intervention was untimely. The State sought the Supreme Court’s review, asking the Court to allow the intervention and to vacate the divorce. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals and denied the State’s petition for writ of mandamus, holding that the State failed to secure standing by properly presenting its arguments to the trial court and court of appeals, and consequently, the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction to reach those issues. View "State v. Naylor" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs in this case were more than 400 residents and homeowners in the upper White Oak Bayou watershed in Harris County. From 1998 to 2002, most of Plaintiffs’ homes were inundated in three successive floods. Plaintiffs filed an inverse condemnation suit against several government entities, arguing that Defendants knew that harm was substantially certain to result to Plaintiffs’ homes when Defendants approved private development in the White Oak Bayou watershed without mitigating its consequences. Defendants responded with a combined plea to the jurisdiction and motion for summary judgment, contending that no genuine issue of material fact had been raised on the elements of the takings claim. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals affirmed the denial of the plea to the jurisdiction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a fact question existed as to each element of Plaintiffs’ takings claim, and therefore, the government entities’ plea to the jurisdiction was properly denied. View "Harris County Flood Control Dist. v. Kerr" on Justia Law