Justia Texas Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles 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

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To suspend execution of a money judgment on appeal, a judgment debtor must post security as required by Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 52.006 and Tex. R. App. P. 24. The security must cover compensatory damages, interest, and costs, but is subject to caps. In this case, Longview Energy Company obtained a judgment against five defendants for breach of fiduciary duty. Defendants appealed and together posted a $25 million bond as security to supersede enforcement of the judgment. The trial court applied the caps separately to each of four jointly and severally liable defendants, requiring the four defendants to post security equal to the lesser of $25 million or fifty percent of Defendants’ net worth. The court of appeals reversed the security order, concluding that Defendants were together required to post only $25 million in security to supersede the judgment as to them all. All parties petitioned the Supreme Court for relief by mandamus. The Supreme Court denied mandamus relief, holding (1) the money judgment award at issue was not for “compensatory damages,” and therefore, the Court need not consider whether the court of appeals correctly applied the caps on security; and (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ordering post-judgment discovery. View "In re Longview Energy Co." on Justia Law

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Respondent, a former employee of San Antonio Water System (SAWS), sued SAWS under the Texas Commission on Human Rights (TCHRA), alleging that SAWS retaliated against her for opposing a discriminatory employment practice. Specifically, Respondent contended that she was terminated because she confronted a male vice president about his repeated lunch invitations to two female employees outside his department. The jury awarded Respondent nearly $1 million in damages. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and dismissed the claim, holding that no reasonable person could have believed that sexual harassment under the TCHRA occurred, and therefore, Respondent did not engage in a protected activity under the TCHRA when she confronted the vice president. View "San Antonio Water Sys. v. Nichols" on Justia Law

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After an investigation, the City of Houston declared the Park Memorial condominiums uninhabitable. Because the condominium owners did not apply for an occupancy certificate or make necessary repairs within the requisite period of time, the City ordered all residents to vacate the complex. A group of owners later brought this inverse-condemnation action, alleging that their property was taken when they were forced to vacate. The trial court sustained the City’s plea to the jurisdiction, concluding that the owners had not alleged a taking. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the condominium owners’ claim failed because they did not allege a taking. View "City of Houston v. Carlson" on Justia Law