Justia Texas Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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The Supreme Court conditionally granted Petitioner's petition for a writ of mandamus and directed the district court to rescind a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the district court prohibiting the Governor and the Speaker of the House (Defendants) from compelling the attendance of members of the Texas House of Representatives (Plaintiffs), holding that the Texas Constitution gives the House of Representatives the authority to physically compel the attendance of absent members.Plaintiffs fled the state on July 12, 2021 in order to deny the House a quorum, thus preventing the legislature, in special session, from enacting voting legislation they opposed. Plaintiffs fled the state to escape the jurisdiction of the House, whose rules provide that absent members may be arrested and their attendance secured and retained. Plaintiffs then brought this action seeking an injunction prohibiting their arrest. The district court granted a TRO prohibiting Defendants from compelling Plaintiffs' attendance by arrest or restraint. The Supreme Court directed the district court to rescind the TRO, holding that the district court abused its discretion by granting the TRO. View "In re Abbott" on Justia Law

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In this matter concerning the general appropriations bill for the next biennium beginning September 1, 2021 the Supreme Court denied Relators' request for a writ of mandamus asserting that the Governor's veto of the Legislature's appropriation for its own operations threatened the Legislature's ability to operate and therefore violated the constitutional separation of powers, holding that this Court declines to settle a dispute between coequal branches of the government.The day before the eighty-seventh Legislature adjourned, Democratic members of the House of Representatives prevented passage of pending legislation that they had opposed by leaving the chamber. When the general appropriations bill was presented to the Governor several days later, the Governor vetoed the Legislature's appropriation for its own operations because "[f]unding should not be provided for those who quit their jobs early." In this mandamus proceeding, Relators - the House Democratic Caucus and the majority of Democratic House members - argued that the veto was an attempt to abolish the Legislature in violation of separation of powers principles. The Supreme Court denied relief, holding that this dispute was one between the members of one branch rather than one between the branches, and where the Governor has made funding for continued legislative operations through the end of September, relief in mandamus was not appropriate. View "In re Turner" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court naming Aunt and Uncle managing conservators of parents' two children, naming Mother and Father possessory conservators, and stating that, in the absence of mutual agreement, Mother could have supervised visitation with the children at the discretion of the managing conservator, holding that there was no error.In affirming, the court of appeals determined that the evidence was sufficient to support the terms of the visitation order, that the terms of the order were permissible upon a finding that they were in the best interest of the children, and denying Mother's constitutional challenge to Tex. Fam. Code 262.201(o). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because the trial court could have reasonably concluded that a restriction on Mother's right of access was in the children's best interest, there was not abuse of discretion; and (2) Mother's constitutional challenges were rendered moot by the trial court's issuance of a final order. View "In re J.J.R.S." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals with respect to Plaintiff's constitutional claims, holding that a state university's dismissal of a student for poor academic performance does not implicate a liberty or property interest protected by the Texas Constitution's guarantee of due course of law.Plaintiff was dismissed from Texas Southern University's Thurgood Marshall School of Law after one year due to his failure to maintain the required grade point average. Plaintiff brought this suit against the School, alleging breach of contract and deprivation of his property and liberty without due course of law. The trial court granted the School's plea to the jurisdiction invoking sovereign immunity. The court of appeals reversed in part, concluding that Plaintiff's procedural and substantive due course of law claims were viable. The Supreme Court reversed in part and rendered judgment dismissing the case, holding that an academic dismissal from higher education does not implicate a protected liberty interest. View "Texas Southern University v. Villarreal" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the orders of the trial courts in these three cases brought by downstream property owners asserting that the San Jacinto River Authority's release of water from its Lake Conroe reservoir into the San Jacinto River caused or contributed to the flooding of their properties, holding that the trial court did not err by denying the River Authority's motions to dismiss the three suits.Plaintiffs asserted both common-law inverse condemnation claims under Tex. Const. art. I, 17 and statutory takings claims under Chapter 2007 of the Government Code. The River Authority moved to dismiss the three suits, arguing that Chapter 2007 applied strictly to regulatory takings and not physical takings, as Plaintiffs contended. The trial court denied the motions to dismiss. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that Chapter 2007's statutory takings claim included the physical takings claim alleged in the property owners' pleadings. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the statutory takings claim may include a physical taking and is not limited solely to regulatory takings. View "San Jacinto River Authority v. Argento" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals holding that a forum-selection clause in a contract bound all involved parties even where the only signatories did not assert any claims against one another, holding that the court of appeals erred in construing the contract containing the forum-selection clause and a contract that did not as a single, unified instrument and by applying the transaction-participant enforcement theory.Personal jurisdiction over two nonresident individuals and a nonresident LLC was premised on a forum-selection clause in a contract the nonresident LLC executed with a resident LLC. A signatory LLC sought to enforce the clause against nonsignatory individuals, and nonsignatory individuals sought to enforce the clause against nonsignatory individuals and a signatory LLC. The court of appeals concluded that all defendants were amenable to suit in Texas regardless of their status as a signatory. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the separately executed instruments considered by the court of appeals were not part of a single, unified instrument and, therefore, must be construed separately; and (2) the transaction participant enforcement theory relied upon by the court of appeals was inapplicable. View "Rieder v. Woods" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court accepted a question certified to it by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and answered that a lender is entitled to equitable subrogation where it failed to correct a curable constitutional defect in the loan documents under Tex. Const. art. XVI, 50.Sylvia Zepeda obtained a loan from CIT Group and later refinanced her debt with a loan from Embrace Home Loans, Inc., using her homestead as collateral. Zepeda subsequently notified Embrace that the loan documents did not comply with section 50 because Embrace had not signed a form acknowledging the homestead's fair market value. Embrace subsequently sold the loan to Freddie Mac. When Freddie Mac did not respond to Zepeda's notification of the constitutional defect, Zepeda sued to quiet title, arguing that Freddie Mac did not possess a valid lien on her property. The federal district court concluded that Freddie Mac was not entitled to equitable subrogation because it was negligent in failing to cure the constitutional defect in the loan documents. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that, under Texas law, a lender who discharges a prior, valid lien on the borrower's homestead property is entitled to subrogation, even if the lender failed to correct a curable defect in the loan documents. View "Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. v. Zepeda" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court conditionally granted mandamus relief to the State seeking review of a temporary restraining order (TRO) blocking enforcement of Executive Order GA-13, which changes the rules applicable to judges' decisions regarding pre-trial bail, against judges, holding that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to order the judges' requested relief, even temporarily.GA-13 suspends certain statutes authorizing trial judges to release jail inmates with violent histories during the state of disaster due to the threat of the novel coronavirus. Plaintiffs alleged that GA-13 is unconstitutional and exceeds the governor's statutory emergency powers. Sixteen of the plaintiffs were Texas trial judges alleging that GA-13 improperly interferes with their judicial authority to make individualized bail decisions, and the other plaintiffs were public interest organizations and lawyer associations. The trial court issued a TRO blocking enforcement of GA-13 against judges. The Supreme Court conditionally granted mandamus relief, holding that the alleged threat of a criminal prosecution in this case did not give the judges standing to seek the invalidation of GA-13, and therefore, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to order their requested relief. View "In re Greg Abbott" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court considered two questions of Texas law certified from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit concerning whether changes made by the Texas Legislature in 2017 to Deferred Retirement Option Plans (DROP) violate a Texas Constitution provision that prohibits the reduction or impairment of certain accrued retirement benefits, concluding that the 2017 legislative reforms do not violate the Constitution.Certain retirees challenged the 2017 statutory amendments, which eliminated their ability to request lump-sum distributions from their respective DROP accounts. The retirees argued that the funds in DROP are accrued service retirement benefits and that the change to how the funds may be withdrawn reduces or impaired the accrued benefit in violation of Tex. Const. art. XVI, 66(d). The Fifth Circuit certified questions to the Supreme Court, concluding that section 66's application in this case was unsettled under Texas law. The Supreme Court answered that the 2017 amendment does not violate section 66. View "Degan v. Board of Trustees of the Dallas Police" on Justia Law

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In this case examining whether the former version of the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) applies to certain counterclaims alleged in a dispute over an oil and gas lease the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals dismissing all the counterclaims in this case, holding that the court of appeals properly dismissed one counterclaim but erred in dismissing the remaining counterclaims.At issue was whether each counterclaim was "based on, relates to, or is in response to" the "exercise of the right of free speech" or the "exercise of the right to petition," as defined by the governing statutory text. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 27.003(a). The Supreme Court held (1) certain communications to third parties about an oil and gas lease allegedly involving the exercise of free speech, on which some of the counterclaims were based, were not covered by the TCPA because they did not relate to a matter of public concern under the TCPA, and therefore, the court of appeals erred in dismissing these counterclaims; and (2) the court of appeals correctly disposed of the "right to petition" counterclaim. View "Creative Oil & Gas, LLC v. Lona Hills Ranch, LLC" on Justia Law