Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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In this removal proceeding brought under chapter 87 of the Texas Local Government Code (the removal statute), the Texas Local Government Code (TCPA) applied, and the state failed to establish a prima facie case for the removal of a county official. George Best sought to remove Paul Harper from the Somervell County Hospital District Board by filing this suit under the removal statute. The county attorney appeared in this case as plaintiff on the state’s behalf, and the state adopted Best’s allegations. Harper filed a motion to dismiss under the TCPA, arguing that Best filed, and the state joined, the removal petition based in response to Harper’s exercise of the right to petition and right of free speech and that the state could not establish a prima facie case for removal. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) this case was a legal action under the TCPA, but the TCPA does not apply when a government attorney brings an enforcement action in the state’s name; and (2) only one of the allegations against Harper constituted an enforcement action, and as to the allegations that were not enforcement actions, the state’s sovereign immunity did not protect it from Harper’s claim for appellate costs. View "State ex rel. Best v. Harper" on Justia Law

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The Parker County Appraisal District did not employ a facially unlawful means of appraising Taxpayers’ property, which appeared to derive much of its market value from saltwater disposal wells in which wastewater from oil and gas operations could be injected and permanently stored underground. When valuing for tax purposes Taxpayers’ tracts of land in Parker County, the Parker County Appraisal District assigned one appraised value to the wells and another appraised value to the land itself. Taxpayers argued before the trial court that the Tax Code did not permit the County to appraise the wells separately from the land itself where both interests are owned by the same person and have not been severed into discrete estates. The trial court granted summary judgment for Taxpayers. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) there was nothing improper in the District’s decision to separately assigned and appraise the surface and the disposal wells, which were part of Taxpayers’ real property and contributed to its value; and (2) the Tax Code does not prohibit the use of different appraisal methods for different components of a property. View "Bosque Disposal Systems, LLC v. Parker County Appraisal District" on Justia Law

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An individual qualifies as “unemployed” for purposes of the Texas Unemployment Compensation Act while taking unpaid leave from her job under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but eligibility for unemployment benefits requires more than “unemployed” status. Julia White went on FMLA leave for severe anxiety and depression. Before White returned to work for Wichita County, she filed a claim for unemployment benefits. The County contested the claim on the ground that White remained a County employee and thus did not qualify for benefits. The Texas Workforce Commission determined that White was “unemployed” while on her unpaid leave of absence and that it could pay her benefits if she met all other requirements. The trial court reversed. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that it would be “absurd” for an individual to be entitled to unemployment benefits during FMLA leave. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) an individual on unpaid medical leave, even if protected under the FMLA, satisfies the Act’s definition of unemployed and may qualify for unemployment benefits if she meets the Act’s eligibility requirements; and (2) substantial evidence supported the Commission’s decision in this case. View "Texas Workforce Commission v. Wichita County" on Justia Law

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The court of appeals properly vacated the temporary injunctions granted by the district court forestalling the Commissioner of Education’s revocation of two open-enrollment charter schools’ charters and dismissed the schools’ suit seeking judicial review of the Commissioner’s revocation on the grounds that sovereign immunity barred the schools’ claims. In their petitions for judicial review, the two open-enrollment schools challenged the validity of the Commissioner’s decision to revoke their respective charters, raising both constitutional and ultra vires complaints. The district court issued two orders temporarily enjoining the Commissioner from proceeding with the revocations. The court of appeals vacated the temporary injunctions and dismissed the schools’ underlying claims, concluding that all claims were barred by sovereign immunity. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the enabling statutes precluded judicial review of the Commissioner’s executive decisions at issue here, and no basis otherwise existed to invoke the district court’s inherent authority. View "Honors Academy, Inc. v. Texas Education Agency" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the district court’s dismissal of Petitioner’s appeal of an adverse ruling by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for failing to serve citation on the TCEQ within thirty days of filing the petition on the district court as required by the Texas Clean Air Act, see Tex. Health & Safety Code 382.032, holding that the Act did not require dismissal under the circumstances of this case. Petitioner did not formally serve the TCEQ until fifty-eight days after filing its petition with the district court. The district court dismissed Petitioner’s request for judicial review. The court of appeals upheld the dismissal. In reversing, the Supreme Court held (1) the Clean Air Act, rather than the Water Code, controlled Petitioner’s request for judicial review in the district court, and therefore, the thirty-day service requirement was applicable; and (2) because the Legislature expressed no particular consequence for failing to meet the thirty-day statutory deadline and none was logically necessary, the Legislature’s presumed intent was that the requirement be directory rather than mandatory and that late service did not result in the automatic dismissal of Petitioner’s appeal. View "AC Interests L.P. v. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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The pro-forma provision in the tariff in this case, which set the rates and terms for a utility’s relationship with its retail customers, did not conflict with a prior franchise agreement, which reflected the common law rule requiring utilities to pay public right-of-way relocation costs, or the common law, and the franchise agreement controlled as to the relocation costs at issue. At issue was whether the City of Richardson or Oncor Electric Delivery Company must pay relocation costs to accommodate changes to public rights-of-way. The City negotiated a franchise agreement with Oncor requiring Oncor to bear the costs of relocating its equipment and facilities to accommodate changes to public rights-of-way, but Oncor refused to pay such costs. While the relocation dispute was pending, Oncor filed a case with the Public Utility Commission (PUC) seeking to alter its rates. The case was settled, and the resulting rate change was filed as a tariff with the PUC. The City enacted an ordinance consistent with the tariff, which included the pro-forma provision at issue. The Supreme Court held that the provision in the tariff did not conflict with the franchise contract’s requirement that Oncor pay the right-of-way relocation costs at issue. View "City of Richardson v. Oncor Electric Delivery Co." on Justia Law

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A taxpayer that conducts business in multiple states must apportion its business revenue among the states in which it does business. Texas Tax Code section 171.106 provides for such apportionment under a single-factor formula, which compares the taxpayer’s gross receipts derived from its Texas business to its gross receipts everywhere. Section 141.001, however, adopts the Multistate Tax Compact, which sets out a three-factor formula for apportioning“business income” for an“income tax” and provides that a taxpayer subject to a state income tax may elect to apportion its income “in the manner provided by the laws of such state” or may elect to apportion using the Compact’s three-factor formula. The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment, holding that apportionment of the Texas franchise tax is exclusively the province of chapter 171. The Supreme Court of Texas affirmed. Section 171.106 provides the exclusive formula for apportioning the franchise tax and, by its terms, precludes the taxpayer from using the Compact’s three-factor formula.The Compact is severable and contains no unmistakable language waiving the state’s exercise of the sovereign tax power. Nothing in the Compact expressly prohibits the states from adopting an exclusive apportionment method that overrides the Compact’s formula. View "Graphic Packaging Corp. v. Hegar" on Justia Law

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The Division of Workers’ Compensation has exclusive jurisdiction over statutory and tort claims alleging the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act’s “bona fide offer of employment” process was misused to fabricate grounds for firing a covered employee. Employee sued Employer’s workers’ compensation carrier and its agent (collectively, Accident Fund), alleging retaliation, conspiracy, and tortious interference claims. Specifically, Employee claimed that Accident Fund participated in the bona-fide-employment-offer-process and that his job offers were “bogus,” thus serving as a pretext for terminating him. Accident Fund filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asserting that exclusive jurisdiction lay with the Division of Workers’ Compensation. The trial court denied the plea. Accident Fund filed a petition for mandamus relief, which the court of appeals denied. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the Division had exclusive jurisdiction over Employee’s claims against Accident Fund; and (2) because Employee did not exhaust administrative remedies through the workers’ compensation administrative process before filing suit, mandamus relief for Accident Fund was appropriate. View "In re Accident Fund General Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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At issue in this workers’ compensation was the meaning of the word “issue” as used in Title 5 of the Labor Code. The trial court ruled that Respondent did not suffer a compensable injury and was therefore not entitled to workers’ compensation. The court also granted the State Office of Risk Management’s (SORM) motion for summary judgment on the ground that Respondent violated a statute by working from home. The court of appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment for SORM and affirmed the denial of Respondent’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that because SORM never presented the statutory-violation ground to the appeals panel at the administrative level, the panel necessarily could not have “decided” that “issue,” and therefore, the Labor Code barred the trial court from exercising jurisdiction over SORM’s motion. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the statutory ground SORM argued in its summary judgment motion was an argument supporting resolving in SORM’s favor the issue of whether Respondent was in the course and scope of her employment at the time of her accident, and therefore, SORM was free to raise the statutory argument at any time; and (2) Respondent’s motion for summary judgment was properly denied. View "State Office of Risk Management v. Martinez" on Justia Law

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When Cadena Comercial USA Corp., a company formed to operate convenience stores, sought a retailer’s permit to sell alcohol, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) protested, arguing that, if the permit were granted, the ownership interests of Fomento Economico Mexicano, S.A.B. de C.V. (FEMSA) in Cadena and the Heineken Group, which owns breweries, would violate Texas’s “tied house” statutes that prohibit overlapping ownership between the manufacturing, wholesaling, and retailing segments of the alcoholic beverage industry. The lower courts agreed with the TABC. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that FEMSA’s indirect ownership interest in the Heineken Group and its breweries, in combination with its indirect ownership interest in Cadena, would result in a violation of Tex. Alco. Bev. Code Ann. 102.07(a) if Cadena’s application for a permit were granted. View "Cadena Comercial USA Corp. v. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission" on Justia Law