Justia Texas Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the district court affirming the conclusions of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that CPS Energy violated both Tex. Util. Code 54.204(c)'s uniform-charge requirement and section 54.204(b)'s prohibition of discrimination, holding that the PUC could reasonably have concluded, as it did, that CPS Energy violated the plain terms of section 54.204(b). The PUC concluded that a utility that invoices different telecommunications providers a uniform rate nevertheless violates section 54.204(b) if it fails to take timely action to ensure that all pole attachers actually pay the uniform rate it invoices. The court of appeals reversed, holding that if a telecommunications provider does not pay the rate the utility uniformly charges, any discriminatory effect is the telecommunication provider's fault, not the utility's. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the PUC's finding that CPS Energy failed to make any serious or meaningful effort to collect from AT&T Texas was supported by substantial evidence, and the effect on Time Warner Cable was clearly discriminatory. View "Time Warner Cable Texas LLC v. CPS Energy" on Justia Law

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In this interlocutory appeal, the Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals allowing the State's money-damages claims and its ultra vires claims to proceed against the Chambers-Liberty Counties Navigation District (District) and Sustainable Texas Oyster Resource Management, LLC (STORM), holding that governmental immunity barred the State's claim for monetary relief against the District but did not bar its ultra vires claim. The District leased submerged land to STORM for oyster production. The State sued the District and STORM seeking to invalidate the lease on the grounds that Texas law affords the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department the sole power to decide who may cultivate oysters in the area. The State also sought monetary relief. The District filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asserting that the District's immunity from suit barred the State's claims. The trial court denied the plea. The court of appeals reversed the portion of the trial court's order that permitted the State to pursue an ultra vires claim against the District itself and otherwise affirmed the denial of the plea to the jurisdiction. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that governmental immunity barred the State's claim for monetary relief against the District but did not bar its ultra vires claim. View "Chambers-Liberty Counties Navigation District v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the district court's judgment affirming the negative use determinations issued by the Commission on Environmental Quality as to Respondents' applications for tax exemptions for heat recovery steam generators (HRSGs), holding that Texas Tax Code 11.31 does not give the Commission and its Executive Director discretion to deny an ad valorem tax exemption for HRSGs. In Brazos Electric Power Cooperative v. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, __ S.W.3d __ (Tex. 2019), also issued today, the Supreme Court held that the Legislature has deemed HRSGs to qualify at least in part as "pollution control property" entitled to an exemption. The Court further held in Brazos Electric that the Commission abused its discretion by issuing negative use determinations for two exemption applications involving HRSGs when the applications complied with relevant statutory requirements. In the instant case, the Commission issued negative use determinations for Petitioners' applications for tax exemptions for HRSGs. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals correctly held that the Commission may not issue negative use determinations for HRSGs. View "Texas Commission on Environmental Quality v. Brazos Valley Energy, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed part and reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals holding that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over Petitioner's appeal because she did not seek rehearing of an ALJ's ruling and that the agency in this case did not deprive Petitioner of due process, holding that the trial court lacked jurisdiction but that the agency violated Petitioner's right to due process. An ALJ sustained the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services' determination that Petitioner's name be submitted to the Employee Misconduct Registry unless she timely petitioned for judicial review. In its letter, the Health and Human Services Commission failed to explain that filing a motion for rehearing was a prerequisite for judicial review. The trial court overruled the agencies' plea to the jurisdiction but ruled for them on the merits of Petitioner's appeal. The court of appeals reversed the trial court's judgment on the jurisdictional plea and rendered judgment that Petitioner's failure to seek rehearing deprived the trial court of subject matter jurisdiction. The Supreme Court held (1) the trial court lacked jurisdiction to consider Petitioner's case; but (2) the agencies deprived Petitioner of her right to judicial review by misrepresenting the proper procedures to seek judicial review of the adverse order. View "Mosley v. Texas Health & Human Services Commission" on Justia 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