Justia Texas Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that Data Foundry, Inc., an internet service provider, had standing to bring its claims but affirming the trial court's dismissal of Data Foundry's claims in part on other grounds, holding that the court of appeals erred by affirming portions of the trial court's judgment.The City of Austin sets the rates that Austin Energy, an electric utility owned by the City, charged to Austin residents for retail electric services. Data Foundry, which purchased electricity from Austin Energy, brought this action alleging that the rates charged by the City were illegal. The trial court granted the City's motion to dismiss on the ground that Data Foundry lacked standing because it failed to allege it had suffered a particularized injury. The court of appeals affirmed the dismissal on other grounds. The Supreme Court remanded all of Data Foundry's claims to the trial court for further proceedings, holding (1) Data Foundry had standing to bring its claims; (2) the court of appeals correctly reversed the dismissal of some of Data Foundry's claims, including its common-law and constitutional claims; and (3) the court of appeals erred by affirming portions of the trial court's judgment on other grounds. View "Data Foundry, Inc. v. City of Austin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the decision of the trial court concluding that indemnity claims fell within an exception to an arbitration clause and that the non-signatory assignees were bound by the agreement under a theory of assumption, holding that Plaintiffs' request for a declaratory judgment was subject to mandatory arbitration.As president of Wagner Oil Company, Bryan Wagner signed a purchase and sale agreement (PSA) purchasing several assets from Apache Corporation. The PSA contained an indemnification provision and an arbitration clause. Later, third-party surface landowners filed lawsuits against Apache, seeking damages for alleged environmental contamination caused by Apache's operation of the assets before they were sold. Apache filed a demand for arbitration against Plaintiffs, including Wagner Oil and Wagner, for indemnity and defense. Plaintiffs then filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that Plaintiffs were not parties to the PSA and therefore not subject to the arbitration and indemnity clauses. The trial court denied Apache's motion to compel arbitration. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the indemnity disputes over third party-claims fall within the scope of the arbitration clause and outside its exception; and (2) the Wagner Oil signees were bound by the arbitration clause. View "Wagner v. Apache Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court upholding the determination of the Public Utility Commission that Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) met its burden of establishing that its decision to build a power plant was a prudent one and allowing SWEPCO to include the plant's construction costs in its utility rates, holding that the court of appeals erred.In reversing, the court of appeals concluded that the Commission had used an improper standard for assessing SWEPCO's decision to complete construction of the plant and that, because SWEPCO did not produce independent expert testimony, the Commission's decision was without a proper basis. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the Commission properly applied its standard in evaluating SWEPCO's decision to complete construction; and (2) substantial evidence supported the Commission's decision. View "Public Utility Commission of Texas v. Texas Industrial Energy Consumers" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed these two petitions - one for writ of mandamus and the other for review - arising from a lawsuit that thirteen Panda Power companies (collectively, Panda) filed against the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Inc. (ERCOT), holding that this Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the petitions.Panda sued ERCOT and three of its officers for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of fiduciary duty. ERCOT filed a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that the Public Utility Commission had exclusive jurisdiction over Panda's claims. The trial court denied the motion. ERCOT appealed and, as an alternative, filed a petition for a writ of mandamus, arguing that sovereign immunity barred Panda's claims. The court of appeals (1) dismissed ERCOT's interlocutory appeal for want of jurisdiction, holding that ERCOT was not a governmental unit under the Tort Claims Act; but (2) granted ERCOT's mandamus petition, holding that sovereign immunity applied and barred Panda's claims. The Supreme Court dismissed both the mandamus petition and the petition for review, holding that the trial court's entry of a final judgment rendered this causes arising from the interlocutory order moot. View "In re Panda Power Infrastructure Fund, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals remanding this medical fee dispute between a health care provider and a worker's compensation insurance carrier over the proper amount of reimbursement for services rendered to a covered patient, holding that that administrative law judge (ALJ) who heard the case properly applied the rules of the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers' Compensation in allocating the burden of proof.The provider initiated a dispute resolution proceeding, and the Division determined that the provider was entitled to more than the carrier believed was due. The Division ordered the carrier to pay the additional amount. The State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) upheld the Division's determination. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the ALJ erred in placing the burden of proof on the carrier at the SOAH hearing and that the error prejudiced the carrier's substantial rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the ALJ properly applied the Division's rules in concluding that the carrier had failed to meet its burden of proof. View "Patients Medical Center v. Facility Insurance Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the portion of the court of appeals' judgment declaring that the rules issued by the Texas Board of Chiropractic Examiners authorizing chiropractors to perform an eye-movement test for neurological problems known as VONT, holding that the challenged rules do not exceed the statutory scope of the chiropractic practice.The Texas Chiropractic Act defines the practice of chiropractic to include evaluating the musculoskeletal system and improving the subluxation complex. In 2006, the Board adopted a rule defining both terms as involving nerves in addition to muscles and bones. In 2010, the Board adopted a rule authorizing chiropractors to perform vestibular-ocular-nystagmus testing, or VONT. The Texas Medical Association (TMA) challenged the rules in court. The court of appeals concluded that the rules exceeded the scope of practice prescribed in the Act. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the challenged provisions are valid. View "Texas Board of Chiropractic Examiners v. Texas Medical Ass'n" on Justia Law

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In this dispute over the amount that air ambulance providers may recover from workers' compensation insurers, the Supreme Court held that Texas law requiring that private insurance companies reimburse the fair and reasonable medical expenses of injured workers is not preempted by a federal law deregulating aviation and that federal law does not require Texas to mandate reimbursement of more than a fair and reasonable amount for air ambulance services.PHI Air Medical, LLC, an air ambulance provider, argued that the federal Airline Deregulation Act (ADA) preempted the Texas Workers' Compensation Act's (TWCA) fee schedules and reimbursement standards. An administrative law judge held that PHI was entitled to reimbursement under the TWCA's standards. On judicial review, the trial court declared that the ADA did not preempt the TWCA's reimbursement provisions. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) because the price of PHI's service to injured workers is not significantly affected by a reasonableness standard for third-party reimbursement of those services, the ADA does not preempt that standard; and (2) the ADA does not require that Texas compel private insurers to reimburse the full charges billed for those services. View "Texas Mutual Insurance Co. v. PHI Air Medical, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court concluded that, as to Plaintiffs' fraud claims, GTECH Corporation, a private contractor, would not qualify for derivative sovereign immunity for services it provided to the Texas Lottery Commission even if the Court recognized that doctrine but that GTECH was entitled to immunity from Plaintiffs' allegations of aiding and abetting the Commission's fraud and of conspiracy with the Commission.The Commission contracted with GTECH for instant ticket manufacturing and services. Plaintiffs filed two separate suits alleging that the instructions on a scratch-off lottery ticket mistakenly caused them to believe they had winning tickets. GTECH filed pleas to the jurisdiction, arguing that it was entitled to the Commission's immunity. The Dallas County trial court granted GTECH's plea to the jurisdiction. The Travis County trial court denied the plea. The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed. The Austin Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Supreme Court held (1) GTECH was not entitled to immunity from Plaintiffs' fraud claims because the Commission did not control GTECH's choices in writing the game instructions; and (2) GTECH was entitled to immunity from the theories of conspiracy and of aiding and abetting because Plaintiffs must necessarily override the substance of the Commission's underlying decisions in order to impose derivative liability on GTECH. View "GTECH Corp. v. Steele" on Justia Law

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In this title dispute between the State and a private landowner over portions of the submerged bed of Lone Oak Bayou the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's summary judgment in favor of the landowner, holding that there were factual disputes to be resolved, precluding summary judgment.Lone Oak Bayou was a navigable body of water located near the Gulf of Mexico. The landowner's predecessor bought land from the State that included the Bayou's bed. Later, the Legislature passed a statute (the Small Bill) validating conveyances that included the beds of "watercourses or navigable streams." The Commissioner of the General Land Office argued that the Small Bill did not validate the landowner's title to the Bayou's bed because the tide enters the Bayou and the statute conveyed only submerged beds underlying non-tidally influenced streams. The trial court granted summary judgment for the Landowner. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there were factual disputes to be resolved regarding whether the Bayou is a navigable stream within the scope of the statutory conveyance. View "Bush v. Lone Oak Club, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over an administrative order because E.A. did not move for rehearing before the administrative law judge and rejecting E.A.'s due process challenge based on the agency's misrepresentation of the proper procedure for judicial review, holding that E.A. was denied due process under the circumstances of this case.In Mosley v. Texas Health & Human Services Commission, __ S.W.3d __ (Tex. 2019), the Supreme Court held that, under the Administrative Procedures Act, a party seeking judicial review of an administrative order must first move for rehearing before the administrative law judge unless another governing statute provides otherwise. This appeal presented the issues decided in Mosley. The Supreme Court (1) agreed with the court of appeals that the trial court lacked jurisdiction because E.A. did not seek rehearing of the order she challenged before the administrative law judge, but (2) held that the agency misrepresented the proper procedure for judicial review in a letter to E.A., thus denying E.A. due process. View "E.A. v. Texas Department of Family & Protective Services" on Justia Law