Justia Texas Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Injury Law
Southwestern Energy Prod. Co. v. Berry
Plaintiff, a reservoir engineer, purported to identify ten localized areas in oil-and-gas formations in East Texas that offered optimized production. Plaintiff sued Southwestern Energy Production Company (SEPCO), an oil and gas operator, alleging that SEPCO misused the proprietary information about the ten “sweet spots” acquired under a confidentiality agreement and profited from its use. After a trial, the jury awarded $11.445 as tort damages for misappropriate and contact damages for breach of the confidentiality agreement and $23.89 million in equitable disgorgement of past profits. The court of appeals affirmed the actual damages award for misappropriation but reversed and rendered a take-nothing judgment on the disgorgement and breach-of-contract awards. The Supreme Court (1) reversed the breach-of-contract and misappropriation-of-trade-secret claims and remanded for a new trial, concluding that limitations was not conclusively established and that there was insufficient evidence to sustain the entire jury award; and (2) the equitable disgorgement issue need not be addressed because the trial court must determine the issue anew on remand following a new trial. View "Southwestern Energy Prod. Co. v. Berry" on Justia Law
TIC Energy & Chem., Inc. v. Martin
Union Carbide employed Martin at its Seadrift facility. Martin lost his leg in a workplace accident and recovered workers’ compensation benefits through an owner-controlled insurance program (OCIP) administered by Union Carbide’s parent company, Dow. Martin subsequently sued TIC, a subcontractor providing maintenance services at Seadrift, alleging TIC’s employees negligently caused his injury. TIC cited Labor Code section 406.123, which deems a general contractor the statutory employer of a subcontractor and its employees when the general contractor agrees in writing to provide workers’ compensation insurance to the subcontractor. TIC had a written agreement with Union Carbide that extended workers’ compensation insurance coverage under the OCIP to TIC and its employees. Martin argued, under section 406.122(b), that the exclusive-remedy provision did not apply because TIC was an independent contractor and had a written contract with Union Carbide under which TIC “assume[d] the responsibilities of an employer for the performance of work.” The court denied TIC’s summary-judgment motion; the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court of Texas entered judgment for TIC, reasoning that the independent contractor provision (406.122(b)) is a general rule, and 406.123, which confers statutory-employer status on general contractors who provide workers’ compensation insurance to their subcontractors, is a permissive exception. The record established that, under section 406.123, TIC is Carbide’s deemed employee for purposes of the exclusive-remedy defense. View "TIC Energy & Chem., Inc. v. Martin" on Justia Law
In re J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc.
J.B. Hunt’s tractor-trailer traveling on I-10 in Waller County struck a disabled vehicle that had entered the tractor-trailer’s lane. The vehicle’s occupants were injured; one ultimately died. J.B. Hunt sued the occupants in Waller County to recover property-damage costs. Days later, the occupants sued J.B. Hunt in Dallas County to recover personal-injury damages. The occupants of the car claimed, and the Dallas County court agreed, that exceptions to the first-filed rule applied, so the Dallas County court had dominant jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Texas agreed with J.B. Hunt that the Waller County court has dominant jurisdiction. The occupants do not dispute whether their claims in the Dallas County suit were the subject of a pending action at the time of the Waller County petition, nor that the subject matter of the claims in the two suits otherwise satisfies the compulsory-counterclaim rule. Even if J.B. Hunt’s conduct was inequitable, the occupants failed to allege that the conduct caused their delay, if any, in filing suit. It would be odd and premature to require a potential litigant sit on his hands because his claim, viable though it may be, could be countered by an equally viable claim. View "In re J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc." on Justia Law
In re H.E.B. Grocery Co, L.P.
Rodriguez sued HEB for negligence, alleging that he tripped and fell over an unsecured metal plate in front of a grocery cart corral in a Brownsville HEB parking lot and sustained injuries to his knee, arm, face, neck, and shoulder. He received medical treatments, including two spinal surgeries. According to his expert witness, Rodriguez may require additional spinal surgery. While that suit was pending, Rodriguez was involved in an incident at a Sam’s Club in which he allegedly sustained head and neck injuries after a roll of artificial turf being carried by an employee fell on his head. Rodriguez has also filed suit against Sam’s Club. HEB retained an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Swan, as its medical expert. Though Swan routinely examines patients before formulating expert opinions, he did not examine Rodriguez before preparing his report. Based solely on review of Rodriguez’s medical records, Swan opined that Rodriguez suffered from a preexisting spinal condition, that his injury “was present with or without the fall,” and that “[n]othing about the MRI,” taken within a month after Rodriguez’s fall, suggested acute injury. HEB requested that Rodriguez be required to submit to a physical examination by Swan. The trial court denied HEB’s motion without explanation. The Supreme Court of Texas reversed, reasoning that Rodriguez’s condition and its cause are in controversy. View "In re H.E.B. Grocery Co, L.P." on Justia Law
CHRISTUS Health Gulf Coast v. Carswell
Carswell’s estate alleged that CHRISTUS St. Catherine Hospital and others committed medical malpractice causing him to die in the hospital in 2004 and that the hospital took post-mortem actions to cover up the malpractice, including failing to properly notify the county medical examiner of the patient’s death and improperly obtaining the widow’s consent for a private autopsy. The jury did not find against the hospital on the malpractice claim, but found that the hospital improperly obtained the widow’s consent and awarded damages on that claim. The trial court concluded the autopsy claims were not health care liability claims and, therefore, not untimely. The court of appeals affirmed the damages award but reduced the amount of prejudgment interest and vacated discovery sanctions. The Texas Supreme Court held that the claims based on the hospital’s post-mortem actions were health care liability claims and were barred by limitations because they were not asserted until over three years after the operative facts took place. The court of appeals did not err by reversing and rendering as to the discovery sanctions. View "CHRISTUS Health Gulf Coast v. Carswell" on Justia Law
In re Phillips
Steven Phillips was convicted of and pled guilty to several crimes. A DNA test conducted several years later excluded Phillips as the perpetrator. The trial court granted habeas relief. Thereafter, Phillips applied to the Comptroller for wrongful imprisonment compensation under the Tim Cole Act (“the Act”). The Comptroller found that Phillips was due $2 million for the time he was incarcerated. Phillips also requested compensation for child support he had failed to pay. A 1978 Arkansas divorce decree ordered Phillips to pay Cheryl Macumber child support. In 2013, Macumber sued Phillips in Texas to register and enforce the Arkansas divorce decree. The trial court rendered judgment (“the Enforcement Judgment”) for Macumber, finding she was entitled to $304,861. Phillips requested that the Comptroller pay child support compensation based on the amount awarded by the Enforcement Judgment. The Comptroller concluded that compensation owed under the Act was $25,125. Phillips petitioned for mandamus relief. The Supreme Court granted conditional relief, holding (1) the Comptroller is not bound by a court’s judgment in a child support enforcement proceeding; (2) the Comptroller’s determinations are subject to review by the Supreme Court; and (3) in this case, the Comptroller is directed to recalculate the compensation owed to Phillips under section 103.052(1)(2) of the Act. View "In re Phillips" on Justia Law
Sullivan v. Abraham
Plaintiff sued Defendant for defamation. The trial court dismissed the suit under the Texas Citizens Participation Act, which provides for the award of attorney’s fees and expenses, as well as sanctions “sufficient to deter” future similar actions. The trial court granted a portion of the attorney’s fees and expenses requested by Defendant but declined to award sanctions. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees and expenses but remanded for the trial court to reconsider its decision to deny sanctions. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the courts below used the wrong standard in determining the attorney’s fees portion of the award. Remanded to the trial court for its determination of “reasonable attorney’s fees” under the appropriate standard. View "Sullivan v. Abraham" on Justia Law
Greer v. Abraham
Plaintiff, a public official, sued Defendants, a politically oriented blog and its executive director, for libel. The trial court dismissed the action under the Texas Citizens Participation Act, concluding that Plaintiff had not met his burden of proving that Defendant published the alleged falsehood with “actual malice.” Plaintiff appealed, arguing that actual malice was not an element of his claim because his status in relation to the defamation was more that of a private individual than a public official. The court of appeals agreed with Plaintiff and reversed the judgment. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that actual malice was an element of Plaintiff’s defamation claim. Remanded. View "Greer v. Abraham" on Justia Law
TV Azteca, S.A.B. de C.V. v. Ruiz
Petitioners in this case were Mexican citizens who broadcast television programs on over-the-air signals that originated in Mexico but traveled into parts of Texas. Respondents were residents of Texas who alleged that Petitioners defamed them in some of those television programs. Petitioners filed special appearances challenging the trial court’s jurisdiction over them. The trial court denied the special appearances. In an interlocutory appeal, the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the evidence supported the trial court’s conclusion that Petitioners had minimum contacts with Texas and that the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction over Petitioners will not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. View "TV Azteca, S.A.B. de C.V. v. Ruiz" on Justia Law
Sloan v. Law Office of Oscar C. Gonzalez, Inc.
Plaintiff sued Defendants, attorneys Eric Turton and Oscar Gonzalez and the Law Office of Oscar C. Gonzalez, alleging that they misappropriated $75,000 in trust funds that Turton received after settling a case on Plaintiff’s behalf. The jury found that all three defendants were engaged in a joint enterprise and a joint venture with respect to Plaintiff’s case and committed various torts in relation to Plaintiff. In response to a proportionate-responsibility question, the jury assigned forty percent to Turton, thirty percent to Gonzalez, and thirty percent to the Law Office. The trial court entered judgment holding all three defendants jointly and severally liable for actual damages, pre-judgment interest, additional Texas Deceptive Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act damages, and attorney’s fees. Gonzalez and the Law Office appealed. The court of appeals concluded that Plaintiff could only recover for professional negligence, which amounted to $77,500 in actual damages. The court’s opinion did not address the jury’s proportionate-responsibility findings but nonetheless applied those findings in its judgment, ordering Gonzalez and the Law Firm to each pay Sloan $23,250. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals erred by failing to address the sufficiency of the evidence of a joint enterprise or joint venture or the legal implications of those findings. Remanded. View "Sloan v. Law Office of Oscar C. Gonzalez, Inc." on Justia Law