Most Viewed Decisions

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District

Eddington v. Dallas Police and Fire Pension System, 05-15-00839-CV (TexApp Dist 12/13/2016)

At issue is whether certain recent amendments to the pension plan of appellees violated section 66 of article XVI of the Texas Constitution. Section 66 prohibits, in certain circumstances the reduction or impairment of "benefits" under certain retirement systems in Texas, including the pension system. The instant lawsuit was filed by several current and retired police officers, seeking declaratory relief respecting the constitutionality of the pension plan amendments. In four issues on appeal, appellants challenged the accelerated withdrawal requirements denying their ability to benefit from the plan's interest rate. The court affirmed holding the term "benefits" as used in §66 referred to payments and did not encompass the formula by which those payments were calculated. As such, the court stated the formula used for calculating retirement income, including interest rate, was not a protected benefit under §66. Based on such conclusion, the court held the withdrawal provision did not reduce or impair a benefit protected by §66 and the trial court did not err in concluding the pension plan amendments did not violate §66. Eddington v. Dallas Police and Fire Pension System, Dallas Court of Appeals, Case No.: 05-15-00839-CV, 12/13/2016

05-15-00839-CV
DOUGLAS S. LANG JUSTICE

Supreme Court of Texas

Oncor Electric Delivery Company, LLC v. Public Utility Commission of Texas, 15-0005 (TexApp Dist 01/06/2017)

On January 1, 2002, respondents implemented a competitive retail market for electricity in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Each incumbent, vertically integrated electric utility within the market was required to "unbundle" its business activities into three separate units: a power generation company, a transmission and distribution utility ("TDU"), and a retail electric provider ("REP"). Of the three, only the TDUs continued to be regulated by the respondents. In this case, several parties to a TDU ratemaking proceeding sought judicial review of respondent's order. Only three issues remained to be determined by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held that PURA §36.351, which required electric utilities to discount charges for service provided to state college and university facilities did not apply to TDUs because they provided service to REPs' customers. Secondly, the former PURA §36.060(a), which required an electric utility's income taxes to be computed as though it had filed a consolidated return with a group of its affiliates eligible to do so under federal tax law, did not require a utility to adopt a corporate structure so as to be part of the group. Finally, the Supreme Court held the evidence established that franchise charges negotiated by the TDU with various municipalities were reasonable and necessary operating expenses under PURA §33.008. As such, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals in part. Oncor Electric Delivery Company, LLC v. Public Utility Commission of Texas, Supreme Court, Case No.: 15-0005, 01/06/2017

15-0005
PAUL W. GREEN JUSTICE

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

Candelaria Garcia v. State Farm Lloyds, 04-16-00209-CV (4th COA. 12/14/2016)

Appellant Candelaria Garcia sued State Farm and adjuster Sylvia Garza for breach of contract in a dispute about a claim for wind and hail damage. Garza's initial estimate was less than appellant's $1,760 deductible. After the suit was filed, the parties agreed to an appraisal that found damages of more than $6,000, and State Farm sent payment for the amount less appellant's deductible. Appellant amended her suit to set aside the appraisal award, State Farm moved for summary judgment, and the court granted it. On appeal, appellant argued State Farm's grounds for dismissal – that it paid appellant what she was due – did not address her original claim. The appeals court found that State Farm's motion, though addressed at appellant's amended petition, was broad enough to encompass the initial claim, and that it successfully established its defense that estoppel barred all of appellant's claims based on payment of the appraisal award. The court also held appellant did not present facts to support her initial breach of contract claim. The court brushed aside her argument that State Farm breached the contract by failing to cover certain items in its initial estimate that were later included in the appraisal, saying that argument "has been rejected by numerous courts." The court affirmed the trial court's judgment. Candelaria Garcia v. State Farm Lloyds, San Antonio Court of Appeals, Case No. 04-16-00209-CV, 12/14/16.

04-16-00209-CV
SANDEE BRYAN MARION, CHIEF JUSTICE

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eighth District

Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center v. Victor Tabi Enoh, M.D., 08-15-00257-CV (TexApp Dist 12/14/2016)

Doctors at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center declined to certify resident Dr. Victor Enoh for his final year of class credit in the center's residency program. The school claimed the decision was based on Dr. Enoh's misuse of a school-issued credit card and on Dr. Enoh lying to take a sick day. Dr. Enoh, alleging this action came in response to his reporting a supervisor's weeklong absence, appealed the decision at a hearing. When the appeal was denied, he sued the school, the supervisor, and one other program official on due-process grounds. Defendants filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which the trial court granted in part and denied in part. Defendants appealed, raising four issues: 1) Dr. Enoh had no liberty or property interest in the completion of the program; 2) Even if Dr. Enoh could establish an interest, the school afforded the process he was due; 3) Dr. Enoh did not assert a ultra vires claim against the named doctors to overcome sovereign immunity; and 4) Dr. Enoh's claim for declaratory relief was based upon premises that were barred. The appeals court did not reach a decision as to the first count, but agreed with appellants on the second count that even if Dr. Enoh could establish an interest he was granted sufficient process via his hearing. The court found that the decision was grounded in a student-teacher relationship and was made on academic grounds, requiring less process than an employee-employer relationship and disciplinary grounds. However, the court also found that the hearing, and the notification for it, would pass the higher level of process required for a disciplinary dismissal. The court also held that Dr. Enoh had no available ultra vires exception, in large part because the named doctors properly granted him due process. Lastly, the court held that Texas Tech is protected by sovereign immunity and is not a proper party to Dr. Enoh's claim for declaratory relief. The court rendered judgment dismissing the case. Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center v. Victor Tabi Enoh, M.D., El Paso Court of Appeals, No. 08-15-00257-CV, 12/14/16.

08-15-00257-CV
ANN CRAWFORD MCCLURE, CHIEF JUSTICE

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eighth District

In Re Midland Funding LLC, 08-16-00275-CV (TexApp Dist 12/20/2016)

Relator Midland Funding sued one of its customers over an unpaid credit card balance. The parties settled the case, and Midland's attorney did not show up in court on the day of the bench trial. The court began contempt proceedings, and although Midland filed a notice of non-suit the next day, the court set a status hearing on the underlying case. When Midland's lawyer did not appear at that hearing, the court set a show-cause hearing, and Midland sought mandamus relief to compel the court to enforce the non-suit notice. The appeals court found that a plaintiff has an "unqualified and absolute right to file a non-suit" (Travelers Ins. Co. v. Joachim, 315 S.W. 3d 860; Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 162) and the court has a ministerial duty to dismiss the case. The court also found that a trial court retains plenary power under Rule 162 even after notice of the non-suit, until resolving collateral issues such as sanctions, but that the merits of the case are moot from the time of notice and the present case had no collateral issues. Thus, the court found the trial court had a ministerial duty to dismiss the case, and granted conditional mandamus relief. In Re Midland Funding LLC, El Paso Court of Appeals, 08-16-00275-CV, 12/20/16.

08-16-00275-CV
YVONNE T. RODRIGUEZ, JUSTICE

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

Westport Oil & Gas Company, L.P. v. Mecom, 04-15-00714-CV (4th COA. 12/14/2016)

This was an oil and gas lease construction case; its disposition turned on the relationship between the royalty and gas purchase agreement paragraphs. Appellees, the royalty owners, sued appellants alleging underpayment of royalties. The trial court construed the lease to determine the applicable royalty. It calculated the royalty owed based on the gas purchase agreement's formula for calculating the minimum sales price, rather than the royalty paragraph's express provision that the gas royalty owed was a percentage of the market value at the well. Having reviewed the lease and the applicable law, the court concluded the proper construction was that the royalty owed was a percentage of the market value at the well. The court stated that the lease was unambiguous, its royalty and gas purchase agreement paragraphs had independent purposes, and the paragraph's minimum gas sales price formula did not alter the gas royalty paragraph based on the market value of the well. Thus, the trial court erred when it denied appellant's motion for a directed verdict. Accordingly, the court reversed the portion of the trial court's judgment on the breach of contract claim for underpaid royalties, declaratory judgment actions and attorney's fees claims; rendered a take-nothing judgment for appellant against the appellees; and affirmed the remainder of the judgment. Westport Oil & Gas Company, L.P. v. Mecom, San Antonio Court of Appeals, Case No.: 04-15-00714-CV, 12/14/2016

04-15-00714-CV
Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

Delek Reining, Limited v. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, 15-60443 (5th Cir. 12/29/2016)

Petitioner purchased an oil refinery in Tyler, Texas from Crown Central. After the transfer of ownership, respondents conducted an inspection and issued a citation for violations of its process safety management rules, which governed an employer's responsibility to inspect, and to develop inspection and recording regimes for, machinery that handled large volumes of hazardous chemicals. The court concluded that the citations for Items 4 and 12, which related to the process hazard analysis and compliance audits, were barred by the six-month statute of limitations in 29 U.S.C. §658(c) and vacated the citations for those items. The court disagreed with applying a "continuing violations theory" as it would conflict with the basic purpose of a statutory limitations period. However, the court concluded that the regulations relevant to the citation for Item 8 for failure to inspect a piece of equipment was ambiguous and the secretary's interpretation was reasonable, it affirmed the citation for Item 8. The court concluded that respondents reasonably determined that the equipment was part of the overall "process" and was therefore covered by 29 C.F.R. §1910.119(b) given it served an important function to prevent the flow of hazardous chemicals or vapors. Delek Reining, Limited v. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, Fifth Circuit, Case No.: 15-60443, 12/29/2016

15-60443
JENNIFER WALKER ELROD CIRCUIT JUDGE

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

Trimble v. Federal National Mortgage Association, 01-15-00921-CV (TexApp Dist 12/20/2016)

Appellee purchased real property sold at a foreclosure sale after the original owners of the property, who subsequently assigned their rights to appellant, defaulted on their mortgage. After the owners refused to vacate the property, appellee filed a forcible detainer action to remove them. The trial court issued an order granting summary judgment for appellee and granting a writ of possession of the property. There are at least two rights at issue when a mortgagee defaults on his financial obligations: a right to title to the property and a right to possession. The justice court's determination "of possession in a forcible detainer action is a determination only of the right to immediate possession of the premises[.]" Appellee needed to demonstrate a superior right to immediate possession by establishing that: (1) it has a landlord-tenant relationship with the borrower; (3) it purchased the property at foreclosure; (3) it gave proper notice to the occupants to vacate; and (4) the occupants refused to vacate. Appellant challenged the first and third elements on appeal. Here, a deed of trust between the parties created a landlord-tenant relationship between the purchaser at the foreclosure and appellant. Further, appellee mailed notice to appellant via both certified mail with return receipt requested and first-class mail, both notices were properly address and there was no evidence that the first-class-mail envelope was not delivered to the premises. Accordingly, appellee satisfied that it had superior right to the property and the trial court's judgment was affirmed. Trimble v. Federal National Mortgage Association, Houston 1st Court of Appeals, Case No.: 01-15-00921-CV, 12/20/2016

01-15-00921-CV
HARVEY BROWN JUSTICE

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eighth District

County of El Paso, Self-Insured, v. Mary Orozco, 08-15-00079-CV (TexApp Dist 12/21/2016)

El Paso County Sheriff's Sgt. Ruben Orozco died in a car accident while driving a marked patrol car. He was in uniform but was returning home from an extra-duty assignment for the University of Texas at El Paso. His wife, Mary Orozco, filed a claim for death benefits from appellant El Paso County under the Texas Workers' Compensation Act . Mary argued, with the sheriff's support, that Ruben was acting within the course and scope of his employment, because he was in uniform in a marked car and could enforce traffic laws at any time, and because his position was on-call 24 hours a day. The county denied the claim in its role as self-insurer; the Texas Department of Insurance held at a hearing that he was in the course and scope of employment because he was "performing patrol functions"; and the department's Appeals Panel reversed the ruling on the grounds that Sheriff's Office policy did not specifically allow officers to drive a patrol car home. Mary filed suit and both she and the county filed motions for summary judgment, with the trial court granting Mary's. The county appealed. The appeals court laid out a the process to determine whether an employee is acting in the course and scope of employment while traveling to or from work: 1) determine whether the activity both originates in the employer's work and furthers the employer's affairs, in which case it is in the course and scope of employment; 2) check the two exclusions in Tex. Lab. Code § 401.011(2) to see if either applies; 3) check for exceptions to the exclusions. The appeals court found that police officers can work in furtherance of their employer's affairs while commuting – providing an example of pursuing a disabled vehicle – but that Sgt. Orozco was not. It therefore did not reach the second and third steps of the test. The court reversed the trial court's ruling and rendered judgment, granting the county's motion for summary judgment. County of El Paso, Self-Insured, v. Mary Orozco, El Paso Court of Appeals, No. 08-15-00079-CV, 12/21/16.

08-15-00079-CV
ANN CRAWFORD MCCLURE, CHIEF JUSTICE

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth

Carmel Financial Corp., Inc, v. Julian Castro, 14-15-00478-CV (TexApp Dist 12/29/2016)

Appellant Carmel Financial Corporation sued Julian Castro in his capacity as Housing and Urban Development secretary for a declaratory judgment enforcing what it believed was a priority lien on a foreclosed property. Appellant had financed the sale and installation of a water treatment system that was affixed to the home with a purchase-money security interest, which was properly perfected. The homeowner later defaulted on the mortgage payments and payments to appellant; HUD eventually gained possession of the property and sold it, at which point appellant sued. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment and the trial court granted Castro's. Appellant argued on appeal that its security interest created a super-priority lien on not only the fixture but also the real property to which it was attached. It relied on Tex. Bus. & Com. Code § 9.334(d) and § 9.604(b), which provides in relevant part that "if a security agreement covers goods that are or become fixtures, a secured party may proceed … in accordance with the rights with respect to real property." However, the court found that for this provision to take effect, the fixture filing must describe the collateral that the creditor may claim (Crow-Southland Joint Venture No. 1 v. N. Fort Worth Bank, 838 S.W.2d 720), so that third parties have notice (Villa v. Alvarado State Bank, 611 S.W.2d 483) – and it found that appellant contracted only to create an interest in the treatment system, not the real property. "Neither section 9.334(d) nor section 9.604(b)(2) operates independently to create a security interest in real property that the underlying security agreement did not authorize. These provisions address mechanisms for pursuing the security interest that the creditor and debtor agreed to create," the court stated. The appeals court affirmed the trial court's judgment dismissing the case. Carmel Financial Corp., Inc, v. Julian Castro, Houston 14th Court of Appeals, Case No. 14-15-00478-CV, 12/29/16.

14-15-00478-CV
WILLIAM J. BOYCE JUSTICE