Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Texas

by
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

by
In 1994, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Marriage and Family Therapists (the Therapists Board) adopted a rule listing specific therapeutic services that licensed marriage and family therapists (MFTs) may provide. As relevant to this appeal, the rule permits MFTs to provide “diagnostic assessment…to help individuals identify their emotional, mental, and behavioral problems.” In 2008, the Texas Medical Association filed suit against the Board seeking a declaratory judgment that the rule was invalid because it grants MFTs authority that the Texas Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists Act does not grant and that the Texas Medical Practice Act reserves for medical licensees. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Medical Association. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Texas Occupations Code authorizes MFTs to provide diagnostic assessments, and therefore, the diagnostic-assessment rule is valid. View "Texas State Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists v. Texas Medical Ass’n" on Justia Law

by
Denbury Green Pipeline-Texas, LLC was formed to build and operate a carbon dioxide pipeline known as “the Green Line” as a common carrier in Texas. Denbury Green filed a permit application with the Texas Railroad Commission to obtain common carrier status, which would give it eminent domain authority pursuant to the Texas Natural Resources Code. The Railroad Commission granted Denbury Green the permit. Denbury Green then filed suit against Texas Rice Land Partners, Ltd., James Holland, and David Holland (collectively, Texas Rice) seeking an injunction allowing access to certain real property so that it could complete a pipeline survey. While the suit was pending, Denbury Green took possession of Texas Rice’s property and then surveyed for and constructed the Green Line. The trial court granted summary judgment to Denbury Green. On remand, the court of appeals reversed, concluding that reasonable minds could differ regarding whether, at the time Denbury Green intended to build the Green Line, a reasonable probability existed that the Green Line would serve the public. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Denbury Green is a common carrier as a matter of law because there was a reasonable probability that, at some point after construction, the Green Line would serve the public, as it does currently. View "Denbury Green Pipeline-Texas, LLC v. Texas Rice Land Partners, Ltd." on Justia Law

by
In 2002, the Public Utilities Regulatory Act (PURA) 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 separate units, including a transmission and distribution utility (TDU). Of the units, only TDUs continued to be regulated by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Here, several parties to a TDU ratemaking proceeding sought judicial review of the PUC’s order. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals, holding (1) PURA section 36.351, which requires electric electric utilities to discount charges for service provided to state college and university facilities, does not apply to TDUs; (2) former PURA section 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; and (3) the evidence in this matter established that franchise charges negotiated by the TDU with various municipalities were reasonable and necessary operating expenses under PURA section 33.008. View "Oncor Electric Delivery Co. v. Public Utility Commission of Texas" on Justia Law

by
Southwest Royalties, Inc, an oil and gas exploration company, filed a tax refund claim with the Comptroller asserting that its purchases of casing, tubing, other well equipment, and associated services were exempt from sales taxes under a statutory exemption. The Comptroller denied relief. In response, Southwest sued the Comptroller and the Attorney General. After a bench trial, the trial court rendered judgment for the State, concluding that Southwest failed to meet its burden of proving the exemption applied. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Southwest was not entitled an exemption from paying sales taxes on purchases of the equipment. View "Southwest Royalties, Inc. v. Hegar" on Justia Law

by
Bonnie Jones was injured during the course of her employment. Her employer’s comp carrier, American Home Assurance Company, paid her various benefits but did not pay her supplemental income benefits (SIBs) for the fourteenth quarter of 2011. Jones sued, and the parties settled. Under the Texas workers’ compensation regime, where SIBs are concerned, settlements cannot bypass a statutory formula or facilitate benefits were none were due as a matter of law. In this case, the settlement was noncompliant. The trial court approved the proposed settlement, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a court cannot condone a noncompliant settlement regarding an SIBs award. View "Tex. Dep’t of Ins., Div. of Workers’ Comp. v. Jones" on Justia Law

by
Michael and Laura McIntyre, along with their children that were homeschooled, were criminally charged with contributing to truancy and failure to attend school. The McIntyres sued the District and its attendance officer, alleging that Defendants violated the McIntyres’ rights under both the Texas Constitution and United States Constitution. The District filed pleas, exceptions, and motions arguing that the McIntyres failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. The attendance officer invoked qualified immunity. The trial court denied relief. The court of appeals reversed in part and (1) dismissed the McIntyres’ state-law claims against the District and its attendance officer for the McIntyres’ failure to “exhaust their administrative remedies, and (2) dismissed the federal-law claims against the attendance officer based on qualified immunity. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals to the extent it dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims based on qualified immunity; but (2) reversed the judgment insofar as it dismissed the McIntyres’ claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, holding the Texas Education Code does not require administrative appeals when a person is allegedly aggrieved by violations of laws other than the state’s school laws, such as the state and federal Constitutions. View "McIntyre v. El Paso Indep. Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs, about 400 homeowners whose homes were located in the upper White Oak Bayou watershed of Harris County, filed suit against the County, asserting a takings cause of action. Plaintiffs claim that the flooding of their homes was caused by the County’s approval of “unmitigated” upstream development, combined with a failure to fully implement the Pate Plan, a flood-control plan. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's denial of the County's motion for summary judgment. The court concluded that, assuming all disputed facts in favor of the homeowners, the record is clear that the County never harbored a desire to cause flooding anywhere. In this case, assuming that a cause of the flooding was the affirmative act of approving private development, there indisputably were other causes: heavy rainfall, and, according to the homeowners themselves, the failure to fully implement the flood-control measures of the Pate Plan. The court concluded that the confluence of these circumstances does not give rise to a takings claim. Accordingly, the court reversed and rendered judgment dismissing the case. View "Harris Cnty. Flood Control Dist. v. Kerr" on Justia Law

by
The Texas Optometry Act prohibits commercial retailers of ophthalmic goods from attempting to control the practice of optometry; authorizes the Optometry Board and the Attorney General to sue a violator for a civil penalty; and provides that “[a] person injured as a result of a violation . . . is entitled to the remedies. In 1992, Wal-Mart opened “Vision Centers” in its Texas retail stores, selling ophthalmic goods. Wal-Mart leased office space to optometrists. A typical lease required the optometrist to keep the office open at least 45 hours per week or pay liquidated damages. In 1995, the Board advised Wal-Mart that the requirement violated the Act. Wal-Mart dropped the requirement and changed its lease form, allowing the optometrist to insert hours of operation. In 1998, the Board opined that any commercial lease referencing an optometrist’s hours violated the Act; in 2003, the Board notified Wal-Mart that it violated the Act by informing optometrists that customers were requesting longer hours. Optometrists sued, alleging that during lease negotiations, Wal-Mart indicated what hours they should include in the lease and that they were pressured to work longer hours. They did not claim actual harm. A jury awarded civil penalties and attorney fees. The Fifth Circuit certified the question of whether such civil penalties, when sought by a private person, are exemplary damages limited by the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Chapter 41. The Texas Supreme Court responded in the affirmative, noting that “the certified questions assume, perhaps incorrectly, that the Act authorizes recovery of civil penalties by a private person, rather than only by the Board or the Attorney General.” View "Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Forte" on Justia Law

by
Shortly after the City of Houston enacted a drainage-free ordinance, Houston Belt & Terminal Railway, BNSF Railway, and Union Pacific Railway (collectively, the Railroads) received notices of proposed charges for their properties in Houston. Daniel Krueger, the City’s Director of Public Works and Engineering, determined that the properties were “benefitted” and thus subject to drainage charges and determined that the Railroads should pay roughly $3 million based on their benefitted properties’ “impervious surface” area. The Railroads filed suit against the City and Krueger in his official capacity, alleging ultra vires claims against Krueger and seeking prospective injunctive relief. The trial court sustained the City’s plea to the jurisdiction as to the Railroads’ ultra vires claims based on governmental immunity. The court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, concluding that the Railroads pleaded a viable ultra vires claim challenging Krueger’s determination that their properties were benefitted but that the railroads’ challenge to Krueger’s “impervious surface” determination did not fall within the ultra vires exception. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the Railroads’ pleadings affirmatively alleged that Krueger acted “without legal authority” in both his “benefitted property” and “impervious surface” determinations, and thus the pleadings alleged viable ultra claims as to each. View "Houston Belt & Terminal Ry. Co. v. City of Houston" on Justia Law