Your FREE and easy resource for all things Texas workers' compensation
At a Glance:
Title:
University of Texas System v. Thomas
Date:
March 26, 2015
Citation:
464 S.W.3d 754
Court:
1st COA – Houston
Status:
Published Opinion

University of Texas System v. Thomas

Court of Appeals of Texas, Houston (1st Dist.).

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SYSTEM, Appellant

v.

Letitia THOMAS, Appellee

NO. 01–14–00244–CV

|

Opinion issued March 26, 2015

*755 On Appeal from the 10th District Court, Galveston County, Texas, Trial Court Case No. 12–CV–0982

Attorneys & Firms

Lisa V. Cubriel, Sandra Salas Horne, Assistant Attorney General, Austin, TX, for Appellant.

Richard Pena, Law Offices of Richard Pena, Austin, TX, for Appellee.

Panel consists of Justices Brown.

OPINION

Evelyn V. Keyes, Justice

In this workers’ compensation case, the University of Texas System (“UT”) sought judicial review of an order from the Texas Department of Insurance—Division of Workers’ Compensation (“the Division”) finding that Letitia Thomas, an employee of the University of Texas Medical Branch (“UTMB”), suffered a compensable injury on July 22, 2011. The parties stipulated to the underlying facts and filed cross-motions for summary judgment, disputing whether Thomas’s injury occurred during the course and scope of her employment. The trial court denied UT’s summary judgment motion and granted Thomas’s summary judgment motion. In two issues, UT contends that the trial court erred by (1) denying its motion for summary judgment, and (2) granting Thomas’s summary judgment motion. Thomas moves to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, contending that the trial court’s judgment is void because UT failed to send a statutorily-required proposed judgment to the Division before the trial court entered judgment.

We dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Background

The parties stipulated to the underlying facts relevant to Thomas’s injury.

UTMB employed Thomas as a customer service representative, which involved, among other duties, scheduling medical appointments for inmates. Her position did not require her to drive or park automobiles.

On the morning of July 22, 2011, Thomas parked her car in a parking lot owned and controlled by UTMB at 4th Street and Winnie Street in Galveston. Only employees, patients, and visitors of UTMB could *756 park in this parking lot, and because Thomas was an employee of UTMB, she could park there for free. Thomas was not required to park in this particular parking lot. UTMB owned multiple lots in the area at which Thomas could park for free, and she could also park in lots not owned or operated by UTMB, although she would have had to pay to park in those lots.

After parking her car, Thomas boarded a shuttle bus to take her to the building where she worked. The shuttle bus was owned, operated, and maintained by the City of Galveston, d/b/a Island Transit, which had executed an interlocal agreement with UTMB to provide free transportation to UTMB employees from the parking lot “only to locations on UTMB’s campus.” UTMB did not own, operate, or maintain the shuttle bus. Thomas, as a UTMB employee, was able to ride the shuttle bus for free “to get to and from her work location” even if she did not park in a UTMB-owned parking lot.

After picking up Thomas, the shuttle bus traveled approximately 1.7 miles along public streets to a bus stop in front of the John Sealy Towers. Thomas worked in a building located several hundred yards away from the bus stop. Before she stepped off of the shuttle bus, Thomas slipped and fell on the stairs located inside the front of the bus. At the time she fell, Thomas was not yet on UTMB’s premises, she had not yet “clocked in” to begin work for the day, she “had not yet arrived at her duty station,” and she “was not engaged in any work duties.” Thomas stayed on the shuttle bus and returned to her car at one of the UTMB employee parking lots. Thomas ultimately had surgery on her left leg after the incident.

Thomas and UT, which provides workers’ compensation insurance for UTMB, engaged in an administrative dispute before the Division concerning whether Thomas had sustained a compensable injury as defined by the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act (“the Act”). After a contested case hearing, a Division hearing officer determined that Thomas was in the course and scope of her employment at the time of her injury and ordered UT to pay benefits to Thomas. UT sought judicial review of the Division’s determination in the district court. In the district court, Thomas asserted a counterclaim for attorney’s fees pursuant to Labor Code section 408.221(c).

UT and Thomas filed cross motions for summary judgment solely on the legal question of whether Thomas sustained a compensable injury. UT argued that because Thomas’s injury occurred while she was traveling to work, her injury did not originate in UTMB’s business and therefore did not fall within the statutory definition of “course and scope of employment,” which is required for an injury to be compensable. UT argued that UTMB did not require Thomas to use its free parking lots or the shuttle bus, UTMB did not own or operate the shuttle bus, and Thomas was not performing any job duties while on the shuttle bus. It argued that Thomas’s injuries “did not relate to or originate in and occur in the furtherance of UTMB’s business,” as required in order to occur in the “course and scope of employment.”

Thomas, in her summary judgment motion, argued that her travel to work, under the circumstances of this case, fell within the definition of “course and scope of employment” because UTMB provided free parking and free use of the shuttle bus on which her injury occurred.

The trial court issued an order denying UT’s summary judgment motion and granting Thomas’s summary judgment motion. This appeal followed.

*757 Appellate Jurisdiction

In her appellate brief, Thomas argues that this Court lacks jurisdiction over this appeal for two reasons: (1) the trial court’s summary judgment order did not address her counterclaim against UT for attorney’s fees and costs, and thus the order was not a final and appealable judgment, and (2) UT did not submit a proposed final judgment to the Division for review pursuant to Labor Code section 410.258, and, therefore, the trial court’s judgment is void.

A. Attorney’s Fees

UT is a “self-insured state institution.” Ochoa, 413 S.W.3d at 774.

We therefore conclude that, pursuant to Davis, 315 S.W.3d at 153 (noting that sovereign immunity from suit defeats trial court’s subject matter jurisdiction).

B. Proposed Judgment to Division

Thomas also argues that this Court lacks appellate jurisdiction because UT did not submit a proposed final judgment to the Division pursuant to Labor Code section 410.258 prior to the trial court’s signing of the summary judgment order.

Section 410.258(a) provides:

The party who initiated a proceeding under this subchapter [providing for judicial review of Division determinations] or Subchapter G must file any proposed judgment or settlement made by the parties to the proceeding, including a proposed default judgment, with the division not later than the 30th day before the date on which the court is scheduled to enter the judgment or approve the settlement. The proposed judgment or *758 settlement must be mailed to the division by certified mail, return receipt requested.

Id. § 410.258(f).

The intermediate courts of appeals are split on the issue of whether the failure of a party to file a proposed judgment with the Division in a summary judgment proceeding renders the ultimate trial court judgment void.

In section 410.258 applies only to judgments resulting from defaults or parties’ agreements or settlements.”).

In Id. at 848.

This Court followed the El Paso Court of Appeals in Id.

In Brooks, 269 S.W.3d at 651.

This Court, however, reaffirmed section 410.258 or the trial court’s judgment is void.

Here, UT, as the party that filed the suit for judicial review of the Division’s administrative decision in the district court, is “[t]he party who initiated a proceeding” pursuant to Johnson v. Ventling, 132 S.W.3d 173, 179 (Tex.App.–Corpus Christi 2004, no pet.) (“We may declare the judgment void and dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.... Our jurisdiction extends no further than that of the court from which the appeal is taken.”).

Conclusion

We dismiss the appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction.

Footnotes

1

In Id. at 13. Here, the trial court’s order granting Thomas’s summary judgment motion and denying UT’s motion does not show that UT had given notice of the proposed judgment to the Division prior to its entry.

End of Document
Top