Your FREE and easy resource for all things Texas workers' compensation
At a Glance:
Wilmer Hutchins Independent School Dist. v. Sullivan
June 21, 2001
51 S.W.3d 293
Texas Supreme Court
Published Opinion

Wilmer Hutchins Independent School Dist. v. Sullivan

Supreme Court of Texas.



Joyce E. SULLIVAN, Respondent.

No. 00–0847.


June 21, 2001.

Attorneys & Firms

*293 Eric W. Schulze, Walsh Anderson Brown Schulze & Aldridge, Austin, for Petitioner.

John E. Wall, Jr., Law Offices of John E. Wall, Jr., Dallas, for Respondent.



The issue here is whether the trial court has jurisdiction over this suit for retaliatory discharge despite the plaintiff’s failure to exhaust her administrative remedies when the defendant did not tell her such remedies existed. The trial court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction and dismissed the case. The court of appeals reversed and remanded, holding that jurisdiction must be determined solely on the plaintiff’s pleadings. 47 S.W.3d 529 (Tex.App.—Dallas 2000). We agree with the trial court.

Joyce Sullivan received workers’ compensation benefits for an injury she sustained while working as a custodian for the Wilmer Hutchins Independent School District. Ten months later, when her physician released her to return to work, the District told her that she had been terminated as part of a reduction in personnel for budget reasons. Believing that she had been terminated for filing a compensation claim, she contacted the District’s attorney, who told Sullivan that she could not help her. The attorney did not inform Sullivan of the District’s grievance procedures or suggest that she seek legal counsel.

Sullivan sued the District for retaliatory discharge. The District filed a plea to the jurisdiction on the ground that Sullivan had not exhausted her administrative remedies. The trial court sustained the plea and dismissed the case. The court of appeals reversed and remanded, holding that *294 Sullivan’s pleading that she had exhausted her administrative remedies was conclusive, despite unchallenged evidence to the contrary, absent an allegation by the District that the pleading was fraudulently made to confer jurisdiction on the court when none existed. 47 S.W.3d at 532.

The court of appeals based its holding on its prior decision in Bland ISD, but she contends that the court of appeals’ decision to reverse the dismissal of the case was correct.

Sullivan admits that she did not exhaust her administrative remedies and acknowledges that exhaustion of remedies is a prerequisite to the trial court’s jurisdiction in a case like this involving disputed fact issues. See Mission Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Diserens, 144 Tex. 107, 188 S.W.2d 568, 570 (Tex.1945). But she argues that the District should be estopped from asserting a lack of jurisdiction by its attorney’s conduct.

As a general rule, a court cannot acquire subject-matter jurisdiction by estoppel. Id. at 359.

In Id. at 690.

In Id.

Sullivan does not attempt to distinguish Daniel, Washington, and Janik but argues simply that they were wrongly decided. We disagree. A party cannot by *295 his own conduct confer jurisdiction on a court when none exists otherwise. Even if the District misled Sullivan as she claims, her failure to exhaust her administrative remedies is fatal to her action.

Accordingly, the Court grants the District’s petition for review and, without hearing oral argument, reverses the judgment of the court of appeals and dismisses the case for want of jurisdiction. TEX.R.APP.P. 59.1.

End of Document