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At a Glance:
Title:
Texas Mutual Insurance Company v. Chicas
Date:
April 5, 2019
Citation:
593 S.W.3d 284
Court:
Texas Supreme Court
Status:
Published Opinion

Texas Mutual Insurance Company v. Chicas

Supreme Court of Texas.

TEXAS MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Petitioner,

v.

Bertila CHICAS, Individually and as Beneficiary of Santiago Chicas, Deceased, Respondent

No. 17-0501

|

Argued January 22, 2019

|

OPINION DELIVERED: April 5, 2019

*285 ON PETITION FOR REVIEW FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIRST DISTRICT OF TEXAS

Attorneys & Firms

Dale Wainright, Scott K. Arnold, Arnold & Placek, P.C, Round Rock, for Petitioners.

Terry Bryant, Terry Bryant PLLC, Houston, for Respondents.

Robert D. Stokes, Flahive, Ogden & Latson, P.C., Austin, for Amicus Curiae.

Opinion

Justice Brown delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case we consider whether the 45-day deadline to seek judicial review of a decision by a Division of Workers’ Compensation appeals panel is jurisdictional. The trial court granted a defendant’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed a judicial-review claim that had been filed after the 45-day deadline. The court of appeals reversed, holding that while the 45-day deadline is mandatory, it is not jurisdictional. For the reasons below, we agree with the court of appeals and affirm.

I

On March 17, 2012, Santiago Chicas was doing yard work at the home of Peyton Waters, Jr., when he fell from a ladder and sustained fatal injuries. Waters was the majority owner of Spartan Equipment and Supply, Inc., where Santiago was employed. Santiago’s wife, Bertila Chicas (Chicas), sought workers’ compensation benefits from Spartan Equipment’s insurer, Texas Mutual Insurance Company. After Texas Mutual disputed the claim, Chicas initiated administrative proceedings to resolve the issue at the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation.

During the administrative proceedings, a hearing officer concluded after a contested-case hearing that Santiago was not an employee of Spartan Equipment at the time of his injury and therefore his injury was not compensable. Chicas appealed the hearing officer’s determinations to an appeals panel. On January 5, 2015, the Division notified Chicas that after review by the panel, the hearing officer’s decision and order was final. The notice also stated, consistent with on which the Division of Workers’ Compensation mailed the parties the decision.”

Meanwhile, while the administrative proceedings were still pending, Chicas had filed a wrongful-death suit in probate court against Spartan Equipment and others. On February 4, 2015, well within the 45-day deadline to seek review of the appeals-panel decision, Chicas amended her probate-court pleadings to add Texas Mutual as a defendant, seeking judicial review of the administrative decision. Six months later, Texas Mutual filed a plea to the jurisdiction and argued that the probate court could not exercise jurisdiction over a judicial review that had no relationship to the *286 administration of an estate. The probate court granted Texas Mutual’s plea.

Twelve days after the probate court dismissed her claims, Chicas again filed suit against Texas Mutual but in district court, “seek[ing] judicial review of the Appeals Panel Decision.” Texas Mutual filed another plea to the jurisdiction, asserting (1) that the 45-day deadline to seek judicial review of an appeals-panel decision is jurisdictional and (2) because Chicas filed suit in the district court after the deadline had passed, that court lacked jurisdiction. The district court granted Texas Mutual’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed Chicas’s claims against it in their entirety.

Chicas appealed. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the 45-day deadline for filing judicial-review claims in Univ. of Tex. Sw. Med. Ctr. at Dall. v. Loutzenhiser, 140 S.W.3d 351, 359 (Tex. 2004) ).

II

A

The parties agree the 45-day deadline to seek judicial review of an appeals-panel decision is mandatory, but “just because a statutory requirement is mandatory does not mean that compliance with it is jurisdictional.” Morales v. Emp’rs Cas. Co., 897 S.W.2d 866, 868 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1995, writ denied).

But in Id.

*287 Following Id. at 310.

As the court of appeals in this case noted, after Dubai to determine whether they are jurisdictional).

Turning to the statutory requirement in this case, we presume the Legislature did not intend the 45-day filing deadline to be jurisdictional, but “[t]o determine whether a statutory requirement is jurisdictional, we apply statutory interpretation principles.” Helena Chem. Co. v. Wilkins, 47 S.W.3d 486, 495 (Tex. 2001) ). Looking to the statutory language, it provides:

Time for Filing Petition; Venue

(a) A party may seek judicial review by filing suit not later than the 45th day after the date on which the division mailed the party the decision of the appeals panel. For purposes of this section, the mailing date is considered to be the fifth day after the date the decision of the appeals panel was filed with the division.

(b) The party bringing suit to appeal the decision must file a petition with the appropriate court in:

(1) the county where the employee resided at the time of the injury or death, if the employee is deceased ....

TEX. LAB. CODE § 410.252.

We agree with the court of appeals that there is no explicit language in this statute that indicates the Legislature clearly intended the 45-day deadline in subsection (a) to be jurisdictional—it does not refer to the trial court’s jurisdiction in any way. But cf. id. at 394.

Texas Mutual also points to (d) of section 410.252 to support its claim that the filing deadline is jurisdictional. Those subsections provide:

(c) If a suit under this section is filed in a county other than the county described by Subsection (b), the court, on determining that it does not have jurisdiction to render judgment on the merits of the suit, shall transfer the case to a proper court in a county described by Subsection (b). Notice of the transfer of a suit shall be given to the parties. A suit transferred under this subsection shall be considered for all purposes the same as if originally *289 filed in the court to which it is transferred.

(d) If a suit is initially filed within the 45-day period in Subsection (a), and is transferred under Subsection (c), the suit is considered to be timely filed in the court to which it is transferred.

TEX. LAB. CODE § 410.252. Texas Mutual relies on the language providing that if a suit is filed in the wrong county, the court “on determining that it does not have jurisdiction to render judgment ... shall transfer the case to a proper court” to claim that such a court does not have jurisdiction over the case. It notes that the Legislature conferred limited jurisdiction on those courts only to transfer to the proper county, but chose not to include a similar savings clause for an untimely filing. This, Texas Mutual argues, shows an intent that the filing deadline be considered jurisdictional.

Again, we disagree. In Morales v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 241 S.W.3d 514, 516 n.1 (Tex. 2007), we noted that although the Legislature provided in subsection (c) that when suit is filed in the wrong county the court may determine that it “does not have jurisdiction,” the Legislature clearly did not mean subject-matter jurisdiction because it provided for transfer as a remedy rather than dismissal. If the Legislature did not intend for the requirement regarding where suit is to be filed to be jurisdictional, we do not see clear legislative intent for the requirement regarding when suit is to be filed to be jurisdictional.

Further, the lack of a savings clause in State v. $ 435,000, 842 S.W.2d 642, 644 (Tex. 1992) ) ).

We next consider the purpose of the statute. Texas Mutual points to the purposes of the Workers’ Compensation Act—to provide prompt resolution of disputes and payment of benefits and “speed up the time for the entire dispute resolution process.” See City of DeSoto, 288 S.W.3d at 393 (noting that consequences may flow from a party’s failure to comply with a non-jurisdictional requirement when timely asserted).

Next, we consider the consequences that result from each construction. If the 45-day deadline is jurisdictional, this would leave final judgments vulnerable to attack on the ground that the deadline was not met. “It is preferable to ‘avoid a result that leaves the decisions and judgments of [a tribunal] in limbo and subject to future attack, unless that was the Legislature’s clear intent.’ ” (d). The Legislature anticipated these potential delays in final compensability decisions and the deadline not being jurisdictional does not alter them.

In addition to the above factors, Texas Mutual also urges us to consider “whether the statute defines and restricts the class of cases a district court may hear.” This factor was addressed in Helena Chem., 47 S.W.3d at 495).

Finally, Texas Mutual also claims that the deadline is jurisdictional because it is an integral element of the Legislature’s carefully crafted workers’ compensation dispute-resolution system. We have consistently recognized the workers’ compensation system as a “comprehensive statutory scheme.” Loutzenhiser, 140 S.W.3d at 359) ).

We conclude that the 45-day deadline to seek review from an appeals-panel decision in DeVore v. Am. Mfr.’s Mut. Ins. Co., No. 01-07-00495-CV, 2008 WL 2611886, at *2–3 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] June 27, 2008, no pet.) (mem. op.). To the extent these cases conflict with our holding in this case, we overrule them.

B

Next, Texas Mutual asserts that the court of appeals incorrectly held that the filing deadline in City of DeSoto, 288 S.W.3d at 393 (noting that consequences may flow from a party’s failure to comply with a non-jurisdictional requirement).

* * *

The 45-day deadline to file suit for judicial review of an appeals-panel decision in section 410.252(a) of the Labor Code is not jurisdictional. Accordingly, the trial court erred in granting Texas Mutual’s plea to the jurisdiction based on Chicas’s failure to file suit in district court by the deadline. We affirm the judgment of the court of appeals and remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Justice Busby did not participate in the decision.

End of Document
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