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SJ Medical Center, L.L.C. v. Estahbanati

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District, Houston

December 17, 2013

SJ MEDICAL CENTER, L.L.C. d/b/a St. Joseph Medical Center, Appellant
v.
Jason ESTAHBANATI and Mentewab Osman, Individually and as Next Friends, Natural Parents, and Legal Guardians of Jayden Osman, a Minor, Appellees.

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Warren Szutse Huang, Robert J. Swift, Houston, for appellant.

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Alexander Klein, III, Houston, for appellees.

Panel consists of FROST Chief Justice and JAMISON, and DONOVAN Justices.

OPINION

KEM THOMPSON FROST, Chief Justice.

When a boy was asked how many legs his calf would have if he called its tail a leg, the boy replied, " five." The correct answer is " four" because calling the tail a leg does not make it a leg.[1]

A Texas limited liability company seeks to appeal from an interlocutory order under section 51.014(a) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. In the context of this case, for the company to be able to do so, it must be a " hospital district management contractor." The term is defined in section 285.071 of the Texas Health and Safety Code. Under the unambiguous wording of this statutory definition, a " hospital district management contractor" must be " a nonprofit corporation, partnership, or sole proprietorship." The appellant concedes it is a limited liability company but argues that it should be treated as a partnership under this statute because it is treated as a partnership for the purpose of calculating its tax liability.

A tail is not a leg, and a limited liability company is not a partnership. Just as calling a tail a leg does not make the tail a leg, calling a limited liability company a partnership for tax purposes does not make it a partnership. No statute provides that limited liability companies may be treated as partnerships under section 285.071 of the Texas Health and Safety Code. Because a limited liability company does not fall within the ordinary meaning of " a nonprofit corporation, partnership, or sole proprietorship," this type of entity may not be a " hospital district management contractor" under this statute. The limited liability company in today's case is not a " hospital district management contractor." Because there is no basis for appellate jurisdiction if the company is not such a contractor, we dismiss this appeal.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Appellees/plaintiffs Jason Estahbanati and Mentewab Osman, individually and as next friends, natural parents, and legal guardians of Jayden Osman, a minor, (hereinafter the " Osman Parties" ) filed suit, asserting negligence claims against appellant/defendant SJ Medical Center, L.L.C. d/b/a St. Joseph Medical Center (hereinafter, the " Medical Center" ) and other defendants. The Medical Center filed a plea to the jurisdiction, alleging that governmental immunity bars the Osman Parties' claims against it. The Medical Center is not a governmental entity that ordinarily would be entitled to governmental immunity. Nonetheless, the Medical Center argued that under section 285.072 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, entitled " Liability of a Hospital District Management Contractor," the Medical Center enjoys governmental immunity. See Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 285.072 (West 2013). Under this statute, a " hospital district management contractor" in its management or operation of a hospital under a contract with a hospital district is considered a governmental unit for purposes of the Texas Tort Claims Act. See id. A " hospital district management contractor" must be a " nonprofit corporation, partnership, or sole proprietorship." See

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Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 285.071 (West 2013). Though the Medical Center is, and was at the time of the occurrence made the basis of this suit, a Texas limited liability company, the Medical Center asserted in the trial court that it should be treated as a partnership in determining whether it is a " hospital district management contractor" because it is treated as a partnership for federal-income-tax and state-franchise-tax purposes.

The trial court denied the plea to the jurisdiction, and the Medical Center filed this appeal, asserting that this court has appellate jurisdiction over the trial court's interlocutory order under section 51.014(a)(8) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem.Code § 51.014(a) (West 2013).

II. ANALYSIS

The Medical Center asserts that it is a " hospital district management contractor" that should be treated as a governmental unit under section 285.072 of the Texas Health and Safety Code. The Osman Parties assert that the Medical Center is not a " hospital district management contractor." They also argue that this court lacks jurisdiction over this appeal from a statutory-probate-court order because the order is interlocutory and because the applicable version of section 51.014(a)(8) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code does not authorize interlocutory appeals from statutory-probate-court orders.[2] Even absent any jurisdictional challenge by the Osman Parties, this court is obligated to review sua sponte issues affecting its appellate jurisdiction. See M.O. Dental Lab. v. Rape,139 S.W.3d 671, 673 (Tex.2004). If the Medical Center is not a " hospital district management contractor," as the Osman Parties assert, then there is an issue as to whether this appeal falls within the scope of section 51.014(a)(8) of the Texas Civil Practice ...


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