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Castillo v. Brownsville-Valley Reg'l Medical Center, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi - Edinburg

December 19, 2013


On appeal from the 357th District Court of Cameron County, Texas.

FOR THE APPELLANT: David Van Os, Attorney at Law, Austin, TX.

FOR THE APPELLEE: Nancy L. Patterso, Morgan, Lewis & Bocklus LLP, Houston, TX.

Before Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Rodriguez and Garza. Opinion by Justice Rodriguez.


Page 264


Appellants Ramiro Castillo, Rogelio Garza Jr., Stephanie V. Gonzalez, Brenda Saenz, Lynda Valdez, Cleofe Vasquez, and Juan M. Vela challenge the trial court's granting of appellee Brownsville-Valley Regional Medical Center's (the Hospital) plea

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to the jurisdiction on appellants' claims under the Texas Occupations Code, Texas Health and Safety Code, and Texas Administrative Code. By one issue, appellants argue that the trial court erred in granting the Hospital's plea because the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA or the Act)--under which both appellants and the Hospital had claims pending before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or the Board) in connection with the same events giving rise to this case--does not pre-empt appellants' state law claims. We affirm.

I. Background

In their petition, appellants alleged the following facts:

26. On April 3, 2011, Plaintiff Gonzalez was serving as Charge Nurse [in the Hospital's Intensive Care Unit (ICU)]. She was called away from ICU on a rapid response code to assist with a patient in a medical-surgical unit. After providing the necessary assistance to the other unit, Plaintiff Gonzalez returned to ICU to attend to her duties as Charge Nurse and for her own patients.
27. Due to Plaintiff Gonzalez being away from ICU for the rapid response code, one of her ICU patients received scheduled medication approximately one hour late, through no fault of Plaintiff Gonzalez['s].
28. A nurse in the other unit asked Plaintiff Gonzalez to remain away from ICU longer in order to accompany the patient to a CT scan. By that point in time the rapid-response patient had stabilized and Plaintiff Gonzalez was not urgently needed to accompany the patient to the CT scan. Plaintiff Gonzalez, having already been away from ICU for a dangerous period of time, thus declined to accompany the patient to the CT scan . . . .
30. . . . [The Hospital] issued Plaintiff Gonzalez a disciplinary warning for declining the request of the nurse in the other department to accompany the patient to a CT scan and instead returning to ICU . . . .
31. By imposing the above described disciplinary action on Plaintiff Gonzalez, [the Hospital] effectuated a drastic change in hospital policy. Never before had [the Hospital] imposed disciplinary action against an ICU nurse over the nurse's exercise of reasonable judgment in dealing with impossibly contradictory responsibilities arising from a rapid response code. This change in policy meant than an ICU nurse serving as Charge Nurse would not have the right to use the nurse's own judgment as to when it was appropriate to return to the nurse's critical duties in ICU from a rapid response situation. This change in policy meant, therefore, that an ICU nurse in such a situation would be forced to make an unreasonable choice between unethically leaving her critical ICU duties unattended and thus jeopardizing her nursing license, or declining to remain away from ICU and thus immediately jeopardizing her employment.

Appellants alleged that the foregoing was precipitated by the Hospital's failure to " implement and enforce a written nurse staffing policy that ensures an adequate number and skill mix of nurses are available to meet the highly acute level of patient care needed in ICU." Appellants alleged that the Hospital's nurse staffing policy: is " inadequate for the proper and safe care for acute care patients" ; is " not based on multiple nurse and patient considerations" ; is " not in accordance with evidence-based safe nursing standards" ; " does not include a method for adjusting the staffing plan to provide flexibility to

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meet patient needs" ; and " does not include a contingency plan when patient care needs unexpectedly exceed direct patient care staff resources." Appellants also alleged that the Hospital failed " to provide for a Charge Nurse in its ICU nurse staffing plan," instead rotating " Charge Nurse assignments among the Registered Nurses [RNs] in the ICU." As a result of this failure, in particular, appellants alleged that the rotating ICU charge nurse was responsible for his or her charge nurse duties, a full load of ICU patients, and responding to rapid response codes in other parts of the hospital. Appellants allege that this policy is different from the charge nurse policies in ...

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