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Wiley v. American Zurich Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

January 16, 2014

WILLIS FLOYD WILEY, Appellant
v.
AMERICAN ZURICH INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellee

On Appeal from the 113th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 2012-68770

Panel consists of Chief Justice Radack and Justices Bland and Huddle.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Sherry Radack, Chief Justice

Appellant Willis Floyd Wiley appeals from the trial court's dismissal of his claims against Appellee American Zurich Insurance Company. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

Following the compensable work-related death of Lee Otis Ryans, Wiley sought death benefits from Ryans's employer's worker's compensation insurer, American Zurich. At the conclusion of a Contested Case hearing, the Texas Department of Insurance Division of Workers' Compensation Hearing Officer entered a November 30, 2010 order concluding that "Willis Floyd Wiley is not a proper legal beneficiary of Lee Ryans, Decedent, and is not entitled to death benefits." The Appeals' Panel rejected Wiley's challenge to that order, and notice was issued that the Hearing Officer's Decision and Order became final on February 28, 2011. The notice also stated, "If you are not satisfied with this decision and desire to have the dispute resolved in court, then you must file a lawsuit in the appropriate court."

On March 28, 2011, Wiley sued American Zurich in federal district court alleging civil rights violations. On October 12, 2011, the federal court dismissed Wiley's federal claims with prejudice and his state claims without prejudice.

More than a year later, on November 20, 2012, Wiley sued American Zurich in state court under numerous statutory and constitutional theories, all related to American's Zurich's denying him death beneficiary status. American Zurich answered and filed a Plea to the Jurisdiction, arguing that the lawsuit challenging the administrative beneficiary determination was untimely and, thus, the trial court lacked jurisdiction. Following a hearing, the trial court dismissed Wiley's suit, and Wiley timely filed this appeal.

JURISDICTION

In his sole issue on appeal, Wiley argues that the trial court erred by dismissing his claims for lack of jurisdiction.

A. Applicable Law

Whether a court has subject-matter jurisdiction is a question of law reviewed de novo. Texas Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 226 (Tex. 2004).

Judicial review of "a final decision of the appeals panel regarding compensability or eligibility for or the amount of income or death benefits" is provided for, and governed, by the Chapter 410 of the Texas Labor Code. Tex. Lab. Code Ann. § 410.301(a) (Vernon 2006); see also id. § 410.251 (providing for judicial review of appeals panel's decisions if administrative remedies are exhausted). Chapter 410 also provides the deadline for seeking such review,

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 ...

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