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McAllen Hospitals, L.P. v. Lopez

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

April 27, 2017

MCALLEN HOSPITALS, L.P. D/B/A MCALLEN MEDICAL CENTER AND SOUTH TEXAS HEALTH SYSTEMS, Appellants,
v.
YOLANDA LOPEZ, SHERYL HAMER, ELMER DE GUZMAN AND RICHARD WECKER, Appellees.

         On appeal from the County Court at Law No. 8 of Hidalgo County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Rodriguez and Benavides.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROGELIO VALDEZ Chief Justice.

         Appellants, McAllen Hospitals, L.P. d/b/a McAllen Medical Center and South Texas Health Systems (the "Hospital"), appeals from a verdict in favor of appellees, Yolanda Lopez, Sheryl Hamer, Elmer De Guzman, and Richard Wecker (the "Nurses"). By four issues, the Hospital contends that employee evaluations were not contracts, the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the jury's answers to questions one and two, and evidence of the Nurses' status as exempt employees was inadmissible. We affirm.

         I. Background

         The Nurses are former and current employees of the Hospital and were classified as "exempt" employees. The Hospital's various policies explained the rights of exempt and nonexempt employees. The Nurses assert that each year they met with their supervisors to discuss a written evaluation, which also provided the amount of their yearly salaries for the previous year and for the upcoming year. It is undisputed that the Nurses were paid hourly. The Nurses argued "that in light of all the surrounding circumstances (the representations made to them orally and through the evaluation forms, their statuses as exempt employees, the handbook, the Hospital's policies, and the course of dealing between the parties) an implied contract existed, whereby the Hospital agreed to pay [the Nurses] a fixed amount of pay per year." The jury agreed with the Nurses and awarded them the difference between the amounts paid and the amounts quoted in the evaluations. This appeal followed.

         II. Express Contract

         By its first issue, the Hospital contends that the Nurses sued for breach of an express agreement relying on the evaluations and/or the handbook and neither constitutes a contract as a matter of fact or law.[1] We disagree with the Hospital's interpretation of the Nurses' allegations. The Nurses argued at trial that there was an implicit agreement for the Hospital to pay them a fixed amount as opposed to an hourly amount of pay and relied on the evaluations and handbook to support that theory. Question one of the charge asked: "Did the [Nurses] and the [Hospital] agree that the [Nurses] would receive a fixed amount of pay?"[2] (Emphasis added). The jury answered "Yes" for each of the Nurses. The charge, however, did not mention the evaluations or the handbook. We conclude that the jury found that there was an implied promise based on the evidence presented. Therefore, because the jury did not find that the evaluations or handbook constituted a contract, we overrule the Hospital's first issue.

         III. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         By its second issue, the Hospital contends that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the jury's finding that the Hospital agreed to pay the Nurses a fixed amount. The Hospital claims that whether an implied contract exists is a question of law reviewed de novo. However, the Hospital cites no authority, and we find none, supporting such a claim. Instead, whether an implied contract exists is a question of fact, which requires making inferences from circumstantial evidence regarding mutual assent. See Double Diamond, Inc. v. Hilco Elec. Coop., Inc., 127 S.W.3d 260, 267 (Tex. App.-Waco 2003, no pet.); see also Domingo v. Mitchell, 257 S.W.3d 34, 40 (Tex. App-Amarillo 2008, pet. denied). Accordingly, we will not perform a de novo review.

         A. Standard of Review

         In a legal sufficiency review, we review the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, crediting any favorable evidence if a reasonable fact-finder could and disregarding any contrary evidence unless a reasonable fact-finder could not. City of Keller v. Wilson, 168 S.W.3d 802, 821-22 (Tex. 2005). The test for legal sufficiency is "whether the evidence at trial would enable reasonable and fair-minded people to reach the verdict under review." Id. at 827. In a factual sufficiency review, we examine all of the evidence in the record and if the finding is so against the great weight of the evidence as to be clearly wrong and unjust, we will reverse. Ortiz v. Jones, 917 S.W.2d 770, 772 (Tex. 1996) (per curiam).

         B. Discussion

         First, it appears that the Hospital challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting mutual intent to contract. See Houston Med. Testing Servs., Inc. v. Mintzer, 417 S.W.3d 691, 698 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2013, no pet.) ("[A]n implied-in-fact contract 'arises from the acts and conduct of the parties, it being implied from the facts and circumstances that there was a mutual intention to contract.'"). The jury heard the following relevant evidence: (1) the evaluations identified the salaries as annual salaries; (2) the evaluations did not state that the Nurses needed to work a minimum number of hours to earn the stated salaries; (3) the evaluations showed that the Nurses were exempt employees; (4) the evaluations were executed by the Nurses' supervisors and the salaries were approved by the Human Resources Department; (5) the employee handbook stated that exempt employees only clocked in to "record [their] presence each day, " while nonexempt (hourly) employees had to clock in and out to demonstrate the hours worked; (6) the employee handbook provided that nonexempt employees were paid extra if they worked through their meal breaks while exempt employees, were not; (7) the employee handbook provided that nonexempt employees were entitled to overtime pay while exempt employees were not; (8) the employee handbook provided that nonexempt employees were entitled to "callback pay" while exempt employees were not; (9) the Hospital's document entitled HR.1022C stated that exempt employees were paid for performance of a job, and were not paid for the hours worked while nonexempt employees were paid for the hours actually worked; ...


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