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Fuentes v. Texas Mutual Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

November 1, 2017

Melissa FUENTES, Individually, and as Next Friend of Victor Robert Fuentes and Isabella Elaine Fuentes, Minors, Appellant
v.
TEXAS MUTUAL INSURANCE CO., Appellee

         From the 112th Judicial District Court, Sutton County, Texas Trial Court No. 5910 Honorable Pedro Gomez, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice Irene Rios, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          IRENE RIOS, JUSTICE

         In the underlying proceedings, Melissa Fuentes filed a death benefits claim arising from the death of her husband, Robert Estrada. Texas Mutual Insurance Company denied the claim, and Fuentes sought administrative review by the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers' Compensation ("DWC"). After both the DWC contested case hearing officer and the DWC appeals panel agreed with Texas Mutual, Fuentes sought judicial review in district court. At trial, Fuentes and Texas Mutual filed competing motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted Texas Mutual's motion, denied Fuentes's motion, and Fuentes now appeals. The dispositive issue in the proceedings below and on appeal is whether Estrada was in the course and scope of his employment when he was killed in an automobile accident while driving from his home to his employer's office. We affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         The parties filed the following stipulated facts in the trial court. Bryant Electric, Inc. employed Estrada on the date of the fatal accident. Texas Mutual provided workers' compensation insurance coverage to Bryant Electric. Estrada lived in Sonora, Texas; and Bryant Electric's office is located in San Angelo, Texas. Bryant Electric hired Estrada to work at its jobsite located at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. In addition to an hourly wage, Bryant Electric paid Estrada a $75 per week stipend. Bryant Electric did not require or maintain records on how its employees spent their stipends.

         Estrada worked as a foreman, and his job duties included laying out the day's work, overseeing his crew, answering questions, scheduling material deliveries, tracking employee time, and submitting crew timesheets to Bryant Electric. Bryant Electric allowed Estrada to submit the timesheets in one of three ways: (1) by use of a fax machine located at Goodfellow, (2) give them to Dial Ortiz, another Bryant Electric employee, who made daily trips between the office and Goodfellow, or (3) hand deliver the sheets to an inbox at Bryant Electric's office. Bryant Electric ran its payroll every Thursday morning.

         Estrada's usual route to work was to drive north on U.S. Highway 277 from his house to Bryant Electric's office or past the offices directly to Goodfellow. On the morning of Thursday, November 1, 2012, Estrada left his house, and was travelling on Highway 277 when an oncoming vehicle struck Estrada's vehicle head-on, resulting in Estrada's death. The accident occurred between Estrada's residence and about one mile south of Bryant Electric's office.

         Fuentes later filed a workers' compensation claim seeking death benefits as Estrada's surviving common-law wife. After Texas Mutual denied the claim, Fuentes initiated a contested case proceeding before the DWC. The sole issue before the DWC hearing officer was whether Estrada "sustain[ed] a compensable injury on November 1, 2012, resulting in his death." The hearing officer entered the following findings of fact: Estrada's "transportation to the office and to the worksite was not furnished or paid for by his employer"; his "travel to the office or to the worksite from his home was not pursuant to an express or implied requirement of his employment contract"; at the time of his fatal injury, Estrada "was not directed by his employer to proceed from one place to another (from his home to the company office or to the worksite) and was not on a special mission of the employer"; and Estrada "did not sustain his fatal injury while in the course and scope of his employment with his employer." The hearing officer concluded Estrada "did not sustain a compensable injury on November 1, 2012, resulting in his death." Therefore, the hearing officer ordered that Texas Mutual was not liable for benefits. Fuentes then requested review by the DWC appeals panel, which affirmed the hearing officer's decision.

         Fuentes subsequently sought judicial review in district court, and the parties filed competing motions for summary judgment. In her motion for summary judgment, Fuentes argued that, at the time of his death, Estrada was furthering Bryant Electric's affairs, Estrada's work originated in Bryant Electric's business, and Bryant Electric paid for Estrada's transportation to and from work. In its motion for summary judgment, Texas Mutual argued Estrada's travel to work did not originate in Bryant Electric's business, and the "coming-and-going" rule precluded recovery for Estrada's death during his commute to work. Texas Mutual also argued Fuentes did not raise the "paid transportation" argument before the DWC; therefore, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to consider that argument. The trial court granted Texas Mutual's motion for summary judgment and denied Fuentes's motion for summary judgment.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         We apply the same standards of review to appeals from workers' compensation panel decisions as we do to appeals in other civil cases. Safford v. Cigna Ins. Co. of Tex., 983 S.W.2d 317, 319 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 1998, pet. denied). We review a trial court's granting of a summary judgment de novo. Valence Operating Co. v. Dorsett, 164 S.W.3d 656, 661 (Tex. 2005). When, as here, both parties move for summary judgment on the same issues and the trial court grants one motion and denies the other, we review both parties' summary judgment evidence and determine all questions presented. Id.; FM Props. Operating Co. v. City of Austin, 22 S.W.3d 868, 872 (Tex. 2000). To prevail on a traditional motion for summary judgment, the movant must show "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the [movant] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Tex.R.Civ.P. 166a(c); see also Diversicare Gen. Partner, Inc. v. Rubio, 185 S.W.3d 842, 846 (Tex. 2005).[1] Each party bears the burden of establishing it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. City of Santa Fe v. Boudreaux, 256 S.W.3d 819, 822 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist.] 2008, no pet.). In reviewing a traditional summary judgment, we take as true all evidence favorable to the non-movant, indulging every reasonable inference and resolving any doubts in the non-movant's favor. Joe v. Two Thirty Nine Joint Venture, 145 S.W.3d 150, 157 (Tex. 2004).

         If we determine the trial court erred, we render the judgment the trial court should have rendered. Valence Operating, 164 S.W.3d at 661; FM Props., 22 S.W.3d at 872. If, as here, the trial court's order does not specify the grounds for its summary judgment ruling, we affirm the summary judgment if any of the theories presented to the trial court and preserved for appellate review are meritorious. See Provident Life & Accident Ins. Co. v. Knott, 128 S.W.3d 211, 216 (Tex. 2003).

         LIABILITY FOR COMPENSATION

         "An insurance carrier is liable for compensation for an employee's injury without regard to fault or negligence if: (1) at the time of injury, the employee is subject to this subtitle; and (2) the injury arises out of and in the course and scope of employment." Tex. Labor Code Ann. § 406.031(a) (West 2015); see also Tex. Labor Code ยง 401.011(10) ("'Compensable injury' means an injury that arises out of and in the course and scope of employment for which ...


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