KEITH M. HILL, Appellant
TEXAS WORKFORCE COMMISSION AND CLEAR CREEK INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, Appellees
Appeal from the 10th District Court Galveston County, Texas
Trial Court Cause No. 16-CV-0418
consists of Chief Justice Frost and Justices Boyce and
unemployment-benefits dispute, the trial court dismissed on
jurisdictional grounds a lawsuit filed by appellant Keith M.
Hill. A former Clear Creek Independent School District
("CCISD") employee, Hill challenged the Texas
Workforce Commission's denial of unemployment benefits.
Hill asserts on appeal the trial court erred in granting the
plea to the jurisdiction filed by the Texas Workforce
Commission ("TWC") and CCISD. In two issues, Hill
contends that (1) TWC's alleged delay in mailing its
final decision denying him benefits extended the time for him
to seek judicial review, rendering his petition timely filed
or, alternatively, (2) the filing date of his petition
"is subject to equitable tolling" because of the
"inconsistent" positions taken by TWC.
we conclude that Hill's petition was not timely filed and
equitable tolling did not confer subject matter jurisdiction
on the trial court, we affirm the trial court's dismissal
filed a claim for unemployment benefits with TWC after he
resigned from CCISD. After investigating his claim, TWC
determined that Hill was disqualified from receiving
benefits. TWC affirmed this decision through its
administrative process. TWC mailed its final decision to Hill
on March 7, 2016. TWC stamped the front of the decision with
the mailing date and included a document detailing the
relevant deadlines applicable to judicial review, should Hill
desire to challenge the decision. Hill received the final
decision on March 11, 2016.
filed suit seeking judicial review of TWC's final
decision on April 8, 2016. Hill served TWC via certified
mail. Although the citation arrived at TWC, TWC personnel
failed to route the petition to the proper TWC
representatives for defense of the suit. Thus, neither TWC
nor CCISD filed a responsive pleading to Hill's suit, and
Hill moved for default judgment against them, which the trial
court granted. When TWC discovered the default judgment, it
filed a motion for new trial in October 2016. In October 2016,
the trial court vacated the default judgment and granted a
filed a plea to the jurisdiction. As grounds for its plea,
TWC argued that Hill failed to timely file his petition by
the statutory filing deadline of April 4, 2016, and thus the
trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction due to
sovereign immunity. Hill filed a response, asserting that
TWC's "entire system of receiving and sending
mail" had been called into question based on TWC's
motion for new trial, in which TWC asserted that its staff
failed to route Hill's petition to the proper agency
personnel. Hill also urged that TWC was estopped from
challenging his petition's timeliness because TWC had
"consented to suit by not responding in a timely manner
and allowing the suit to default."
replied to Hill's response, providing an affidavit from
TWC program supervisor Mary Hernandez. Hernandez averred that
she directly supervises and monitors the staff who prepare
TWC decisions for mailing. She stated that "it is the
normal procedure for the mailroom to mail the decision on the
same day as the date stamped on the decision." Hernandez
declared that, if a decision is not mailed on that date, the
mailroom notifies her of any mailing delays, and that she had
not been notified of any mail delays for decisions issued in
trial court heard the plea to the jurisdiction by submission
in December 2016. The trial court granted the plea and
dismissed Hill's case for want of jurisdiction. This
appeal timely followed.
of Review and Governing Law
jurisdictional facts are not in dispute, we review de novo
the legal question whether the trial court has subject matter
jurisdiction. Tex. Workforce Comm'n v. Smith,
No. 14-11-00003-CV, 2011 WL 4507077, at *1 (Tex. App.-
Houston [14th Dist.] Sept. 29, 2011, no pet.) (mem. op.)
(citing Tex. Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v.
Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 226 (Tex. 2004)). A district
court lacks jurisdiction to review a TWC decision when the
plaintiff fails to file a petition during the legislatively
mandated timeframe. See id. at *2 (citing Heart
Hosp. IV, L.P. v. King, 116 S.W.3d 831, 835 (Tex.
App.-Austin 2003, pet. denied) and Kelley v. Tex.
Workforce Comm'n, No. 01-05-001109-CV, 2006 WL
3804444, at *2 (Tex. App.- Houston [1st Dist.] Dec. 28, 2006,
pet. denied) (mem. op.)); see also Tex. Gov't
Code § 311.034 ("Statutory prerequisites to suit,
including the provision of notice, are jurisdictional
requirements in all suits against a governmental
entity."); Prairie View A & M Univ. v.
Chatha, 381 S.W.3d 500, 511 (Tex. 2012) (same).
seeking judicial review of a TWC decision must file suit not
later than fourteen days after the TWC decision becomes
final. Tex. Lab. Code § 212.201(a). Absent exceptions
not applicable in this case, a TWC decision becomes final
fourteen days after the date the decision is mailed to the
claimant. Tex. Lab. Code § 212.153 (stating that, unless
TWC reopens the appeal or a party to the appeal files a
written motion for rehearing, a ...