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Valadez v. Stockdale TX SNF Management, LLC

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

April 4, 2018

Juanita VALADEZ and Melissa Miller, Appellants
v.
STOCKDALE TX SNF MANAGEMENT, LLC d/b/a Stockdale Residence and Rehabilitation Center and d/b/a Stockdale TX SNF Realty, LLC, Appellee

          From the 218th Judicial District Court, Wilson County, Texas Trial Court No. 16-02-0102-CVW Honorable Donna S. Rayes, Judge Presiding

          Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice, Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice, Irene Rios, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice

         REVERSED AND REMANDED

         Juanita Valadez and Melissa Miller sued Stockdale TX SNF Management, LLC d/b/a Stockdale Residence and Rehabilitation Center and d/b/a Stockdale TX SNF Realty, LLC, a nursing home facility, for retaliatory discharge. Valadez and Miller appeal a summary judgment granted in favor of Stockdale asserting the summary judgment evidence raised genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment. We reverse the trial court's judgment and remand the cause for further proceedings.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Valadez and Miller were terminated by Stockdale after another employee reported they were verbally abusive to Roberta, [1] a resident of the nursing home. Valadez and Miller sued Stockdale for retaliatory discharge alleging they were terminated for reporting Roberta was a danger to other residents and needed to be moved from the nursing home. The termination occurred approximately one week after Miller had Roberta removed from the nursing home on an emergency detention order. Miller sought the emergency detention order after Roberta threatened to stab another resident with a butter knife.

         Stockdale filed a motion for a traditional and no-evidence summary judgment which the trial court granted. Valadez and Miller appeal.

         Standard of Review

         We review a trial court's order granting summary judgment de novo. Cmty. Health Sys. Prof'l Servs. Corp. v. Hansen, 525 S.W.3d 671, 680 (Tex. 2017). 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 Hansen, 525 S.W.3d at 681. "A [no evidence] motion for summary judgment must be granted if: (1) the moving party asserts that there is no evidence of one or more specified elements of a claim or defense on which the adverse party would have the burden of proof at trial; and (2) the respondent [fails to produce more than a scintilla of] summary judgment evidence raising a genuine issue of material fact on those elements." Sudan v. Sudan, 199 S.W.3d 291, 292 (Tex. 2006) (per curiam); see also King Ranch, Inc. v. Chapman, 118 S.W.3d 742, 751 (Tex. 2003)("More than a scintilla of evidence exists when the evidence rises to a level that would enable reasonable and fair-minded people to differ in their conclusions.") (internal quotation omitted).

         Whether reviewing a traditional or no-evidence summary judgment, we consider all the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and resolve any doubts in the nonmovant's favor. See Joe v. Two Thirty Nine Joint Venture, 145 S.W.3d 150, 157 (Tex. 2004). "[W]hen the motion asserts both no-evidence and traditional grounds, we first review the no-evidence grounds." Hansen, 525 S.W.3d at 680.

         Discussion

         Valadez and Miller sued Stockdale for retaliatory discharge under section 260A.014(b) of the Texas Health and Safety Code. In order to establish a claim under section 260A.014(b), Valadez and Miller were required to prove: (1) they were employees of a facility; (2) they reported a violation of the law or initiated or cooperated in an investigation at the facility by a governmental entity relating to the care, services, or conditions at the facility; (3) the report was made to the employee's supervisor, an administrator of the facility, a state regulatory agency, or a law enforcement agency; (4) the report was made in good faith; and (5) they were suspended, terminated, disciplined or otherwise discriminated against for reporting the violation or for initiating or cooperating in the investigation. See Loyds of Dall. Enters., LLC v. Jennings, No. 05-15-00670-CV, 2016 WL 718573, at *2 (Tex. App.-Dallas Feb. 23, 2016, no pet.) (mem. op.); Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 260A.014(b) (West 2017).[2]

          The only element of Valadez's and Miller's claim Stockdale challenged in its summary judgment motion was whether Valadez and Miller reported a violation of the law or initiated or cooperated in an investigation or proceeding of a governmental entity relating to the care, services, or conditions at the facility.[3] In their brief, Valadez and Miller assert they reported a violation of section 242.501 of the Texas Health and Safety Code by reporting Roberta was a danger to other residents. For purposes of Section 260A.014(b), a violation of the law includes a violation of Chapter 242 or a rule adopted under Chapter 242. Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 260A.014(b). Section 242.501 of the Code requires the executive commissioner of the Health and Human Services Commission to adopt a statement of a nursing home resident's rights which must, at a minimum, address the resident's right to be free from abuse and to be safe. Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 242.501(a)(1)-(2); see also 40 Tex. Admin. Code § 19.601(b) ("The resident has the right to be free from verbal, sexual, physical and mental abuse."); Capps v. Nexion Health at Southwood, Inc., 349 S.W.3d 849, 862 (Tex. App.-Tyler 2011, no pet.) (citing violation of 40 Tex. Admin. Code ยง 19.601(b) as a violation of the law supporting a retaliatory discharge claim). Reporting that a nursing home resident is a danger to other residents is considered a report of a violation of Chapter 242 and the rules adopted ...


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