Date: February 7, 2018
Petition for Review from the Court of Appeals for the Eighth
District of Texas
Jeffrey S. Boyd, Justice
question in this case is whether the Texas Public Utility
Regulatory Act grants the Texas Public Utility Commission
(the PUC) exclusive jurisdiction to resolve issues underlying
a customer's claim that a PUC-regulated utility breached
a contract by failing to timely provide electricity services.
We hold that it does, so we reverse the court of appeals'
judgment and render judgment dismissing this case without
2007, Chaparral Energy, LLC, requested that Oncor Electric
Delivery Co. provide electricity to two wells Chaparral had
recently drilled in Loving County. Oncor agreed, although it
would have to construct new facilities to deliver electricity
from its existing facilities to a "tie-in" point
from which Chaparral could construct facilities to transmit
the electricity to the wells. Oncor allegedly represented
that it could complete its work within about ninety days,
possibly even sooner. In late September 2007, Oncor delivered
a proposed written agreement (the Service Agreement) to
Chaparral. The Service Agreement required Chaparral to pay
$22, 327 as its share of Oncor's costs to construct the
new facilities. The agreement provided that "the start
date of this project will be no earlier than two weeks
preceding the execution of this agreement" and that
Oncor would provide a "more definitive installation
schedule" upon Chaparral's delivery of the executed
agreement and required payment. Chaparral delivered the
signed Service Agreement and the $22, 327 payment to Oncor by
the end of November.
never provided Chaparral a "more definitive installation
schedule." Several weeks later, when Chaparral inquired
about the project's status, Oncor explained that it was
having difficulty obtaining easements it needed to construct
the new facilities across privately owned land. Chaparral
alleges that these representations were false and that Oncor
did not even attempt to obtain all of the necessary easements
until several months later. In any event, Oncor did not
obtain the easements until December 2008. According to
Chaparral, Oncor then finished constructing the new
facilities in two days. Meanwhile, Chaparral allegedly spent
over $300, 000 to rent generators and purchase diesel fuel to
provide the necessary power to the wells.
sued Oncor in district court for breach of contract, seeking
actual damages, additional damages, interest, attorney's
fees, expenses, taxable costs, "and any further legal or
equitable relief to which Chaparral may be entitled."
Chaparral alleged that "Oncor did not cooperate in good
faith to fulfill its duties and obligations" under the
Service Agreement, that "Oncor did not use reasonable
diligence, nor did Oncor act in a manner consistent with good
business practices, reliability, safety, and expedition,
" and that Oncor "engaged in intentional
misconduct" and was grossly negligent. It also
specifically pleaded that all "conditions precedent to
the causes of action asserted and the relief requested by
Chaparral herein have occurred, have been performed or have
found that Oncor failed to comply with the Service Agreement.
Based on the jury's findings, the trial court awarded
Chaparral $186, 000 in actual damages, nearly $30, 000 in
prejudgment interest, $200, 000 for attorney's fees, and
taxable court costs. Oncor appealed. While the appeal was
pending, the Fort Worth Court of Appeals issued its decision
in Oncor Electric Delivery Company, LLC v.
Giovanni Homes Corporation, 438 S.W.3d 644 (Tex.
App.-Fort Worth 2014, pet. denied). There, the Fort Worth
court decided sua sponte that the PUC had exclusive
jurisdiction over Giovanni Homes's breach-of-contract
claim against Oncor. Id. at 657. Oncor then moved to
dismiss Chaparral's claim for want of jurisdiction,
arguing for the first time that the PUC has exclusive
jurisdiction to resolve Chaparral's allegations. The
court of appeals denied Oncor's "jurisdictional
challenge" and affirmed the trial court's judgment.
511 S.W.3d 750, 752 (Tex. App.-El Paso 2016). We granted
Oncor's petition for review.
argues that the court of appeals erred by denying Oncor's
dismissal motion because the PUC has exclusive jurisdiction
over Chaparral's claims. Chaparral disagrees, of course,
and also argues that even if the PUC might otherwise have
exclusive jurisdiction, Chaparral did not have to exhaust
administrative remedies because (1) the PUC has no authority
to resolve a breach-of-contract claim or award damages as a
remedy for a breach, and (2) forcing Chaparral to pursue its
claim before the PUC would deny Chaparral its constitutional
rights to open courts and to a jury trial. We address each
issue in turn.
agency "has exclusive jurisdiction when the Legislature
has granted that agency the sole authority to make an initial
determination in a dispute." In re Entergy
Corp., 142 S.W.3d 316, 321 (Tex. 2004). When an agency
has exclusive jurisdiction, courts lack jurisdiction until
the party has exhausted all administrative remedies before
the agency. Id. at 321-22. Because a challenge to
the court's subject-matter jurisdiction cannot be waived,
a party may raise exclusive jurisdiction for the first time
on appeal. Rusk State Hosp. v. Black, 392 S.W.3d 88,
103 (Tex. 2012).
begin with the presumption that district courts are
constitutionally authorized to resolve legal disputes.
Entergy, 142 S.W.3d at 322; see Tex. Const.
art. V, § 8. To overcome that presumption, the
Constitution or another law must grant exclusive jurisdiction
to another court or an administrative agency. In re Sw.
Bell Tel. Co., 235 S.W.3d 619, 624-25 (Tex. 2007);
Entergy, 142 S.W.3d at 322. Unlike courts, an
administrative agency is "a legislative creation with
only those powers expressly conferred and necessary to
accomplish its duties." Sw. Elec. Power Co. v.
Grant, 73 S.W.3d 211, 216 (Tex. 2002). Whether an agency
has exclusive jurisdiction presents a question of statutory
interpretation we review de novo. Subaru of Am., Inc. v.
David McDavid Nissan, Inc., 84 S.W.3d 212, 222 (Tex.
statute grants an agency exclusive jurisdiction when its
"language clearly expresses the Legislature's intent
for the [agency] to have exclusive jurisdiction over matters
the [statute] governs." David McDavid Nissan,
84 S.W.3d at 223. Absent such an explicit grant, an agency
may also have exclusive jurisdiction "when a pervasive
regulatory scheme indicates that the Legislature intended for
the regulatory process to be the exclusive means of remedying
the problem to which the regulation is addressed."
In re Sw. Bell Tel., 235 S.W.3d at 624-25 (citing
David McDavid Nissan, 84 S.W.3d at 221). In deciding
whether a "pervasive regulatory scheme" exists, the
statutory language is determinative. Entergy, 142
S.W.3d at 322-23.
is a public transmission-and-distribution utility regulated
by the PUC. See Oncor Elec. Delivery Co. LLC v. Pub.
Util. Comm'n, 507 S.W.3d 706, 709-10 (Tex. 2017).
The Texas Public Utility Regulatory Act (PURA) grants the PUC
broad powers to "regulate and supervise the business of
each public utility within its jurisdiction and to do
anything specifically designated or implied by [PURA] that is
necessary and convenient to the exercise of that power and
jurisdiction." Tex. Util. Code § 14.001. PURA's
express purpose "is to establish a comprehensive and
adequate regulatory system for public utilities to assure
rates, operations, and services that are just and reasonable
to the consumers and to the utilities" and "to
grant the [PUC] authority to make and enforce rules necessary
to protect customers of . . . electric services consistent
with the public interest." Id. §
11.002(a), (c). It reiterates this purpose in Subtitle B,