February 28, 2018
Petition for Review from the Court of Appeals for the Second
District of Texas
H. LEHRMANN JUSTICE
narrow issue presented is whether an individual qualifies as
"unemployed" under the Texas Unemployment
Compensation Act (Unemployment Act or Act) while taking
unpaid leave from her job under the Family Medical Leave Act
(FMLA). Applying the Unemployment Act's unambiguous
language, we hold that she does. However, because eligibility
for unemployment benefits requires more than
"unemployed" status, we express no opinion on
whether an individual on FMLA leave is ultimately entitled to
such benefits. We reverse the court of appeals' judgment.
White worked for Wichita County as an assistant emergency
management coordinator. On August 16, 2011, she went on FMLA
leave for severe anxiety and depression. Her accrued paid
leave ran out on August 19, after which she switched to
unpaid leave. The County continued paying her health
insurance premiums in accordance with the FMLA. In late
September, White informed the County of certain medical
restrictions placed on her return to work by her treatment
providers, including that she work in a position that enabled
her to interact with other people on a regular basis. The
County initially concluded it lacked an open position meeting
those restrictions; however, an accommodating position in a
different department subsequently became available, and White
returned to work for the County on November 4,
meantime, White filed an initial claim for unemployment
benefits with the Texas Workforce Commission on October 2.
The County contested the claim on the ground that White
remained a County employee and thus did not qualify for
benefits. On October 25, the Commission issued a decision in
which it determined that White was "unemployed"
while "on an unpaid leave of absence" for a
"medically verifiable illness" and that it could
pay White benefits "if [she met] all other
requirements." The decision further noted that the
Commission "monitors eligibility for benefits . . .
every time weekly payments are requested."
County appealed, asserting that White "never voluntarily
left work, was never fired, was never laid off, and never
left her employment." After a hearing, the Commission
Appeal Tribunal affirmed the decision. The tribunal concluded
that White was absent from work for medical reasons, had not
been discharged for misconduct, and thus was not disqualified
from receiving benefits. The tribunal also held that the
County was required to reimburse the Commission for any
benefits paid to White. The County appealed that decision,
and the Commission affirmed.
County filed a petition for judicial review in district
court, alleging that "the evidence presented clearly
indicates that White did not separate from her employment
with Wichita County and is therefore disqualified from
benefits." The parties filed cross-motions for summary
judgment. The trial court granted the County's motion,
denied the Commission's, and rendered final judgment
reversing the Commission's decision that White qualified
for benefits, finding that "substantial evidence does
not support" the decision.
court of appeals affirmed, although it declined to
"answer the broad questions of whether and to what
extent termination of the employment relationship must serve
as a condition for the receipt of unemployment
benefits." 507 S.W.3d 919, 926 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth
2016). Instead, the court of appeals concluded that it would
be "absurd" for an individual to be entitled to
unemployment benefits during FMLA leave. Id. at 928.
We granted the Commission's petition for review.
Standard of Review
review summary judgments de novo. Travelers Ins. Co. v.
Joachim, 315 S.W.3d 860, 862 (Tex. 2010). Summary
judgment is proper when no genuine issues of material fact
exist and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law. Tex.R.Civ.P. 166a(c). When the parties file competing
summary judgment motions and the trial court grants one and
denies the other, "we consider the summary judgment
evidence presented by both sides, determine all questions
presented, and if the trial court erred, render the judgment
the trial court should have rendered." Sw. Bell
Tel., L.P. v. Emmett, 459 S.W.3d 578, 583 (Tex.
case turns on the interpretation of a statute, which is a
question of law requiring us to determine and give effect to
the Legislature's intent. CHCA Woman's Hosp.,
L.P. v. Lidji, 403 S.W.3d 228, 231 (Tex. 2013). In so
doing, we focus on the statute's text. In re Office
of Att'y Gen., 422 S.W.3d 623, 629 (Tex. 2013)
("Legislative intent is best revealed in legislative
language."). We give statutory terms "their common,
ordinary meaning unless the statute clearly indicates a
different result." William Marsh Rice Univ. v.
Refaey, 459 S.W.3d 590, 593 (Tex. 2015) (citation
omitted); see also TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Co. v.
Combs, 340 S.W.3d 432, 439 (Tex. 2011) (observing that
statutory terms are given their ordinary meaning unless
assigned a different meaning by statute or a different
meaning is apparent from the statutory context).
Further, we analyze statutes "as a cohesive, contextual
whole, accepting that lawmaker-authors chose their words
carefully, both in what they included and in what they
excluded." Sommers v. Sandcastle Homes, Inc.,
521 S.W.3d 749, 754 (Tex. 2017). "Where statutory text
is clear, that text is determinative of legislative intent
unless the plain meaning of the statute's words would
produce an absurd result." Tex. Mut. Ins. Co. v.
Ruttiger, 381 S.W.3d 430, 452 (Tex. 2012).
Unemployment Act's purpose is "to provide
compensation for workers who are unemployed through no fault
of their own." Collingsworth Gen. Hosp. v.
Hunnicutt, 988 S.W.2d 706, 709 (Tex. 1998). To serve
that purpose, the Act grants benefits to an "eligible
individual" who is "totally unemployed" or
"partially unemployed" in a particular