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Texas Mutual Insurance Co. v. Chicas

Supreme Court of Texas

April 5, 2019

Texas Mutual Insurance Company, Petitioner,
v.
Bertila Chicas, Individually and as Beneficiary of Santiago Chicas, Deceased, Respondent

          Argued January 22, 2019

          On Petition for Review from the Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas

          Justice Brown delivered the opinion of the Court. Justice Busby did not participate in the decision.

          Jeffrey V. Brown, Justice.

         In this case we consider whether the 45-day deadline to seek judicial review of a decision by a Division of Workers' Compensation appeals panel is jurisdictional. The trial court granted a defendant's plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed a judicial-review claim that had been filed after the 45-day deadline. The court of appeals reversed, holding that while the 45-day deadline is mandatory, it is not jurisdictional. For the reasons below, we agree with the court of appeals and affirm.

         I

         On March 17, 2012, Santiago Chicas was doing yard work at the home of Peyton Waters, Jr., when he fell from a ladder and sustained fatal injuries. Waters was the majority owner of Spartan Equipment and Supply, Inc., where Santiago was employed. Santiago's wife, Bertila Chicas (Chicas), sought workers' compensation benefits from Spartan Equipment's insurer, Texas Mutual Insurance Company. After Texas Mutual disputed the claim, Chicas initiated administrative proceedings to resolve the issue at the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers' Compensation.

         During the administrative proceedings, a hearing officer concluded after a contested-case hearing that Santiago was not an employee of Spartan Equipment at the time of his injury and therefore his injury was not compensable. Chicas appealed the hearing officer's determinations to an appeals panel. On January 5, 2015, the Division notified Chicas that after review by the panel, the hearing officer's decision and order was final. The notice also stated, consistent with Texas Labor Code section 410.252(a), that "[i]f you are not satisfied with this decision and desire to have the dispute resolved in court, then you must file a lawsuit in the appropriate district court not later than the 45th day after the date on which the Division of Workers' Compensation mailed the parties the decision."

         Meanwhile, while the administrative proceedings were still pending, Chicas had filed a wrongful-death suit in probate court against Spartan Equipment and others. On February 4, 2015, well within the 45-day deadline to seek review of the appeals-panel decision, Chicas amended her probate-court pleadings to add Texas Mutual as a defendant, seeking judicial review of the administrative decision. Six months later, Texas Mutual filed a plea to the jurisdiction and argued that the probate court could not exercise jurisdiction over a judicial review that had no relationship to the administration of an estate. The probate court granted Texas Mutual's plea.

         Twelve days after the probate court dismissed her claims, Chicas again filed suit against Texas Mutual but in district court, "seek[ing] judicial review of the Appeals Panel Decision." Texas Mutual filed another plea to the jurisdiction, asserting (1) that the 45-day deadline to seek judicial review of an appeals-panel decision is jurisdictional and (2) because Chicas filed suit in the district court after the deadline had passed, that court lacked jurisdiction. The district court granted Texas Mutual's plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed Chicas's claims against it in their entirety.

         Chicas appealed. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the 45-day deadline for filing judicial-review claims in section 410.252(a) is not a jurisdictional statutory prerequisite. 522 S.W.3d 67, 68 (Tex. App.―Houston [1st Dist.] 2017). Therefore, it concluded that the trial court erred in granting Texas Mutual's plea to the jurisdiction. Id. at 74-75. The court did not address whether Chicas's claims were timely, noting that the limitations issue was properly left for resolution by way of a motion for summary judgment. Id. at 75 n.4. We granted Texas Mutual's petition for review. It is undisputed that Chicas filed suit in district court after the 45-day deadline had passed. So, we must determine whether Chicas's failure to file suit before the deadline deprived the district court of jurisdiction. See City of DeSoto v. White, 288 S.W.3d 389, 395 (Tex. 2009) ("The failure of a jurisdictional requirement deprives the court of the power to act . . . ." (quoting Univ. of Tex. Sw. Med. Ctr. at Dall. v. Loutzenhiser, 140 S.W.3d 351, 359 (Tex. 2004)).

         II

         A

         The parties agree the 45-day deadline to seek judicial review of an appeals-panel decision is mandatory, but "just because a statutory requirement is mandatory does not mean that compliance with it is jurisdictional." Id. at 395 (quoting Albertson's, Inc. v. Sinclair, 984 S.W.2d 958, 961 (Tex. 1999)). Nearly a century ago, we held that where a cause of action is derived from a statute, including a suit challenging a workers' compensation award, "strict compliance with all statutory prerequisites is necessary to vest a trial court with jurisdiction." Prairie View A & M Univ. v. Chatha, 381 S.W.3d 500, 510 (Tex. 2012) (citing Mingus v. Wadley, 285 S.W. 1084, 1087 (Tex. 1926)). This remained the law for decades and, consistent with Mingus, multiple courts of appeals treated the statutory deadline for seeking judicial review of an appeals-panel decision as mandatory and jurisdictional. See, e.g., Tex. Workers' Comp. Comm'n v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 952 S.W.2d 949, 952 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi-Edinburg 1997, ...


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