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Endeavor Energy Resources, L.P. v. Cuevas

Supreme Court of Texas

May 3, 2019

Endeavor Energy Resources, L.P., Petitioner,
v.
Evelyn Cuevas, Individually and as Next Friend of C.C. and E.C., minor children, and on Behalf of the Estate of Angel Cuevas, Jr.; Melanie Molina, as Next Friend of B.C., a minor; New Hampshire Insurance Co.; and Erika Messer, as Next Friend of K.C., a minor, Respondents

          Argued February 19, 2019

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

          OPINION

          Jeffrey S. Boyd Justice.

         This appeal presents the issue of whether chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code applies to a contractor's employee's negligent-hiring claim against a property owner. Because we hold it does, and because the parties do not dispute that chapter 95 (if applicable) bars the claim, we reverse the court of appeals' judgment in part and render judgment for the property owner.

         I. Background

         Endeavor Energy Resources hired Big Dog Drilling to drill a well on Endeavor's mineral lease. Angel Cuevas, Jr., a Big Dog employee, was working on Endeavor's well when a rope the rig hands were using to lift a pipe unexpectedly caught on a mechanical pulley.[1] The rope jerked the pipe upward, causing it to strike Angel in the head, ultimately resulting in his death. Angel's survivors (together, Cuevas) sued Endeavor, at first alleging only ordinary-negligence and premises-liability claims.

         Endeavor moved for traditional and no-evidence summary judgment, arguing that chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code bars both claims because Cuevas cannot establish that Endeavor had actual knowledge of any dangerous condition on the worksite. Cuevas then filed a supplemental petition, asserting new claims that Endeavor negligently hired, retained, and supervised Big Dog. Endeavor did not amend its summary-judgment motion to address these claims.

         The trial court granted summary judgment for Endeavor on all of Cuevas's claims. The court of appeals reversed on the negligent-hiring claim and otherwise affirmed. 531 S.W.3d 375, 383 (Tex. App.-Eastland 2017). It held that chapter 95 does not apply to the negligent-hiring claim because that claim arises from negligence that occurred before the injury, rather than negligence that occurred contemporaneously with the injury on Endeavor's premises. Id. at 382. Cuevas has not challenged the court of appeals' judgment affirming dismissal of the ordinary-negligence, premises-liability, negligent-retention, and negligent-supervision claims. Endeavor, however, filed a petition for review challenging the judgment reversing dismissal of the negligent- hiring claim. We granted Endeavor's petition and now reverse, holding that chapter 95 applies to the negligent-hiring claim.

         II. Chapter 95

         Under the common law, a property owner can be liable for premises liability or negligence that harms an independent contractor or its employee if the owner controlled the work and "either knew or reasonably should have known of the risk or danger." Ineos USA, LLC v. Elmgren, 505 S.W.3d 555, 561 (Tex. 2016). But when chapter 95 applies, a property owner can be liable for injury to a contractor or its employee "who constructs, repairs, renovates, or modifies an improvement to real property" only if the owner controlled the work and "had actual knowledge of the danger or condition." Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 95.003. Proof that the property owner "reasonably should have known" of the risk is insufficient when chapter 95 applies. Ineos, 505 S.W.3d at 561.

         Cuevas does not contend in this Court that Endeavor had actual knowledge of the danger or condition that resulted in Angel's death. Instead, Cuevas argues that Endeavor reasonably should have known of the danger or condition, and its constructive knowledge is sufficient to support the negligent-hiring claim because chapter 95 does not apply to that claim.

         By its own terms, chapter 95 applies to a "claim for damages caused by negligence"

(1) against a property owner, contractor, or subcontractor for personal injury, death, or property damage to an owner, a contractor, or a subcontractor or an employee of a contractor or subcontractor; and
(2) that arises from the condition or use of an improvement to real property where the contractor or subcontractor constructs, repairs, ...

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