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City of Dallas v. Thompson

Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth District, Tyler

June 28, 2019

CITY OF DALLAS, A SELF-INSURED EMPLOYER, APPELLANT/CROSS-APPELLEE
v.
GREGORY D. THOMPSON, APPELLEE/CROSS-APPELLANT

          Appeal from the 173rd District Court of Henderson County, Texas (Tr.Ct.No. CV17-0187-173)

          Panel consisted of Worthen, C.J., Hoyle, J., and Neeley, J.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES T. WORTHEN CHIEF JUSTICE

         This is an interlocutory appeal from the trial court's ruling on City of Dallas's plea to the jurisdiction filed in Dallas's suit for judicial review of a final decision and order of the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers' Compensation (DWC). The plea to the jurisdiction complains of counterclaims filed by Gregory D. Thompson, a past employee who claimed workers' compensation benefits.

         Dallas and Thompson each appeal the portions of the trial court's ruling on Dallas's plea to the jurisdiction that are adverse to that party. In two issues, Dallas asserts that the trial court lacks jurisdiction over Thompson's counterclaims because he failed to timely file them, making the administrative rulings on his workers' compensation claim final as a matter of law. In one issue, Thompson asserts the trial court erred in granting Dallas's plea to the jurisdiction as to his counterclaim for attorney's fees. We affirm.

         Background

         A DWC hearing officer determined that Thompson sustained a compensable injury while employed by Dallas, a self-insured employer, and ordered Dallas to pay benefits. Dallas's administrative appeal resulted in finality of the hearing officer's decision and order. Dallas filed suit for judicial review of the hearing officer's determinations and final decision of the DWC. Thompson filed counterclaims complaining of the DWC's determination that Dallas's notice of denial of compensability was sufficient to contest compensability of the claimed injury and its determination that Thompson did not have good cause for failing to file a claim within one year of the injury. Thompson also requested attorney's fees.

         Dallas filed a plea to the jurisdiction by which it challenged the trial court's jurisdiction over Thompson's counterclaims. The trial court denied the plea as to Thompson's complaints regarding sufficiency of the notice to contest compensability and the good cause and timely filing issues. The trial court sustained the plea as to Thompson's counterclaim for an award of attorney's fees. Each side filed a notice of interlocutory appeal.[1]

         Plea to the Jurisdiction

         Subject matter jurisdiction is essential to the authority of a court to decide a case. Tex. Ass'n of Bus. v. Tex. Air Control Bd., 852 S.W.2d 440, 443 (Tex. 1993). A plea to the jurisdiction challenges the trial court's authority to determine the subject matter of a specific cause of action. Starkey ex rel. Ragsdale v. Andrews Ctr., 104 S.W.3d 626, 628 (Tex. App.-Tyler 2003, no pet.). If a party believes that the plaintiff's petition does not show jurisdiction and cannot be amended to allege jurisdiction, the party may file a plea to the jurisdiction at any time. Id.

         Because subject matter jurisdiction presents a question of law, we review the trial court's ruling on a plea to the jurisdiction de novo. Mayhew v. Town of Sunnyvale, 964 S.W.2d 922, 928 (Tex. 1998). In reviewing a plea to the jurisdiction, we review the pleadings and any evidence relevant to the jurisdictional issue. Tex. Dep't of Criminal Justice v. Miller, 51 S.W.3d 583, 587 (Tex. 2001). We accord the trial court's decision no deference. Quick v. City of Austin, 7 S.W.3d 109, 116 (Tex. 1998).

         Timeliness

         In its two issues, Dallas asserts the trial court erred by not granting the plea to the jurisdiction based on Thompson's failure to timely file his counterclaims regarding the sufficiency of Dallas's notice of denial of compensability and regarding his good cause for failing to file a claim for compensation with the DWC within one year of the injury. Dallas argues that the trial court has no jurisdiction because Thompson failed to seek judicial review of his counterclaims within forty-five days after the date the DWC mailed the appeals panel decision to the parties as required by the labor code.

         Section 410.252 of the labor code provides that a party seeking judicial review must file suit not later than the forty-fifth day after the date on which the DWC mailed the party the decision of the appeals panel. Tex. Lab. Code Ann. § 410.252 (West 2015). Dallas asserts that Thompson filed his counterclaims twenty-two days late and therefore the trial court does not have jurisdiction to hear the counterclaims. Dallas relies on numerous intermediate appellate court cases holding that the labor code's forty-five day deadline is mandatory and jurisdictional. See e.g. Davis v. Am. Cas. Co. of ...


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