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Crawford v. Texas Heart Hospital of Southwest LLP

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

July 11, 2019

STEPHANIE D. CRAWFORD, Appellant
v.
TEXAS HEART HOSPITAL OF THE SOUTHWEST LLP D/B/A THE HEART HOSPITAL OF BAYLOR PLANO, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 95th District Court Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. DC-16-14418

          Before Justices Whitehill, Partida-Kipness, and Pedersen, III

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BILL WHITEHILL JUSTICE

         Stephanie Crawford sued Texas Heart Hospital for retaliation after the Hospital terminated her employment as an operating room nurse. Following a bench trial, the trial court entered a final, take-nothing judgment against Crawford. In two issues, Crawford argues that the trial court's judgment was in error because (i) she proved her retaliation case and (ii) she established disparate treatment because another similarly situated employee was not disciplined.

         A pivotal question is whether undisputed evidence that, despite several prior warnings, the nurse on several occasions violated hospital policies is factually sufficient to support the trial court's finding that the hospital terminated the nurse for reasons other than her reporting alleged poor practices at the hospital. Stated differently, considering the evidence as a whole, does the record show that the trial court's fact findings were clearly wrong and manifestly unjust?

         We do not re-weigh the factfinder's credibility determinations. Instead, we conclude that a reasonable factfinder on this record could have reasonably found that there was no retaliation in this case. We thus affirm the trial court's judgment.

         I. Background

         Crawford, an operating room nurse, sued the Hospital for retaliation under the Nurse Protection Act following her termination. See Tex. Occ. Code Ann. §§ 301.413(b), 301.4025(b). According to Crawford, the Hospital retaliated against her because she reported safety concerns. The Hospital denied Crawford's allegations and argued that her termination resulted from several policy violations impacting patient safety.

         Following a bench trial, the trial court dismissed Crawford's claims with prejudice and entered a take-nothing judgment against her. This appeal followed.

         II. Analysis

         A. First Issue: Did the trial court err by determining that Crawford did not meet her burden to establish retaliation?

         1. Standard of Review

         Crawford's complaint about the take-nothing judgment is essentially a challenge to the factual sufficiency of the evidence. We review a trial court's fact findings under the same legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence standards used when determining if sufficient evidence exists to support an answer to a jury question. See Catalina v. Blasdel, 881 S.W.2d 295, 297 (Tex. 1994).

         When an appellant with the burden of proof challenges the factual sufficiency of the evidence on an issue, we consider all the evidence supporting and contradicting the judgment. Plas-Tex, Inc. v. U.S. Steel Corp., 772 S.W.2d 442, 445 (Tex. 1989). We set aside the finding for factual insufficiency only if the finding is so contrary to the evidence as to be clearly wrong and manifestly unjust. Cain v. Bain, 709 S.W.2d 175, 176 (Tex. 1986) (per curiam).

         In a bench trial, the trial court, as factfinder, is the sole judge of the witnesses' credibility. Wyde v. Francesconi, 566 S.W.3d 890, 894 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2018, no pet.). As long as the evidence falls "within the zone of reasonable disagreement," we will not substitute our judgment for the factfinder's decisions. City of Keller v. Wilson, 168 S.W.3d 802, 822 (Tex. 2005).

         When, as here, the trial court does not file express findings of fact and conclusions of law, we presume the trial court made all necessary findings to support the judgment. See Pulley v. Milberger, 198 S.W.3d 418, 427 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2006, pet. denied).

         Consequently, if the trial court's implied findings are supported by the evidence, we must uphold the judgment on any theory of law applicable to the case. Sink v. Sink, 364 S.W.3d 340, 344-345 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2012, no pet.).

         2. ...


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