Appeal from the 151st District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Case No. 2016-52796
consists of Justices Keyes, Kelly, and Goodman.
Community College Systems (HCC) appeals the trial court's
summary judgment affirming the Texas Workforce
Commission's (TWC) determination that appellee Sabrina Y.
Lewis was entitled to unemployment benefits. On appeal, HCC
contends that a procedural error during the administrative
appeals process requires reversal of the TWC determination.
Sabrina Y. Lewis began working for HCC in 1992. In September
2015, Lewis confronted a subordinate and informed her that
she would be placed on a performance improvement plan. Lewis
maintains that she called campus police after the subordinate
began yelling and disrupting the office. HCC in turn contends
that Lewis yelled and behaved inappropriately, in violation
of its policies. HCC put Lewis on administrative leave, and
she engaged an attorney. HCC terminated Lewis's
employment in early October 2015.
filed a claim for unemployment benefits, which was allowed by
TWC, and HCC appealed. TWC sent Lewis a notice of hearing,
which informed her that an appeal tribunal hearing was
scheduled for January 5, 2016. Lewis wanted her
previously-engaged attorney to represent her at the TWC
appeal tribunal hearing, but the attorney was out of the
country and would not return before January 5. Both Lewis and
HCC requested that the hearing be postponed. The hearing
officer denied both requests.
January 5, 2016, the hearing was conducted by telephone.
Lewis called in, and she was sworn as a witness. After
answering several undisputed background questions, she
declined to participate further because her attorney had
previously advised her not to discuss her employment
termination. The hearing officer asked if she was going to
participate and informed her that if she stayed on the phone
call, he would "deem that as a participation."
Lewis disconnected. The hearing officer conducted the
remainder of the hearing without Lewis, accepting evidence
from HCC. Based on HCC's evidence, the appeal tribunal
concluded that Lewis's actions constituted misconduct and
that she was disqualified from receiving unemployment
attorney requested a new hearing, asserting that Lewis had
good cause for her failure to appear because the attorney was
out of the country. She also asserted that a new hearing
would be "fair" because only HCC's
"one-sided evidence" was considered by TWC in
making its determination. A different hearing officer
conducted a hearing, determined that the unavailability of
Lewis's attorney was good cause for her nonappearance,
reopened the hearing, and received evidence. After the
hearing, the appeal tribunal concluded that the evidence did
not prove the "alleged misconduct" and that Lewis
was entitled to unemployment benefits.
initiated a further administrative appeal, and the TWC upheld
the appeal tribunal's determination. Having exhausted its
administrative remedies, HCC appealed to the district court
for de novo review. In the trial court, HCC moved for summary
judgment, arguing that the hearing examiner erred by
reopening the hearing because Lewis initially made an
appearance during the January telephone hearing. HCC asserted
that this error required a reversal and reinstatement of the
initial "no benefits" determination made after the
January appeal tribunal hearing. Lewis moved for summary
judgment on the ground that the TWC's final decision that
she was entitled to unemployment benefits was supported by
substantial evidence. The trial court granted Lewis's
summary judgment motion and denied HCC's motion. HCC
brief, HCC states four issues challenging the trial
court's rulings on the motions for summary judgment. Its
argument, however, centers entirely on the alleged procedural
error of reopening the administrative appeal
review de novo the trial court's ruling on a motion for
summary judgment. Tarr v. Timberwood Park Owners
Ass'n, Inc., 556 S.W.3d 274, 278 (Tex. 2018). Each
party moving for traditional summary judgment bears the
burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact
exists and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law. Tex.R.Civ.P. 166a(c); see Provident Life &
Accident Ins. Co. v. Knott, 128 S.W.3d 211, 215-16 (Tex.
2003). "When opposing parties file counter motions for
summary judgment and the trial court grants one motion and
denies the other, the appellate court has jurisdiction to
determine all questions presented in ...