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American Home Assurance Co. v. De Los Santos

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

October 30, 2019

AMERICAN HOME ASSURANCE COMPANY, Appellant
v.
Noela DE LOS SANTOS, Individually and as next friend of Kimberly A. Ruiz, Appellee

          From the 79th Judicial District Court, Jim Wells County, Texas Trial Court No. 06-11-45222-CV Honorable Richard C. Terrell, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice Irene Rios, Justice Beth Watkins, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PATRICIA O. ALVAREZ, JUSTICE

         Juan De Los Santos was employed by Ram Production Services, Inc. when he was killed in a motor vehicle accident while driving from his residence to the ranch where he was assigned to work. In the underlying cause, Juan's wife, Noela De Los Santos, both individually and as next friend of Kimberly A. Ruiz, sought judicial review of the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers' Compensation appeals panel's decision upholding a hearing officer's decision that Juan was not in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident.

          After the parties filed competing motions for summary judgment, the trial court denied Ram Production's insurance carrier's motion. The trial court concluded as a matter of law that Juan was in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident, reversed the appeals panel's decision, and granted summary judgment for Noela.

         American Home Assurance Company, Ram Production's workers' compensation insurance carrier, appeals the trial court's judgment. The sole issue presented on appeal asks "Was the truck [Juan] was driving at the time of the accident gratuitously furnished by [Ram Production] rendering him outside the course and scope of his employment?" We reverse the trial court's judgment and remand the cause to the trial court for further proceedings.

         Procedural Background

         This is the second appeal arising from a summary judgment entered in Noela's favor in the underlying cause. The judgment considered in the prior appeal was similarly based on competing motions for summary judgment. The first summary judgment, however, was based exclusively on agreed facts stipulated by the parties. This court reversed the first summary judgment, holding genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether Juan's travel at the time of the accident originated in Ram Production's business. See Am. Home Assurance Co. v. De Los Santos (De Los Santos I), No. 04-10-00852-CV, 2012 WL 4096258 (Tex. App.-San Antonio Sept. 19, 2012, pet. denied) (mem. op.).

         After the cause was remanded, American Home moved for summary judgment on no-evidence and traditional grounds again asserting that Juan was not in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident. Noela filed a response and cross-motion for summary judgment, and American Home filed a reply. In addition to the previously agreed, stipulated facts, American Home filed an affidavit from Ram Production's owner who was also Juan's supervisor, and Noela filed her own affidavit and payroll records from Ram Production. After hearing the competing motions, the trial court concluded as a matter of law that Juan was in the course and scope of his employment. The trial court denied American Home's motion and granted summary judgment for Noela.

         Standards of Review

         "We review a trial court's order granting summary judgment de novo, taking 'as true all evidence favorable to the nonmovant,' and 'indulg[ing] every reasonable inference and resolv[ing] any doubts in the nonmovant's favor.'" Cmty. Health Sys. Prof'l Servs. Corp. v. Hansen, 525 S.W.3d 671, 680 (Tex. 2017) (alterations in original) (quoting Provident Life & Acc. Ins. Co. v. Knott, 128 S.W.3d 211, 215 (Tex. 2003)). "[W]hen [a] motion asserts both no-evidence and traditional grounds, we first review the no-evidence grounds." Id.

         A trial court properly grants a "a defendant's no-evidence motion for summary judgment if the plaintiff has produced no more than a scintilla of evidence on an essential element of the cause of action, that is, if the plaintiff's evidence does not rise 'to a level that would enable reasonable and fair-minded people to differ in their conclusions.'" Dall. Morning News, Inc. v. Tatum, 554 S.W.3d 614, 625 (Tex. 2018) (quoting Ford Motor Co. v. Ridgway, 135 S.W.3d 598, 600-01 (Tex. 2004)). "Less than a scintilla of evidence exists when the evidence is 'so weak as to do no more than create a mere surmise or suspicion' of a fact." King Ranch, Inc. v. Chapman, 118 S.W.3d 742, 751 (Tex. 2003) (quoting Kindred v. Con/Chem, Inc., 650 S.W.2d 61, 63 (Tex. 1983)).

         "To prevail on a traditional motion for summary judgment, however, the movant must 'show that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Hansen, 525 S.W.3d at 681 (quoting Provident Life, 128 S.W.3d at 216). "An issue is conclusively established 'if reasonable minds could not differ about the conclusion to be drawn from the facts in the record.'" Id. (quoting Childs v. Haussecker, 974 S.W.2d 31, 44 (Tex. 1998)).

         "When the parties file competing summary judgment motions and the trial court grants one and denies the other, 'we consider the summary judgment evidence presented by both sides, determine all questions presented, and if the trial court erred, render the judgment the trial court should have rendered.'" Tex. Workforce Comm'n v. Wichita Cty., 548 S.W.3d 489, ...


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