LATIA M. JONES, Appellant
TEXAS WORKFORCE COMMISSION, Appellee
Appeal from the 55th District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Cause No. 2018-26830
consists of Chief Justice Frost and Justices Spain and
Charles A. Spain Justice
M. Jones filed suit against the Texas Workforce Commission
(TWC) based on a denial of her claim for Disaster
Unemployment Assistance (DUA) after Hurricane Harvey.
See Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency
Assistance Act (Stafford Act), 42 U.S.C.A. §§
5121-5208 (West 2012 & Supp. 2019); id. §
5177 (West 2012) ("Unemployment Assistance"); 20
C.F.R. § 625 (2019). TWC filed a plea to the
jurisdiction based on Jones's pleadings. The trial court
granted this plea and dismissed all Jones's claims. Jones
appeals, and we affirm.
August 2017, Jones applied for federal DUA benefits
administered by TWC. In September 2017, TWC issued a decision
that Jones's unemployment was not a direct result of a
major disaster and she was ineligible for DUA benefits.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 625.5, .9 (2019).
requested an administrative appeal of this determination. TWC
conducted an administrative hearing by telephone. In November
2017, the TWC appeal tribunal issued its decision affirming
the denial of Jones's DUA application. See id.
§ 625.10(a). Jones requested further administrative
appeal of the TWC appeal tribunal's decision.
forwarded Jones's appeal to the United States Department
of Labor (DOL) for a final administrative decision. See
id. § 625.10(c) (providing for review by
appropriate regional administrator, employment and training
administration). In December 2017, the DOL regional
administrator issued his decision denying Jones's DUA
same time Jones's administrative appeal was proceeding,
TWC inadvertently released DUA benefits to Jones. In January
2018, after TWC realized the error, TWC began the
administrative process to recover the DUA benefits paid to
Jones to which she was not entitled. See id. §
625.14. Jones attempted further administrative appeals with
both TWC and DOL. TWC and DOL informed Jones that the
decision of the DOL regional administrator was the final and
conclusive administrative decision on her DUA claim and there
was no further administrative appeal available.
March 2018, Jones filed a petition in Harris County District
Court against, and sought damages from, TWC and TWC employees
Chris Oakley, Francis Brown, Jimmy Mullens, Lasha Lenzy, and
Melissa M. Butler. In pertinent part, Jones alleged that she
was entitled to "trial de novo as a matter of
right" under Texas Labor Code section 212.202 to
challenge TWC's "reversed
decision/determination" on her DUA claim.
the TWC employees answered with a general denial. They also
filed a plea to the jurisdiction. The trial court initially
signed an order denying the plea to the jurisdiction without
prejudice. After a hearing by phone, the trial court signed
an order on June 11, 2018, granting TWC and the TWC
employees' plea to the jurisdiction and dismissing all
Jones's claims against them for lack of jurisdiction.
related issues, Jones argues that the trial court erred by
granting TWC's plea to the jurisdiction and disallowing
her "request for judicial review Trial de novo
as a matter of law." In her brief, Jones does not
identify the TWC employees as appellees. Significantly, Jones
does not raise or argue any "issues or points of
error" against them. See Tex. R. App. P.
38.1(a), (f), (i); Showbiz Multimedia, LLC v. Mountain
States Mortg. Ctrs., Inc., 303 S.W.3d 769, 771 n.3 (Tex.
App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2009, no pet.) (appellee must be
party against whom appellant raises issues or points of error
in appellant's brief). We conclude that the only appellee
plea, TWC argued that the trial court did not have
jurisdiction to review TWC's decision denying Jones's
DUA claim. Generally, sovereign immunity, unless waived,
protects the State, its agencies, and its officials from
lawsuits for damages, absent legislative consent to sue the
State. Fed. Sign v. Texas S. Univ., 951 S.W.2d 401,
405 (Tex. 1997). TWC is a state agency. Tex. Labor Code Ann.
§ 301.001(a). "Sovereign immunity from suit defeats
a trial court's subject matter jurisdiction and thus is
properly asserted in a plea to the jurisdiction."
Tex. Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda,