State News : Texas

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The Supreme Court recently confirmed the exclusive jurisdiction of the Division extends to claims made against a workers’ compensation carrier, Accident Fund General Insurance Company and its adjuster Kriste Henderson (collectively, Accident Fund) arising out of the bona fide offer of employment process. In In re Accident Fund Insurance Company, injured worker Rick Sayaz was presented with two bona fide offers of employment by the Employer. Sayaz failed to respond to the offers and failed to seek dispute resolution in the Division to determine the validity of the offers. Sayaz sued the Employer for retaliatory discharge under section 451.001 and for defamation. The injured worker also sued Accident Fund alleging it aided and abetted the Employer’s retaliatory discharge, tortiously interfered with Sayaz’s employment relationship, and conspired with the Employer to wrongfully terminate Sayaz. According to Sayaz, Accident Fund’s participation in the bona fide offer of employment process was a pretext for the retaliatory discharge.
In the trial court, and citing the Supreme Court’s opinions inIn re Crawford & Co. and Texas Mut. Ins. Co. v. Ruttiger, Accident Fund filed a plea to the jurisdiction arguing that Sayaz’s claims are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Division. The plea was denied, and Accident Fund filed a petition for writ of mandamus with the court of appeals. The appellate court denied the petition, and Accident Fund sought relief from the Texas Supreme Court.
In aper curium opinion, the Supreme Court held that Sayaz’s claims are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Division. The Court explained that the Act and Division rules provide the Division with exclusive jurisdiction to determine whether an offer of employment is bona fide for purposes of the Act. In this case, all of the claims alleged against Accident Fund arise from its participation in the bona fide offer of employment process and Sayaz’s complaints about that process. The question of the validity of the offers – and whether they were in fact “bona fide” – was a threshold factual determination for each of Sayaz’s claims. Therefore, Sayaz’s claims asked the trial court to make a determination on a matter within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Division. Citing Ruttiger, the Court concluded, “Sayaz’s claims against Accident Fund arise out of the statutory claims-handling process and, as a result, ‘the current Act with its definitions, detailed procedures, and dispute resolution process demonstrate[s] legislative intent for there to be no alternative remedies.’” Because the Division has exclusive jurisdiction over the bona fide offer of employment process, and Sayaz failed to exhaust his administrative remedies in the Division, the trial court lacked jurisdiction over Sayaz’s claims. The Court granted mandamus relief to Accident Fund and Ms. Henderson and directed the trial court to withdraw its orders denying their plea to the jurisdiction and dismiss all claims against them.In re Accident Fund General Insurance Co., No. 16-0556 (Tex. Dec. 15, 2017).
Dan Price represented Accident Fund and Ms. Henderson in this case.
-Dan Price, Stone Loughlin & Swanson, LLP.