Police officer plaintiff failed to establish jurisdiction in Worker’s Compensation Act case


Jamie Harvel and the Austin Police Association v Texas Department of Insurance- Division of Workers’ Compensation And Commissioner Rod Borderlon, In His Official Capacity, 13-14-00095-CV, (Tex. App.– Corpus Christi, May 21, 2015).

This is an interlocutory appeal from the granting of a plea to the jurisdiction in a worker’s compensation case. The court affirmed the granting of the plea.

While in route to firearms training in his personal vehicle, Harvel collided with a vehicle which failed to yield the right of way. The City of Austin, which self-insures, denied Officer Harvel’s claim for workers’s compensation benefits. Officer Harvel challenged that decision and received a contested case hearing before a Division hearing officer who denied the coverage. See TEX. LAB. CODE ANN. §410.15.  Harvel filed suit for judicial review which was joined by the Austin Police Association but sued the state agencies and officials, not the City. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction which the trial court granted.

Judicial review of a final agency order and a UDJA action are separate proceedings authorized and governed by different statutes. The court held the issue of whether the state agencies and actors are proper parties to the dispute was improperly briefed and unsupported, so the granting of the plea on that claim is affirmed. Next, the court held Harvel’s declaratory judgment claims are essentially claims seeking declarations of his rights and status under a statute, not the attempt to invalidate a statute. As a result, the agencies retain sovereign immunity from such claims. And because the relief requested under the UDJA are mere recasts of the appeal of the agency orders, he will not be given the opportunity to replead. Also, the allegations affirmatively negate the existence of jurisdiction so no right to replead is allowed. The Associations claims are mere hypotheticals and therefore seek an advisory opinion which the court is not permitted to consider. The plea was properly granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Opinion by Justice Benavides, Justice Perkes, and Justice Longoria. Memorandum opinion by Justice Longoria. Attorney for the appellee is Ms. Karen L. Watkins.  The Attorney for the Appellant is Hon. Bradley Dean McClellan and Hon. Richard Pena


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