Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Texas
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The Supreme Court held that the Texas Medical Board is not required by federal law or permitted by Texas law to merely revise an initial report of a temporary sanction, rather than void it, when the Board later finds that the allegations have not been proved.Federal and State law require the Board to report a disciplinary action against a physician to the National Practitioner Data Bank to restrict the ability of incompetent physicians to move from state to state. The Board issued a temporary sanction against Dr. Robert Wayne Van Boven while it investigated misconduct allegations. The Board then issued a final order concluding that Van Boven was not subject to sanctions. Van Bovcen brought this ultra vires action against Board officials directing them to file a Void Report with the Data Bank, which would remove the initial report against him and a subsequent revision-to-action report from disclosure. The trial court denied Defendants' plea to the jurisdiction asserting sovereign immunity. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Board officials' actions in this case were ultra vires and that the officials were not immune from Van Boven's claims. View "Van Boven v. Freshour" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals that the attorney-immunity defense was inapplicable to federal wiretap claims but reversed and rendered judgment for the defendant-attorney on Plaintiffs' state wiretap claims, holding that the attorney-immunity defense was inapplicable to the federal wiretap claims but did attach to the state wiretap claims.Plaintiffs brought this private party civil suit asserting that Defendant and others had violated the federal and Texas wiretap statutes by using and disclosing illegally intercepted electronic communications. Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that she was immune from liability as a matter of law because Plaintiffs' claims all stemmed from her role as an attorney in a modification proceeding. The trial court agreed and rendered summary judgment for Defendant. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) Defendant was entitled to summary judgment on the state wiretapping claims; but (2) Defendant was not entitled to summary judgment on the claims under the federal wiretap statute because this Court is not convinced that federal courts would apply Texas's common-law attorney-immunity defense to that statute. View "Taylor v. Tolbert" on Justia Law

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In this medical malpractice case the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court denying Defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that a timely-served expert report demonstrated a good faith effort to comply with the requirements of the Texas Medical Liability Act.Plaintiffs brought this case alleging that negligent perinatal care during labor and delivery caused their infant's brain damage and other serious health conditions. On the infant's behalf, Plaintiffs sued their treating physician and other healthcare providers and served expert reports on Defendants, including a report by Dr. James Balducci, an obstetrician. Plaintiff's treating physician filed a motion to dismiss, which the trial court denied. The court of appeals reversed and dismissed the claims against the treating physician with prejudice on the grounds that Dr. Balducci's report was insufficient to support Plaintiffs' healthcare liability claims. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the expert report satisfied the "fair summary" standard in Tex. Civ. Proc. & Rem. Code 74.351(l), (r)(6). View "E.D. v Texas Health Care, PLLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Hughes v. Mahaney & Higgins, 821 S.W.2d 154 (Tex. 1991), does not continue to toll the limitations period when a co-party of a malpractice plaintiff pursues the appeal in a higher court but the malpractice plaintiff does not participate in that stage of the proceedings.In Hughes, the Supreme Court held that when an attorney commits malpractice in either the prosecution or defense of a claim that results in litigation, the statute of limitations on the malpractice claim against the attorney is tolled until all appeals on the underlying claim are exhausted. In this case, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant for legal malpractice in the underlying proceedings. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant on limitations grounds, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Hughes tolling applies only to all appeals in which the malpractice plaintiff participates; and (2) Plaintiff's malpractice claim was barred by limitations. View "Zive v. Sandberg" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the district court in favor of Plaintiff in this medical negligence action, holding that the district court erred in how it structured periodic payments after applying the periodic-payments statute in Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Chapter 74, Subchapter K to Plaintiff's award of future medical expenses.Plaintiff, the mother of A.M.A., brought this action on his behalf alleging that, upon A.M.A.'s delivery, the nurses' delay in summoning the obstetrician when A.M.A.'s heartrate dropped to nondetectable levels for extended periods caused his cerebral palsy. The jury found for A.M.A.and awarded $1.208 million for future healthcare expenses after he turns eighteen. The trial judge applied the periodic payment statute to the award. The Supreme Court remanded the case, holding that the district court erred in the way that it structured the periodic payments. View "Columbia Valley Healthcare System, L.P. v. A.M.A." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the trial court denying Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's medical negligence claims, holding that Texas Medical Liability Act applied, and therefore, Plaintiff's failure to serve an expert report on Defendants was fatal to her claims.At issue was (1) whether Plaintiff's claims that Defendants negligently administered various treatments that caused scarring and discoloration to her skin constituted "health care liability claims" under the Act, and (2) whether the Act prohibited Plaintiff from filing an amended petition after the Act's deadline for serving expert reports. The Supreme Court held (1) Plaintiff's claims constituted health care liability claims subject to the Act's expert report requirements; (2) the Act did not prohibit Plaintiff from filing an amended petition; and (3) because Plaintiff failed timely to serve an expert report, Plaintiff's claims must be dismissed under the Act. View "Lake Jackson Medical Spa, Ltd. v. Gaytan" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that 42 U.S.C. 1983 preempted the expert report requirement in the Texas Medical Liability Act (TMLA), set forth in Chapter 74 Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, holding that the court of appeals erred in this respect.The claims in this case were asserted against a state mental health facility and its employees arising from the death of a patient. The claims were pleaded as claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983. In response, Defendants asserted that Plaintiff's claims were healthcare liability claims subject to the requirements of the TMLA. Defendants then moved to dismiss the claims for failure to serve an expert report under section 74.351(b). The trial court denied the motion to dismiss. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that all of Plaintiff's claims were healthcare liability claims but that section 1983 preempted the expert report requirement of the TMLA. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the court of appeals correctly determined that all of the causes of action Plaintiff asserted were healthcare liability claims under the TMLA; but (2) section 1983 does not preempt the TMLA's expert report requirement, and the court of appeals erred in holding otherwise. View "Rogers v. Bagley" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the portion of the court of appeals' judgment declaring that the rules issued by the Texas Board of Chiropractic Examiners authorizing chiropractors to perform an eye-movement test for neurological problems known as VONT, holding that the challenged rules do not exceed the statutory scope of the chiropractic practice.The Texas Chiropractic Act defines the practice of chiropractic to include evaluating the musculoskeletal system and improving the subluxation complex. In 2006, the Board adopted a rule defining both terms as involving nerves in addition to muscles and bones. In 2010, the Board adopted a rule authorizing chiropractors to perform vestibular-ocular-nystagmus testing, or VONT. The Texas Medical Association (TMA) challenged the rules in court. The court of appeals concluded that the rules exceeded the scope of practice prescribed in the Act. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the challenged provisions are valid. View "Texas Board of Chiropractic Examiners v. Texas Medical Ass'n" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that Tex. R. Civ. P. 91a permits dismissal based on an affirmative defense and that the alleged destruction of evidence is an action "taken in connection with representing a client in litigation," thus entitling the defendant attorneys to attorney immunity.Plaintiff hired Defendants to represent her in a lawsuit. Plaintiff later sued Defendants for, inter alia, fraud, trespass to chattel, and conversion, alleging that Defendants intentionally destroyed key evidence in the case. Defendants moved to dismiss the case under Rule 91a, claiming that it was entitled to attorney immunity on all of Plaintiff's claims. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the case. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that affirmative defenses such as attorney immunity cannot be the basis of a Rule 91a dismissal and that Defendants were not entitled to attorney immunity. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Rule 91a permits motions to dismiss based on affirmative defenses "if the allegations, taken as true, together with inferences reasonably drawn from them, do not entitle the claimant to the relief sought"; and (2) because Defendants' allegedly wrongful conduct involved the provision of legal services that conduct was protected by attorney immunity. View "Bethel v. Quilling, Selander, Lownds, Winslett & Moser, P.C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court dismissing Plaintiff's legal malpractice claim as baseless under Peeler v. Hughes & Luce, 909 S.W.2d 494 (Tex. 1995), holding that Peeler did not bar Plaintiff's malpractice claim.Plaintiff, a former client, sued her criminal defense attorney for malpractice after her conviction was vacated based on ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial court dismissed the claim as baseless under Peeler. In Peeler, a plurality of the Supreme Court held that "plaintiffs who have been convicted of a criminal offense may negate the sole proximate cause bar to their claim for legal malpractice in connection with that conviction only if they have been exonerated on direct appeal, through post-conviction relief, or otherwise." The trial court concluded that, because Plaintiff had failed to prove her exoneration, the Peeler doctrine barred her malpractice claim. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) exoneration under Peeler requires both that the underlying criminal conviction be vacated and also proof of innocence; and (2) therefore, the Peeler doctrine did not bar Plaintiff's malpractice claim, and Plaintiff must now obtain a finding of her innocence in the malpractice action to maintain her claim. View "Gray v. Skelton" on Justia Law