Arnold & Placek Wins Appeal on TEA’s Invalid Administration of 2015-16 STAAR Assessments

Written by A&P News on March 29th, 2018. Posted in Appeals, News

The Third Court of Appeals in Austin, Texas today ruled for Arnold & Placek, P.C. and affirmed the denial of the TEA’s plea to the jurisdiction concerning a suit seeking to invalidate the results from the statewide administration of the 2015-16 STAAR assessments.

Arnold & Placek represents four parents from across the state in Lewis, et al. v. Morath, which seeks a declaration that the 2015-16 STAAR assessments for grades 3-8 did not comply with mandatory provisions of the Texas Education Code limiting the time length of the assessments. The parents also seek injunctive relief enjoining the TEA from using the invalid assessments to impose a wide range of consequences to parents across the state, including campus closures and student retention. The TEA sought to dismiss the parents’ suit for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear a challenge to the TEA’s administration of the tests and that the parents lacked standing to bring their claims. The trial court disagreed, denying the TEA’s plea to the jurisdiction. On appeal, the Third Court affirmed the denial, holding that the parents’ lawsuit properly alleges that the TEA acted outside of its legal authority and that the parents have standing to enjoin the TEA from imposing 2015-16 STAAR-related consequences on their children. The Third Court’s ruling allows the parents to proceed on their suit against the TEA, now pending in Travis County District Court.

Arnold & Placek P.C. partner R. Scott Placek, of counsel Kyle M. Jones, and associate Jonathan Chaltain represent the parents in the trial court; Mr. Placek, Mr. Chaltain, partner Matthew Foerster, and senior counsel Scott K. Arnold represented the parents and submitted the briefing on appeal.

Arnold & Placek, P.C. Prevails on Summary Judgment Regarding Insurance Coverage for Pre-Natal Injuries, in Case of First Impression for Texas

Written by A&P News on March 20th, 2018. Posted in Employer's Liability, News

Arnold & Placek, P.C. Prevails on Summary Judgment Regarding Insurance Coverage for Pre-Natal Injuries, in Case of First Impression for Texas

Judge Gray Miller for the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, recently ruled for Arnold & Placek, P.C. on cross-motions for summary judgment concerning an insurance coverage dispute over a pre-natal injury. A pregnant employee, while working for a group home for disabled children, was struck in the stomach. She later sued the group home in Texas state court on behalf of her child, who was born prematurely with mental and physical injuries. While the employers’ liability carrier assumed defense of the group home in the underlying lawsuit, the group home’s commercial general liability carrier denied both defense and indemnity. On cross-motions for summary judgment, Arnold & Placek P.C., on behalf of the employers’ liability carrier, argued that the general liability carrier shared a duty to defend because the child was alleged to suffer an injury, in part, that was not a result of any injury to the parent-employee. The court granted the employers’ liability carrier’s motion and denied the general liability carrier’s motion, holding that the general liability carrier had a duty to share in the defense of the group home in the underlying lawsuit.

This is the first written opinion in Texas addressing insurance coverage of pre-natal injuries sustained while the parent-employee was in the course of their employment. The court’s opinion can be found at https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/texas/txsdce/4:2017cv00886/1419773/28/.

Arnold & Placek P.C. partner R. Scott Placek represented the employers liability carrier in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, with briefing on the cross-motions for summary judgment also worked on by senior counsel Scott K. Arnold and associate Jonathan Chaltain.

Arnold & Placek, P.C. wins summary judgment and affirmance on appeal in wrongful death case applying doctrine of issue preclusion.

Written by A&P News on February 1st, 2018. Posted in Appeals, Employer's Liability

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston, Texas today affirmed summary judgment for an employer that was the defendant in a wrongful death suit arising from a tank explosion. The decease employee was not formally married, but two women each claimed to be his common-law spouse and filed claims for workers’ compensation death benefits. The Texas Division of Workers’ Compensation held a hearing and determined that no common-law marriage existed. One of the women then filed a wrongful death suit against the employer seeking punitive damages as the surviving spouse. The trial court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment, which the court of appeals affirmed, because the same issue that was dispositive of plaintiff’s workers’ compensation claim—that no common-law marriage existed—was also dispositive of plaintiff’s standing to sue for wrongful death as the surviving spouse. The court of appeals also affirmed summary judgment on the “survival claim” that plaintiff brought as the administrator of the estate, because workers’ compensation benefits are the exclusive remedy for any compensable death, and a survival claim is nothing more than the deceased employee’s claim for personal injury damages.

This is the first case in Texas applying the doctrine of issue preclusion (collateral estoppel) to a final decision by the Division of Workers’ Compensation on the question of whether a common-law marriage existed prior to an employee’s death. The case is In re Estate of Howard, No. 14-16-00676-CV, __ S.W.3d __ (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] Feb. 1, 2018).

Arnold & Placek, P.C. partners Scott Placek and Matthew Foerster represented the employer in the trial court and in the court of appeals.

Arnold & Placek Wins Death Benefits Case on Summary Judgment, Appeal

Written by A&P News on November 7th, 2017. Posted in Appeals, Judicial Review, News

After the foreman for a San Angelo electrical contractor was killed in an auto accident on his way to work, his widow sought workers’ compensation death benefits from Texas Mutual Insurance Company. Texas Mutual disputed the claim and prevailed at the Division of Workers’ Compensation. His widow appealed the decision to the District Court of Sutton County where Texas Mutual was represented by Arnold & Placek, P.C. After discovery was completed, Matthew Foerster successfully obtained a summary judgment (and defeated the widow’s cross-motion) determining that the foreman was not in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the accident. The widow then appealed again to the San Antonio Court of Appeals. On November 1, 2017, the San Antonio Court of Appeals issued a memorandum opinion affirming the summary judgment in favor of Texas Mutual. Throughout the judicial review and appellate process, Texas Mutual was represented by Scott Placek and Matthew Foerster.

Arnold & Placek Comments on Local ISD Use of STAAR Results

Written by A&P News on June 10th, 2016. Posted in News

Arnold & Placek currently represents four parents from across the state of Texas in Lewis, et al. v. Morath, a lawsuit pending in Travis County District Court seeking a declaration that this 2016 STAAR assessments for grades 3-8 did not comply with the time completion standards of the Texas Education Code.  The suit seeks various relief including relief from retention standards, accelerated instruction, and accountability requirements to the extent that such is based on the results of these invalid assessments.  Earlier today, the Texas Education Agency issued a ruling detaching many of the consequences associated with these STAAR results from Grade 5 and Grade 8 assessments.  Determinations at other grade levels are pending.

Nonetheless, the TEA appears to have passed to local districts the discretion to offer accelerated instruction to its students based on these results.

Arnold & Placek, P.C. urges local school districts not to take any punitive or remedial actions against 3rd through 8th grade students as a result of 2016 STAAR assessments.  Regardless of the Texas Education Agency’s stated reason for detaching consequences from the STAAR, the fact remains that these assessments did not comply with the completion time standards of HB 743 and as a result are not valid STAAR assessments.  Although the TEA has left decisions to local districts regarding the use of the assessments for determining accelerated instruction, any attempt by a district to mandate participation in accelerated instruction or take any punitive or remedial action against a student based on these assessment results would invite affected parents to join the pending litigation and add the local district as a defendant.  This would be an irresponsible use of taxpayer money when the TEA has already disclaimed the reliability and validity of these results.