Dallas Metrocare Services, a public nonprofit organization that provides mental health care, will get to argue its plea to the jurisdiction after all – thanks to a recent Texas Supreme Court ruling.
The case stems from a lawsuit filed by Adolfo Juarez, a Metrocare patient who sued the governmental entity after a whiteboard allegedly fell and struck him.
Court records show that shortly after the case was filed, Metrocare pled immunity, arguing that the alleged injury did not arise from the “use” of personal property. However, the trial court denied the plea.
On appeal, Metrocare argued for the first time that the property’s “condition” did not cause the incident.
Nonetheless, because Metrocare had not originally asserted that particular argument in the trial court, the U.S. Fifth Court of Appeals declined to consider it, prompting Metrocare to file a petition for review with the state high court on Sept. 20, 2012, court papers say.
A year later, on Nov. 22 the Supreme Court issued a per curiam opinion, reversing the court of appeals’ judgment and remanding the case for further consideration of Metrocare’s jurisdictional arguments.
“We also conclude that the patient’s alleged injuries were not caused by the ‘use’ of the whiteboard, and the court of appeals erred to the extent it held otherwise,” the opinion states.
“Metrocare did not ‘use’ the whiteboard merely by making it available for use. As Metrocare points out, if displaying the whiteboard constitutes ‘use,’ immunity will be waived every time a piece of government property causes injury."
According to court documents, Juarez attended periodic treatment and counseling sessions at one of Metrocare’s clinics. During one such session, Juarez claims he was seated at one end of a long rectangular table in the clinic’s conference room when a 4 foot by 8 foot whiteboard propped on a table behind him fell and struck him in the head.
In its jurisdictional plea, Metrocare asserted that Juarez failed to allege facts demonstrating a waiver of its immunity under the Texas Tort Claims Act.
Metrocare argued that Juarez’s claim neither involved Metrocare’s “use” of tangible personal property, nor was a claim for premises liability under the Act.
Court records show Juarez opposed Metrocare’s plea and amended his petition to add four additional allegations of negligent conduct, specifically addressing the “unsafe condition” of the whiteboard and conference room.
Metrocare is represented by Joel Geary and Kathryn Long, attorneys for the Dallas law firm Vincent Lopez Serafino Jenevein.
Dallas attorney Julian Buenger represents Juarez.
Supreme Court case No. 12-0685