In re Accident Fund General Insurance Company
543 S.W.3d 750 (Tex. 2017)
On behalf of Accident Fund General Insurance Company and its claims adjuster (collectively, Accident Fund), we successfully petitioned for a writ of mandamus from the Texas Supreme Court to protect the exclusive jurisdiction of the Division of Workers’ Compensation to adjudicate claims made against a workers’ compensation carrier and its arising out of the bona fide offer of employment process. In In re Accident Fund Insurance Company, the injured worker was presented with two bona fide offers of employment by the Employer. The worker failed to respond to the offers and failed to seek dispute resolution in the Division to determine the validity of the offers. The worker 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 the worker’s employment relationship, and conspired with the Employer to wrongfully terminate the worker. According to the worker, 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 in In re Crawford & Co. and Texas Mut. Ins. Co. v. Ruttiger, Accident Fund filed a plea to the jurisdiction arguing that worker’s claims were 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 a per curium opinion, the Supreme Court held that the worker’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 the worker’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 the worker’s claims. Therefore, the worker’s claims asked the trial court to make a determination on a matter within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Division. Because the Division has exclusive jurisdiction over the bona fide offer of employment process, and the worker failed to exhaust his administrative remedies in the Division, the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the worker’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.