Texas SC rules against plaintiff who filed in wrong court

Kathy Woods Apr. 1, 2010, 5:15pm

Wallace Jefferson (R)

AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline)-The Texas Supreme Court last week answered the question of whether or not a person may refile a lawsuit once the statute of limitations has expired if the original complaint was filed in the wrong court.

The case stemmed from an age discrimination case filed by Steven Brite against former employer USAA. Brite claimed that USAA had violated the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act.

Brite filed his suit in the Bexar County Court at Law No. 7, which has jurisdiction concurrent with that of the district court in civil cases in which the matter in controversy exceeds $500 but does not exceed $100,000.

According to court documents, Brite asserted in his original petition that his damages exceeded the $500 statutory minimum, but he did not plead that his damages were below the $100,000 maximum.

USAA filed a plea to the jurisdiction, contending that Brite's damage claim exceeded the $100,000 jurisdictional limit as his salary was almost $74,000 when he was terminated. The trial court twice denied USAA's jurisdictional plea.

Brite amended his petition to seek damages of $1.6 million. After a jury trial, the court awarded Brite $188,406 in back pay, $350,000 in front pay, $300,000 in punitive damages, $129,387 in attorney fees and prejudgment interest.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling.

The state Supreme Court, however, reversed the ruling, concluding that the amount in controversy at the time Brite filed suit exceeded $100,000, depriving the county court at law of jurisdiction over the matter.

Within 60 days of the appeals court ruling Brite refilled his claim in Bexar County district court. USAA filed a plea to the jurisdiction and moved for summary judgment. USAA claimed that Brite had filed his original suit with "intentional disregard of proper jurisdiction."

Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson wrote in the high court's majority opinion that: "Because Brite unquestionably sought damages in excess of the county court at law's jurisdiction, it matters not that he subjectively anticipated a verdict within the jurisdictional limits. For that reason, limitations were not tolled. His second suit, filed long after the expiration of the two-year statute, is therefore barred."

As for the petition for Writ of Mandamus the court says, "Because the extraordinary circumstances presented here merit extraordinary relief, we conditionally grant the writ and direct the trial court to grant USAA's motion for summary judgment."

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