Weekley Homes, LLC v. Paniagua, 21-0197

CourtSupreme Court of Texas
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM.
Citation646 S.W.3d 821
Parties WEEKLEY HOMES, LLC, Petitioner, v. John PANIAGUA; and Hermelinda Maravilla Corona, Jose Camerino Maravilla, Sr., and Margarita Maravilla, Individually, as Personal Representatives of the Estate of Jose Camerino Maravilla, Deceased, and as Next Friend of S.L.M.S., E.H., L.A.S., and J.J.M., Minors, Respondents
Docket Number21-0197
Decision Date17 June 2022

646 S.W.3d 821

WEEKLEY HOMES, LLC, Petitioner,
v.
John PANIAGUA; and Hermelinda Maravilla Corona, Jose Camerino Maravilla, Sr., and Margarita Maravilla, Individually, as Personal Representatives of the Estate of Jose Camerino Maravilla, Deceased, and as Next Friend of S.L.M.S., E.H., L.A.S., and J.J.M., Minors, Respondents

No. 21-0197

Supreme Court of Texas.

OPINION DELIVERED: June 17, 2022


Paul Robert Hornung, Domingo Alberto Garcia, Dallas, for Respondents.

Jeffery Taylor Nobles, Houston, Justice N. Terry Adams Jr., Michael Alan Logan, Dallas, for Petitioner.

PER CURIAM

646 S.W.3d 824

In this negligence and premises-liability case arising from a fatal construction-site accident, the trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant, but the court of appeals reversed in part, holding that the defendant could not rely on allegations in the plaintiffs’ pleadings to satisfy its summary-judgment burden because pleadings do not constitute summary-judgment evidence. --- S.W.3d ––––, 2021 WL 118663, at *1, *8 (Tex. App.—Dallas Jan. 13, 2021). While it is true that "pleadings generally do not qualify as summary-judgment ‘evidence’ ... courts may [nonetheless] grant summary judgment based on deficiencies in an opposing party's pleadings," and summary-judgment movants may rely on allegations in an opposing party's pleadings that constitute judicial admissions. Regency Field Servs., LLC v. Swift Energy Operating, LLC , 622 S.W.3d 807, 818-20 (Tex. 2021) (emphasis omitted); see Energen Res. Corp. v. Wallace , 642 S.W.3d 502, 508-09 (Tex. 2022). In applying the general rule and holding that the plaintiffs’ petition could not constitute competent summary-judgment evidence, the lower court did not have the benefit of our recent opinions in Regency and Energen. We therefore remand this case to the court of appeals for further consideration in light of these decisions and, as appropriate, other subsequently issued opinions providing guidance on the substantive legal issues presented, including Los Compadres Pescadores, L.L.C. v. Valdez , 622 S.W.3d 771 (Tex. 2021).

Weekley Homes, LLC hired Leobardo Maravilla, an independent contractor, to work on Weekley's new townhome construction project. Leobardo's work crew—which included his brother, Jose Camerino Maravilla, and John Paniagua1 —did the framing and installation of siding, windows, and plywood decking for each townhome's roof and completed other tasks on an as-needed basis. Each townhome under construction had an adjacent concrete driveway and a temporary electricity pole (T-pole) that provided electricity for the work crew's tools and equipment.

On the day of the accident that claimed Jose's life, rain had been falling intermittently, making the concrete surface of the driveway wet. Lightning events had also occurred in the area. While Jose, Leobardo, and Paniagua were on the rain-soaked driveway moving a metal scaffold—allegedly at the direction of and in the manner previously demonstrated by Weekley's agent—the scaffold came within six to ten feet of the T-pole's power line. Contemporaneously, Jose was electrocuted, and Paniagua was reportedly injured by an electric shock. The source of injury is alleged to be electricity that originated from either the T-pole or lightning, which was conducted by water that had accumulated on the driveway.

Paniagua and several of Jose's relatives (collectively, the plaintiffs) sued Weekley for negligence, gross negligence, and premises liability. After discovery, Weekley filed combined traditional and no-evidence summary-judgment motions, asserting that Chapter 95 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code applies and precludes its liability on the theories alleged.

646 S.W.3d 825

––– S.W.3d at ––––, 2021 WL 118663, at *1.

When applicable, Chapter 95 "limits a real property owner's liability for common-law negligence claims that arise out of a contractor's or subcontractor's work on an improvement to the property." Energen , 642 S.W.3d at 509. But Chapter 95 applies only to a claim

(1) against a property owner, contractor, or subcontractor for personal injury, death, or property damage to an owner, a contractor, or a subcontractor or an employee of a contractor or subcontractor; and

(2) that arises from the condition or use of an improvement to real property where the contractor or subcontractor constructs, repairs, renovates, or modifies the improvement.

TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE § 95.002. If the defendant meets its burden of establishing both of these elements, Chapter 95 provides the plaintiff's "sole means of recovery" against the property owner, and the burden shifts to the plaintiff to establish the property owner's liability under the statute. Abutahoun v. Dow Chem. Co. , 463 S.W.3d 42, 51 (Tex. 2015) ; see TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE § 95.003 (shielding property owners from negligence liability absent actual or retained control or actual knowledge of and failure to adequately warn about the danger or condition).

As evidence of the second prong—that the claims here arise "from the condition or use of an improvement to real property" that the workers were "construct[ing], repair[ing], renovat[ing], or modif[ying]"—Weekley's summary-judgment motion relied only on statements in the plaintiffs’ live petition to the effect that they "were working" at the driveway and "working at" the townhome construction site when the accident occurred. After a hearing, the trial court granted summary judgment in Weekley's favor on all claims.2

The court of appeals affirmed summary judgment on the gross-negligence claims but reversed as to the negligence and premises-liability claims, holding that Weekley had not conclusively established Chapter 95's applicability.3 ––– S.W.3d at ––––, ––––, ––––, 2021 WL 118663, at *2, *6, *14. The court first determined that the plaintiffs’ appellate brief challenging Chapter 95's applicability "fairly include[d] a legal sufficiency challenge to both [of Section 95.002 ’s] prongs" even though "the bulk of" the brief's Section 95.002 argument "pertain[ed] to that section's first

646 S.W.3d 826

prong—Weekley's burden to show ownership of the property where the accident occurred." Id. at ––––, 2021 WL 118663 at *7 ; see Abutahoun , 463 S.W.3d at 48 ("Despite identifying three potential defendants in the applicability provision of section 95.002,...

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1 practice notes
  • Grassroots Leadership, Inc. v. Tex. Dep't of Family & Protective Servs., 19-0092
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • June 17, 2022
    ...action has caused the substantial risk of harm"). The plaintiffs have alleged that at least one detained child was sexually assaulted 646 S.W.3d 821 by an unrelated adult with whom she shared a room following Rule 748.7(c)’s adoption. Based on this concrete allegation, the plaintiffs allege......
1 cases
  • Grassroots Leadership, Inc. v. Tex. Dep't of Family & Protective Servs., 19-0092
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • June 17, 2022
    ...action has caused the substantial risk of harm"). The plaintiffs have alleged that at least one detained child was sexually assaulted 646 S.W.3d 821 by an unrelated adult with whom she shared a room following Rule 748.7(c)’s adoption. Based on this concrete allegation, the plaintiffs allege......

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