Wyler Industrial Works v. Garcia, 08-97-00581-CV

CourtCourt of Appeals of Texas
Citation999 S.W.2d 494
Docket NumberNo. 08-97-00581-CV,08-97-00581-CV
Parties(Tex.App.-El Paso 1999) WYLER INDUSTRIAL WORKS, INC., Appellant, v. ROBERT GARCIA, Appellee
Decision Date29 July 1999

Page 494

999 S.W.2d 494 (Tex.App.-El Paso 1999)
WYLER INDUSTRIAL WORKS, INC., Appellant,
v.
ROBERT GARCIA, Appellee.
No. 08-97-00581-CV
COURT OF APPEALS EIGHTH DISTRICT OF TEXAS EL PASO, TEXAS
July 29, 1999

Appeal from 384th District Court of El Paso County, Texas (TC# 93-11159)

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Before Panel No. 1 Larsen, McClure, and Chew, JJ.

O P I N I O N

Ann Crawford McClure, Justice.

Wyler Industrial Works, Inc. (Wyler) appeals from a wrongful termination suit in which the jury found that it discharged Robert Garcia (Garcia) because he had filed a workers' compensation claim in good faith. For the reasons stated below, we affirm.

SUMMARY OF THE EVIDENCE

Robert Garcia was employed as a pipefitter's helper by Wyler Industrial Works, Inc. On December 18, 1991, Garcia sustained a work-related injury and thereafter filed a claim with the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission. Garcia did not work for four months following the injury. During this time, Garcia was visited by Gene Reimer (Reimer), Wyler's General Manager. Reimer offered Garcia "light duty work" at full salary, which Garcia refused. Garcia ultimately returned to work on April 21, 1992, after being released for full duty by his physician.

On July 30, 1992, Garcia was terminated. Reimer told Garcia that he was laid off because the "budget [was] low."1 However, less than a month after Garcia's termination, Wyler accepted an application for a pipefitter's helper and shortly thereafter, hired the employee for the same position held by Garcia. In correspondence to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Reimer stated that Garcia was terminated because he "was a helper and was not available for Saturday work."

On October 18, 1993, Garcia brought suit alleging violations of the Texas Workers' Compensation Statutes. See TEX.LAB.CODE ANN. 451.001 (Vernon 1996)(formerly TEX.REV.CIV.STAT.ANN. art. 8307c). The jury returned its verdict in favor of Garcia, finding that he was laid off because he filed a workers' compensation claim and awarding damages totaling $60,000. Wyler filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and a motion for new trial or remittitur. Both motions were denied and this appeal follows.

STANDARDS OF REVIEW

Wyler presents five issues for review. We begin with a discussion of the legal and factual sufficiency standard of review, under which Issues One and Two will be addressed. We follow with a discussion of the abuse of discretion standard of review, under which Issues Three through Five will be addressed.

Sufficiency Standards

A "no evidence" or legal insufficiency point is a question of law which challenges the legal sufficiency of the evidence to support a particular fact-finding. There are two separate "no evidence"

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claims. When the party having the burden of proof suffers an unfavorable finding, the point of error challenging the legal sufficiency of the evidence should be that the fact or issue was established as "a matter of law." Where, as here, the party without the burden of proof suffers an unfavorable finding, the challenge on appeal is one of "no evidence to support the finding." See Creative Manufacturing, Inc. v. Unik, Inc., 726 S.W.2d 207, 210 (Tex.App.--Fort Worth 1987, writ ref'd n.r.e.). The standard of review requires a determination by the appellate court as to whether, considering only the evidence and inferences that support a factual finding in favor of the party having the burden of proof in a light most favorable to such findings and disregarding all evidence and inferences to the contrary, there is any probative evidence which supports the finding. Garza v. Alviar, 395 S.W.2d 821, 823 (Tex. 1965); Southwest Craft Center v. Heilner, 670 S.W.2d 651, 653 (Tex.App.--San Antonio 1984, writ ref'd n.r.e.); Terminix International, Inc. v. Lucci, 670 S.W.2d 657, 662 (Tex.App.--San Antonio 1984, writ ref'd n.r.e.); Dayton Hudson Corp. v. Altus, 715 S.W.2d 670, 672 (Tex.App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1986, writ ref'd n.r.e.). If more than a scintilla of evidence supports the finding, the "no evidence" point fails. Tseo v. Midland American Bank, 893 S.W.2d 23, 25 (Tex.App.--El Paso 1994, writ denied); Hallmark v. Hand, 885 S.W.2d 471, 474 (Tex.App.--El Paso 1994, writ denied).

"Insufficient" evidence or factual insufficiency involves a finding that is so against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence as to be manifestly wrong. When the party having the burden of proof complains of an unfavorable finding, the point of error should allege that the findings "are against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence." The "insufficient evidence" point of error is appropriate only when the party without the burden of proof on an issue complains of the court's findings. Neily v. Aaron, 724 S.W.2d 908, 912 (Tex.App.--Fort Worth 1987, no writ). The latter applies here.

The test for factual insufficiency points is set forth in In re King's Estate, 150 Tex. 662, 244 S.W.2d 660, 661 (1951). In reviewing a point of error asserting that a finding is against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence, we must consider all of the evidence, both the evidence which tends to prove the existence of a vital fact as well as evidence which tends to disprove its existence. It is for the jury to determine the weight to be given to the testimony and to resolve any conflicts in the evidence. Carrasco v. Goatcher, 623 S.W.2d 769, 772 (Tex.App.--El Paso 1981, no writ). The jury's finding should be sustained if there is some probative evidence to support it and provided it is not against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence. Id. The parlance used by the courts of appeals is that such a finding "shocks the conscience" or that it is "manifestly unjust," limited by such phrases as "the jury's determination is usually regarded as conclusive when the evidence is conflicting," "we cannot substitute our conclusions for those of the jury," and "it is the province of the jury to pass on the weight or credibility of a witness's testimony." See, e.g., Transportation Ins. Co. v. Moriel, 879 S.W.2d 10, 30-31 (Tex. 1994); Beall v. Ditmore, 867 S.W.2d 791, 795-96 (Tex.App.--El Paso 1993, writ denied). Thus, we cannot substitute our judgment for that of the fact finder even if we find a fact contrary to that found by the jury, provided the jury finding is supported by probative evidence and is not against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence. If, however, the verdict is so contrary to the great weight and preponderance of the evidence as to be manifestly unjust, the point should be sustained.

Abuse of Discretion Standard

"A [party] who attacks the ruling of a trial court as an abuse of discretion labors under a heavy burden." Johnson

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v. Fourth Court of Appeals, 700 S.W.2d 916, 917 (Tex. 1985)(orig. proceeding). The test for abuse of discretion is not whether, in our opinion, the facts present an appropriate case for the trial court's actions. Rather, it is a question of whether the court acted without reference to any guiding rules and principles. Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238, 241-42 (Tex. 1985), cert. denied, 476 U.S. 1159, 106 S.Ct. 2279, 90 L.Ed.2d 721 (1986); Amador v. Tan, 855 S.W.2d 131, 133 (Tex.App.--El Paso 1993, writ denied). Stated more simply, the test is whether the act was arbitrary or unreasonable. Downer, 701 S.W.2d at 242 citing Smithson v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 665 S.W.2d 439, 443 (Tex. 1984); Amador, 855 S.W.2d at 133. The mere fact that a trial court may decide a matter within its discretionary authority in a different manner than an appellate judge in a similar circumstance does not demonstrate that an abuse of discretion has occurred. Downer, 701 S.W.2d at 242, citing Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. v. Johnson, 389 S.W.2d 645, 648 (Tex. 1965). A mere error of judgment is not an abuse of discretion. Loftin v. Martin, 776 S.W.2d 145, 146 (Tex. 1989).

SUFFICIENCY OF THE EVIDENCE

Liability Issue

In Issue One, Wyler complains that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the jury's determination that Garcia was terminated because he filed a workers' compensation claim. Question No. 1 inquired, "Did WYLER INDUSTRIAL WORKS, INC. discharge or lay off ROBERT GARCIA because he filed a worker's compensation claim in good faith, or instituted or caused to be instituted, a worker's compensation claim in good faith?" The accompanying instruction read:

There may be more than one cause for an employment decision. An employer does not discharge or discriminate against an employee for filing a worker's compensation claim in good faith, or instituting or causing to be instituted a worker's compensation claim in good faith, if the employer would have discharged or laid off the employee when he did even if the employee had not filed a worker's compensation claim in good faith or instituted or caused to be instituted a worker's compensation claim in good faith.

The jury answered in the affirmative.

Causal Connection

This Court has previously held that in a wrongful termination case, the employee has the burden of establishing a causal connection between the termination and his claim for workers' compensation benefits. Urquidi v. Phelps Dodge Refining Corp., 973 S.W.2d 400 (Tex.App.--El Paso 1998, no pet.); Investment Properties Management, Inc. v. Montes, 821 S.W.2d 691, 694 (Tex.App.--El Paso 1991, no writ); Paragon Hotel Corp. v. Ramirez, 783 S.W.2d 654, 658 (Tex.App.--El Paso 1990, writ denied). We also concluded in Montes that the employee need not prove that the compensation claim was the sole cause of the termination; he merely has to show that it contributed to the employer's decision to terminate him. Montes, 821 S.W.2d at 694; Mid-South Bottling Co. v. Cigainero, 799 S.W.2d 385, 390...

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