Likely obscured by the legislative din emanating from the capitol these days, the Texas Legislature has somewhat quietly altered the Texas Supreme Court’s jurisdiction by passing HB 1761. The Governor signed it, without much fanfare, on May 26, 2017, and the bill is now effective on September 1, 2017.

For the uninitiated, at its most basic level, jurisdiction entails a court’s ability to hear a matter. The Texas Supreme Court is the state’s highest appellate court that reviews civil matters. It also generally enjoys the discretionary power to select appeals for review, albeit appeals over which it has jurisdiction.

Final Judgments

Currently, the Texas Supreme Court has discretion to hear appeals from final orders or judgments in the following six types of civil matters:

  • a case in which the justices of a Texas intermediate appellate court (“court of appeals”) disagree on a question of law material to the decision (“dissent” jurisdiction);
  • a case in which one of the courts of appeals holds differently from a prior decision of another court of appeals or of the supreme court on a question of law material to a decision of the case (“conflict” jurisdiction);
  • a case involving the construction or validity of a statute necessary to a determination of the case;
  • a case involving state revenue;
  • a case in which the railroad commission is a party; and
  • any other case in which it appears that an error of law has been committed by the court of appeals, and that error is of such importance to the jurisprudence of the state that, in the opinion of the supreme court, it requires correction, but excluding those cases in which the jurisdiction of the court of appeals is made final by statute.

Interlocutory Orders

The Supreme Court also has discretion to review the following four types of interlocutory orders (orders that are not final):

  • orders that certify or refuse to certify a class in a class action suit;
  • orders that deny summary-judgment motions in certain cases involving the media and free-press or free-speech claims;
  • orders that deny motions to dismiss asbestos-related or silica-related cases; and
  • orders that are permissively appealed when they involve (1) controlling questions of law as to which there is substantial ground for differing opinions; and (2) may materially advance the litigation’s ultimate termination.

The Supreme Court may also review interlocutory orders based on the dissent and conflict standards concerning final orders or judgments. While the courts of appeals must have first reviewed the foregoing matters, the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over certain matters that appealing parties may present to it directly. For instance, an appealing party may directly appeal a trial court order that granted or denied an interlocutory or permanent injunction predicated on a state statute’s constitutionality. The Supreme Court may not, however, review a small number of enumerated matters contained in subsection 22.225(b) of the Texas Government Code.

Statutory Changes

On the surface, HB 1761 makes some notable changes to the current legislation. Some are relatively superficial and overdue. HB 1761 modernizes previous statutory language that described how parties appealed cases to the Supreme Court. It did so by replacing references to the old writs-of-error applications and court-of-appeals’ certifications with references to the current petition-for-review process. It further modernizes the statute by eliminating additional sections pertaining to the bygone writs of error.

Other changes, however, are more significant. HB 1761 eliminated the six jurisdictional bases for reviewing final orders or judgments. It also eliminated the four types of interlocutory appeals and the conflict/dissent standards. HB 1761 further eliminated the list of prohibited matters in subsection 22.225(b). It replaced them with a single basis: the Supreme Court will have jurisdiction over appealable orders or judgments that it determines present a question of law that is important to the jurisprudence of the state.

Beginning in September, the Supreme Court will apply the same standard—important to the jurisprudence of the state—to all appealable orders and judgments. On paper, these legislative changes seem to expand the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over appealable matters. What, however, will be the practical effects of these changes? I’ll address that issue in my next two posts.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Mikko Tarvainen.