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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:The appellant, Carlos Cervantes, appeals the trial court’s order granting the plea to the jurisdiction filed by the appellee, Tyson Foods Inc., and the dismissing of his cause with prejudice. Cervantes was hired by Tyson on April 9, 2001. Cervantes sustained a compensable injury to his right hand on April 16, 2001. On Dec. 6, 2001, a benefit contested case hearing was held to determine whether Cervantes suffered a disability as a result of his injury. On Dec. 17, 2001, Cervantes received the hearing officer’s decision which found that Cervantes did not have a disability. Cervantes filed his appeal of the contested case hearing decision on Jan. 14, 2002. On Feb. 22, 2002, the TWCC Appeals Panel No. 492 issued a decision in which it stated Cervantes did not file his appeal timely. Specifically, the Appeals Panel found that “[t]he appeal being untimely, the jurisdiction of the Appeals Panel was not properly invoked and the decision and order of the hearing officer have become final under Section 410.169″ of the Texas Labor Code. On March 29, 2002, Cervantes filed an original petition with the district court for judicial review of the TWCC Appeals Panel’s decision to dismiss his appeal. In his petition, Cervantes alleged that he had exhausted his administrative remedies under the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act and was aggrieved by the Appeals Panel decision which declined to assert jurisdiction over his appeal. Cervantes sought to show that the Appeals Panel had erred in its determination because he had made diligent efforts to file his appeal before the deadline, but was prevented from doing so by TWCC staff negligence. Tyson filed a plea to the jurisdiction on May 6, 2002, arguing that under Texas Labor Code �410.169, the benefit contested case hearing decision became final and binding when it was not timely appealed. After a hearing on July 23, 2002, the trial court granted Tyson’s plea to the jurisdiction without stating the basis for its ruling. Cervantes’ motion for new hearing was overruled by operation of law. HOLDING:Reversed and remanded. Since Cervantes received the hearing officer’s decision on Dec. 17, 2001, he had 15 days excluding Saturdays, Sundays and holidays to file his appeal, that is, until Jan. 9, 2002. Cervantes did not timely file his appeal to the TWCC Appeals Panel. Upon receiving Cervantes’ attempted appeal and apparently without any evidence as to the alleged TWCC office errors, the Appeals Panel determined that its jurisdiction was not properly invoked and under the statute the decision of the hearing officer was final. In a case of first impression, the question raised by the instant appeal, in effect, is whether a district court can consider the same statutory provisions and evidence of late filing that were considered by the Appeals Panel in making its jurisdictional determination, to determine whether it also lacks jurisdiction, regardless of the petitioner’s compliance with the statutory requirements for obtaining judicial review of an appeals panel’s final decision. Under the Workers’ Compensation Act statutory scheme, the Texas Workers’ Compensation Commission has sole power to award compensation benefits, subject to judicial review. There is no inherent right to judicial review of administrative agency decisions. The right of judicial review exists only when 1. a statute creates it; 2. the order adversely affects a vested property right; or 3. the order otherwise violates some constitutional right. Judicial review is the concluding step of the Act’s four-tier system for disposition of compensation issues. Each step is a prerequisite to the succeeding one. Through the tiered system, the Legislature created a right to judicial review of appeals panel decisions under which Texas Labor Code �410.251 determines a party’s ability to invoke the trial court’s jurisdiction. A plain reading of the statute indicates only two jurisdictional requirements: a party 1. must exhaust its administrative remedies; and 2. be aggrieved by a final decision of the appeals panel. In this case, Cervantes complied with statutory jurisdictional requirements to proceed to the concluding step of the workers’ compensation disposition process. By deciding its jurisdiction to consider Cervantes’ appeal based on the statutory provisions governing the appeals panel’s jurisdictional determination, rather than the jurisdictional requirements imposed by �410.251, the district court prematurely reached the merits of Cervantes’ claims. Under these circumstances, the district court erred in granting Tyson’s plea to the jurisdiction on the grounds asserted. OPINION:Chew, J.

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