X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:In 1995, a group of doctors in Laredo talked about forming a single medical group. They eventually formed Laredo Medical Group Corp., with Mercy Health System as its parent holding company. LMG hired Josefina Mireles, a CPA, as the director of finance. When LMG grew too big, LMG contracted with Professional Healthcare Consultants to serve as the central billing office and develop procedures for improving collections. Gina Volmert of PHC was eventually named chief operating officer for the group, and Mireles was to report to her. Mireles became concerned with some of PHC’s billing practices and reported her concerns to various superiors. Mireles was told it was none of her concern, and she was later fired, ostensibly because of cost-cutting and downsizing measures. Mireles filed suit against the group, citing Sabine Pilot Services Inc. v. Hauck, 687 S.W.2d 733 (Tex. 1985), alleging that she had been fired for refusing to perform an illegal act. A jury agreed with Mireles and awarded her more than $1.5 million. On appeal, LMG argues that while Mireles may have stated a whistleblower claim, she did not meet the criteria for proving a claim under Sabine Pilot, where the plaintiff had the burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his discharge was for no reason other than his refusal to perform an illegal act. HOLDING:Reversed and remanded. Mireles argues that she was asked to prepare financial reports that were not based on truthful information from the billing department. The court says that in the most favorable light, the alleged unlawful acts were coming from the billing department. All Mireles did was take the billing department’s information and summarize it in reports that were used internally. The court says there is simply no evidence that summarizing information for use in internal reports is illegal. Furthermore, even if there were evidence that Mireles was ordered to perform an illegal act, there is no evidence that she refused to do so. There is no evidence in the record that Mireles refused to prepare the internal accounting reports that contained the alleged fraudulent and untruthful information. Nor is there evidence that she was asked or ordered to perform an illegal act. And Mireles would not have been subject to criminal penalties if she did not report what she observed. Mireles also argues that Volmert asked Mireles to perjure herself in court and that Mireles refused to do so. The court points out that Sabine Pilot is concerned with refusal to perform an illegal act, and whether one is called to testify is immaterial. The court then holds that there was not enough evidence to support some of the subparts of the jury question. According to Crown Life Insurance Co. v. Casteel, 22 S.W.3d 378 (Tex. 2000), when a single broad-form liability question erroneously commingles valid and invalid liability theories, and there is a timely objection, the error is harmful when it cannot be determined whether the improperly submitted theories formed the sole basis for the jury’s finding. “Here, we have multiple liability theories, several of which are not supported by legally sufficient evidence. Although the supreme court has not yet decided whether Casteel should apply in this scenario, we believe that the same policy concerns underlying Casteel . . . apply here.” The court recognizes that its ruling is opposite to one reached under similar circumstances by the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth Court of Appeals in Columbia Medical Center v. Bush, 122 S.W.3d 835 (Tex. App. � Fort Worth 2003, pet. denied), but because that case involved only one theory of liability, and Mireles alleged three theories of liability within her one Sabine Pilot claim, there should be a different result in this case. The court rejects LMG’s contention that Mireles judicially admitted that she was fired for reasons not having to do with the billing problems. OPINION:Angelini, J.; Green, Angelini and Marion, JJ.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 3 articles* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.