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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:United Services Automobile Association (USAA) employed James Steven Brite from 1977 to 2001. In 2001, USAA undertook a reduction in force and terminated Brite’s employment. Brite subsequently filed an age-discrimination suit against USAA, alleging that he was selected for a layoff because of his age. Brite filed his suit in the Bexar County Court-at-Law No. 7, which under Texas Government Code �25.0003(c)(1) has jurisdiction concurrent with that of the district court in “civil cases in which the matter in controversy exceeds $500 but does not exceed $100,000, excluding interest, statutory or punitive damages and penalties, and attorney’s fees and costs, as alleged on the face of the petition. . . .” In his original petition, Brite pleaded that his damages exceeded the statutory minimum of $500, but he did not plead that his damages were below the $100,000 maximum limits. Although he did not specify amounts, his pleadings sought the recovery of back pay, front pay, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees. Subsequently, Brite amended his petition to state that he sought damages of $1.6 million. He did not specify how much of that amount consisted of punitive damages or attorneys’ fees, but in a later discovery response, Brite admitted that “his lost wages and benefits in the future, until age 65, total approximately $1,000,000.00.” USAA filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asserting that the county court at law lacked jurisdiction, because Brite sought damages greater than $100,000. The trial court denied the plea. After a jury trial, the court ultimately awarded Brite $188,406 for back pay, $350,000 for front pay, $300,000 in punitive damages, $129,387 in attorneys’ fees and prejudgment interest. The 4th Court of Appeals, with one justice dissenting, affirmed the trial court’s judgment. On appeal, USAA argued that the 4th Court erred in affirming the trial court’s judgment, because the amount in controversy at the time Brite filed suit exceeded $100,000, thus depriving the county court at law of jurisdiction over the matter. HOLDING:The court reversed the judgment of the 4th Court and dismissed the case for want of jurisdiction. Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 47(b), the court stated, requires that an original pleading “contain . . . the statement that damages sought are within the jurisdictional limits of the court.” Brite’s petition, the court stated, did not comply with Rule 47(b), because it failed to assert that the matter in controversy was within the monetary limitations of the county court at law’s jurisdiction. But Brite could have remedied this defect, the court stated, by proving jurisdiction in the trial court, as his original petition did not “affirmatively demonstrate an absence of jurisdiction.” Brite, the court stated, asserted that he established jurisdiction by proof at trial that, at the time he filed his petition, his back-pay damages totaled less than $100,000. In contrast, USAA argued that Brite’s request for front-pay damages should be included in calculating the amount in controversy. The court cited its 2000 holding in Tune v. Texas Department of Public Safety, 23 S.W.3d 358, that the amount in controversy is determined by the amount the plaintiff seeks to recover. Brite argued, however, that the court abandon this rule in favor of another that takes into consideration the probability that plaintiff will succeed. Under this proposed rule, Brite asserted that front pay would not be included in the amount in controversy, because it was unlikely that he would recover front-pay damages, a remedy disfavored by courts. The 4th Court accepted this argument, holding that because of the “speculative nature of the front-pay damages,” the trial court did not err in excluding those damages from its calculation of the amount in controversy. But the court disagreed with the 4th Court’s reasoning. Texas Government Code �25.0003(c)(1), the jurisdictional statute for county courts-at-law, values the matter in controversy on the amount of damages alleged by the plaintiff, not on the amount the plaintiff is likely to recover, the court noted. And although the statute excludes several items when determining the amount in controversy, front pay is not among them, the court stated. Moreover, the court stated, the statute is not ambiguous, and courts are required to interpret unambiguous language according to its plain meaning. The court therefore held that front-pay damages must be included when determining the amount in controversy. OPINION:Medina, J., delivered the opinion of the court. Green, J., did not participate in the decision.

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