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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Belinda Parker-Jett and her husband Tim filed suit in 2003 against American Casualty Co., a workers’ compensation insurance carrier, alleging that American Casualty had improperly delayed or denied payment of medical benefits and other expenses incurred for a work-related injury suffered by Parker-Jett. The couple alleged claims for breach of contract, deceptive trade practices, unfair insurance practices, and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. They later requested an abatement of the suit pending resolution of administrative proceedings before the Texas Workers’ Compensation Commission (which was abolished and replaced with the Texas Department of Insurance’s Division of Workers’ Compensation) regarding American Casualty’s denial of reimbursement for mileage and prescription medications and its denial of coverage for psychological treatment. Judge Gene Knize of the 40th District Court of Ellis County granted this request in August 2004, ordering that the suit be abated “until such time as Plaintiff has fully and completely exhausted her administrative remedies.” The plaintiffs filed a motion to lift the abatement order in April 2007, stating that “all remedies have been exhausted.” American Casualty filed a response opposing any lifting of the abatement order. American Casualty advised Knize that the plaintiffs were still pursuing an appeal in a Dallas County district court of an adverse administrative decision by the division on their claim regarding coverage for psychological treatment, that the claim regarding reimbursement for prescription medications remained pending before the division and that plaintiffs’ counsel had agreed that they were not entitled to reimbursement for mileage. At a hearing on the motion to lift the abatement order, American Casualty reiterated these contentions ,and the plaintiffs did not refute them. Instead, plaintiffs’ counsel argued, “We’ve had this abated since 2004. We believe we need to move forward on this case. It’s been three years now, and there’s a good chance discoverable materials are not going to be available anymore.” Over American Casualty’s objection, Knize advised that he would lift the abatement order “as to any discovery.” American Casualty sought a writ of mandamus compelling Knize to set aside an order granting a motion by the real parties in interest to lift an abatement order and permit discovery in the underlying suit. HOLDING:The court conditionally granted the petition for a writ of mandamus. Mandamus relief, the court stated, is available only to correct a clear abuse of discretion when there is no adequate remedy by appeal. When a plaintiff files suit related to claims lying within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Division of Workers’ Compensation, which the division has not yet finally resolved, “the court may abate proceedings to allow a reasonable opportunity for the jurisdictional problem to be cured.” In this case, the court stated that the trial court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to try the plaintiffs’ claims until the plaintiffs have exhausted their administrative remedies with the division. Thus, the court stated that it must decide whether American Casualty has an adequate remedy by appeal to challenge Knize’s order permitting discovery in a case in which Knize has not yet acquired (and may not ever acquire) subject matter jurisdiction. As a carrier in the workers’ compensation system, American Casualty has a statutory expectation that claims will be administratively determined by the division before litigation may be pursued. Absent mandamus relief, American Casualty will be deprived of the benefits of the workers’ compensation system. Therefore, the court held that American Casualty has no adequate remedy by appeal. OPINION:Reyna, J.; Vance and Reyna, JJ. DISSENT:Gray, C.J. “The issue presented by the plaintiffs to the trial court is whether they should be allowed to go forward with discovery in their pending suit, or should they continue to wait for a resolution of the new claims for benefits. If the new claims for benefits are resolved favorably to the plaintiffs in the administrative proceeding, it appears the plaintiffs intend to add claims to the underlying suit for the wrongful denial of those benefits.” “I find nothing about the court’s partial lifting of the abatement order to permit discovery on existing and ripe allegations of plaintiffs’ case that was an abuse of discretion. Further, I find that if the plaintiffs attempt to expand discovery beyond its proper scope, the relator would have an adequate legal remedy that has not yet been exercised.”

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