The Supreme Court of Texas conditionally granted mandamus relief because the trial court abused its discretion by incorrectly applying section 171.096(b) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code instead of applying 171.096(c) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.
In In re Lopez, 372 S.W. 3d 174 (June 8, 2012), survivors of a nursing home resident filed a demand for arbitration of survival and wrongful death claims against the nursing home arising out of allegedly negligent care. Even though the arbitration agreement provided that the arbitration be conducted in Victoria County, Texas, the parties agreed to arbitrate the dispute in front of a specific arbitrator in Travis County, Texas. The arbitrator ruled in favor of the survivors. The nursing home then filed an application in Victoria County to vacate the award. The survivors filed a motion to transfer venue to Travis County under section 171.096(c) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code (TCPRC). The trial court denied the survivors’ motion to transfer venue, agreeing instead with the nursing home that section 171.096(b) of the TCPRC applied and Victoria County was the proper venue. The survivors petitioned for writ of mandamus. The court of appeals also denied relief.
Supreme Court of Texas
The Supreme Court of Texas addressed whether section 171.096(b) or 171.096(c) applied. Looking to the Legislature’s choice of language in the statute, the Court noted that subsection (c)’s language, “has been held,” indicates that it applies when an arbitration hearing has already taken place. The language in subsection (b), “is to be held,” indicates that it applies when the parties have an agreement and an arbitration hearing has not yet taken place. The Court concluded that the trial court clearly abused its discretion by applying section 171.096(b) instead of 171.096(c) since an arbitration hearing had already been held. The Court also stated that its interpretation does not interfere with the parties’ ability to agree to venue provisions. However, in this case, the parties chose to disregard their previous contractual agreement.
Because section 171.096(c) is a mandatory venue provision that the trial court failed to apply, the Court conditionally granted mandamus relief and directed the trial court (1) to vacate the previous order and (2) grant the survivors’ motion to transfer venue.