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Home Depot loses bid to move workers comp suit to federal court


A worker prevailed over Home Depot U.S.A. Inc.’s attempt to move her lawsuit from state court to federal court in a ruling regarding employers opting out of Texas’ workers comp system.

Thursday’s 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Mary A. Ernewayn v. Home Depot U.S.A. Inc. resulted from a lawsuit Ms. Ernewayn filed in a Texas court in 2012, after she allegedly suffered neck and back injuries in 2011 when collapsing plywood pinned her against a lumber cart and pickup truck, court records show.

Texas law allows employers to opt out of its workers comp system, but they can be sued for negligence by injured workers. Employers that opt out, like Home Depot, are called “nonsubscribers.”

After her accident, the plaintiff sued in state court alleging negligence on Home Depot’s part. She sought actual damages and compensatory damages for pain and suffering, physical impairment, mental anguish and medical expenses.

But Home Depot cited diversity jurisdiction and won the right to move the case to U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in El Paso.

Ms. Ernewayn countered in the federal court, arguing that her lawsuit arose under Texas’ workers compensation law and therefore was not movable to federal court. The U.S. District Court agreed to remand the case to state court.

Home Depot appealed, essentially arguing that Texas workers comp law does not apply because Home Depot is a nonsubscriber.

On Thursday, however, the 5th Circuit ruled that it does not have jurisdiction to review remand orders, dismissing Home Depot’s appeal “for want of jurisdiction.”

In general, employer defendants in such cases prefer federal court, while plaintiffs prefer state court because of a state court system bias to resolve issues through jury trials, said Trek Doyle, a partner at Winstead P.C. in Austin, Texas.