Sabine Consolidated, Inc. v. Texas

806 S.W.2d 553 (1991)

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Sabine Consolidated, Inc. v. Texas

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
806 S.W.2d 553 (1991)

Facts

Two employees who worked for Sabine Consolidated, Inc. (Sabine) (plaintiff) were killed when an excavation trench on their job site caved in and buried them. It was alleged that Sabine and its president, Joseph Tantillo (plaintiff), had failed to provide a safe working environment by failing to properly shore up and slope the evacuation wall, causing it to collapse onto the two workers. Texas (defendant) prosecuted Sabine and Tantillo under Texas criminal law, and both defendants pleaded no contest to criminally negligent homicide. Sabine received a $10,000 fine. Tantillo’s punishment was six months in jail, a year of probation, and a $2,000 fine. However, Sabine’s and Tantillo’s convictions were overturned and acquittals were ordered by a Texas appellate court. The appellate court ruled that the provisions of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) showed Congress’s implied intent to occupy the whole realm of workplace safety such that state laws related to workplace safety were preempted by OSHA. It was clear that OSHA expressly preempted state workplace-safety laws. However, OSHA provided a process for states to implement their own plans for occupational safety in place of federal law. OSHA also indicated that it had no impact on laws such as workers’ compensation or laws affecting employer culpability under the common law or statutes related to employee injuries and deaths that originated from or within the context of employment. Finally, OSHA’s purpose was to prevent workplace injuries. In contrast, Texas’s criminal law was not designed to establish rules for occupational safety but to punish crimes. Texas sought review, which the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted to consider the issue of preemption.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Baird, J.)

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