LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!

What makes a place a home, or more aptly, a residence? In the case of former Dallas Cowboy football player, Reshod Fortenberry, establishing residency wasn’t a clear case. The Supreme Court of Texas heard oral arguments for Fortenberry v. Great Divide Ins. Co., No. 21-1047 earlier this year. The issue before the court is whether a hotel may be a residence for purposes of determining venue. In May 2015, Fortenberry, signed a three-year contract with the Cowboys and the team provided him with hotel accommodations at the Residence Inn, where he stayed while he participated in team activities. In August 2015, Fortenberry sustained a knee injury at the Cowboy’s training camp in California, which left him unable to play professional football. The Cowboys terminated Fortenberry from the team in May 2016, and Fortenberry later filed a lawsuit in Dallas County against Great Divide Insurance Co. for workers’ compensation.

Great Divide argued that Fortenberry did not reside in Dallas County at the time of the injury and moved to transfer the case to Travis County. The trial court denied Great Divide’s motion and the court of appeals affirmed that decision, however, the court of appeals held that Fortenberry failed to present prima facie proof to satisfy the residency requirements under the Snyder Residence Test for venue purposes.

Under the Snyder Residence Test, the residence must meet the following requirements, Snyder v. Pitts, 241 S.W.2d 136, 140 (Tex. 1951):

  1. a fixed place of abode within the possession of the party;
  2. occupied or intended to be occupied consistently over a substantial period of time; and
  3. which is permanent rather than temporary.

The Court of Appeals noted that under the first element, the party must have a right of possession and not be a mere visitor of the residence. This requirement includes an element of control over the property that is broader than the ability to enter, as the right of access does not equate to possession for the purpose of establishing residence. Thus, the court of appeals held that because a hotel guest is a licensee and not a tenant, Fortenberry was unable to establish that he possessed a “fixed place of abode” at the Residence Inn at the time of his injury. Further, the court of appeals ruled that Fortenberry was unable to provide sufficient evidence pertaining to the frequency and duration of his stay at the hotel prior to the injury and establish that he consistently and permanently stayed in Dallas County at the time of his injury to meet the other requirements under the Snyder test.

The Supreme Court of Texas’s decision will provide clarity to the residency requirements and determine whether a hotel can satisfy the three requirements set forth in the Snyder Residency Test.

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