Recent Texas Cases of Interest to Cities

Note: Included cases are from January 11, 2021 through February 10, 2021.

Nuisance Abatement: Groba v. City of Taylor, No. 03-19-00365-CV, 2021 WL 359203 (Tex. App.Austin Feb. 3, 2021) (mem. op.).  The City sought injunctive relief and civil penalties related to its nuisance determination, including an authorization for the City to demolish Groba’s building and charge the costs for doing so to Groba. The trial court issued an injunction order allowing the City to demolish the building, which the City did.  The day after the demolition, Groba filed a counterclaim for declaratory judgment and trespass, arguing that he was entitled to a jury trial on the nuisance determination. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which the trial court granted. Groba appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the granting of the plea to the jurisdiction as Groba did not timely appeal the municipal court order thereby not complying with the jurisdictional prerequisites for judicial review of the nuisance determination.* 

Employment: City of Fort Worth v. Fitzgerald, No. 05-20-00112-CV, 2021 WL 486396 (Tex. App.—Dallas Feb. 10, 2021). The City terminated its police chief and he sued for violations of the Texas Whistleblower Act, the Open Meetings Act, the Public Information Act, and the Texas Constitution. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction against the chief’s whistleblower claims on the grounds that he failed to properly follow the internal grievance process under the City’s Personnel Rules and Regulations for General Employees (PRRs). The appellate court denied the City’s plea, finding that the PRRS specifically exempted police officers from them; therefore, Fitzgerald did not have to follow the grievance procedures set forth in the PRRs.

Contracts: City of McKinney v. KLA Int’l Sports Mgmt., LLC, No. 05-20-00659-CV, 2021 WL 389096 (Tex. App.—Dallas Feb. 4, 2021). The City and KLA entered into a non-exclusive revocable license giving KLA recreational use of soccer fields, which included terms for how KLA would construct, rehabilitate, and maintain the fields. The City issued a notice of default and terminated the agreement. KLA sued for breach of contract and the City filed a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing the suit involved a governmental function of parks and recreational facilities. The appellate court found that the City was acting in a governmental function when it entered into the license agreement. However, the Court concluded that the City was not immune from suit for goods and services under Chapter 271. The Court found that improving, rehabilitating, and maintaining the soccer fields as consideration for non-exclusive use of the fields satisfied the requirements of an agreement for providing goods and services to the City.

Dismissal for Want of Prosecution: Sanchez v. City of Snyder, No. 11-19-00013-CV, 2021 WL 126429 (Tex. App.—Eastland Jan. 14, 2021) (mem. op.). Sanchez filed an inverse condemnation suit against the city related to the demolition of a vacant mobile home. The city filed a motion to dismiss for want of prosecution (DWOP). Sanchez argued that various personal circumstances and financial issues had caused the delay in trying the case. The trial court granted the city’s motion, noting that Sanchez’s explanations were no excuse for a total delay of the case. Sanchez appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion. The court of appeals held the trial court did not abuse its discretion because: (1) when the trial court granted the DWOP, the suit had remain unresolved for more than four years; (2) five and one-half years had passed since the demolition of the home; and (3) there was no expectation of when Sanchez would be ready to try the case. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Unemployment Benefits: Van Deelen v. Texas Workforce Comm’n, No. 14-18-00489-CV, 2021 WL 245483 (Tex. App.—Houston (14th Dist.) Jan. 26, 2021) (mem. op.). Van Deelen was denied unemployment benefits by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) upon a finding that he was fired from his employer, Spring Independent School District (Spring ISD) for misconduct.  He appealed the decision to the district court. TWC and Spring ISD filed a joint motion for summary judgement, which the trial court granted, finding that there was substantial evidence to support TWC’s decision. Van Deelen appealed.  The Court of Appeals concluded that substantial evidence supports TWC’s determination that Van Deelen was terminated for misconduct. The decision of the trial court is affirmed.  

Discrimination and Retaliation: Metropolitan Transit Auth. of Harris Cty. v. Carter, No. 14-19-00422-CV, 2021 WL 126687 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] Jan. 14, 2021) (mem. op.).  Carter was working as a bus operator when he was administratively terminated for alleged “medical restrictions prohibiting him from performing the essential duties of a bus operator.”  In its termination letter, Metro did not identify any specific restrictions or essential job functions that Carter could not perform, instead, informing him, that he must be qualified to perform the prospective job requirements and be physically capable of performing the essential functions for an extended period of time.  Carter filed suit, alleging disability and age discrimination and retaliation.  Metro filed a plea to the jurisdiction, and an amended plea to the jurisdiction arguing that the trial court lacked jurisdiction because Carter had failed to demonstrate Metro’s governmental immunity had been waived. At the oral hearing on Metro’s plea, Carter non-suited his age discrimination claim.  The trial court denied Metro’s plea, and Metro filed an interlocutory appeal.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s order and remanded the case for further proceedings, finding that Carter’s claims were not time barred, that there was a fact issue as to whether Carter was qualified for the position of bus operator, and that there was at least a fact issue on Carter’s retaliation cause.

Notice of Claim: Metropolitan Transit Auth. of Harris Cty. v. Carr, No. 14-19-00158-CV, 2021 WL 98076 (Tex. App.Houston [14th Dist.] Jan. 12, 2021). This is an interlocutory appeal from the denial of a plea to the jurisdiction alleging that Carr failed to provide notice of her claim under the Texas Tort Claims Act when she identified the wrong bus number, thereby, failing to identify the correct “place” where an the incident that resulted in her injuries occurred. The Court of Appeals found that Carr complied with the requirement of reasonably describing the place of the incident giving rise to claim by alleging that it occurred on a bus near a specific intersection.  The decision of the trial court is affirmed. 

*Indicates case summaries taken largely from the work of the Law Offices of Ryan Henry, PLLC, and reprinted with permission from Ryan Henry.  To sign up for the firm’s blog, go to www.rshlawfirm.com.