Recent Texas Cases of Interest to Cities

Note: Included cases are from February 1, 2024, through February 29, 2024.

Alcohol Permits: ASC Beverages, LLC v. Tex. Alcoholic Beverage Comm’n, No. 01-22-00297-CV, 2024 WL 628870 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] Feb. 15, 2024). ASC Beverages sued the Texas Alcoholic Beverages Commission (TABC) over the City of Houston’s denial of a permit to sell alcohol in its package store. TABC filed a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that because it hadn’t denied the permit, there was no justiciable controversy between it and ASC. The trial court granted the plea and ASC appealed.

The appellate court affirmed, holding that a city is not acting as an arm of the TABC in granting or denying a beer and wine license, and that therefore the city’s denial of the permit did not create a justiciable controversy between ASC and the TABC.

Jurisdiction: City of Castle Hills v. Robinson, No. 04-22-00551-CV, 2024 WL 819619 (Tex. App.—San Antonio Feb. 28, 2024) (mem. op.). The city filed maintenance liens against the Robinson’s property before he obtained ownership and eventually sued along with other taxing entities filed suit against Robinson to recover delinquent property taxes. Robinson counter-claimed against the city, claiming the city had failed to notify her of and the previous owners of the code violations and maintenance liens and that her constitutional rights were violated by the failure to provide proper notice. The city filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the counterclaims as well as non-jurisdictional grounds, which the trial court denied.

Affirming the denial of the city’s motion, the appellate court interpreted the summary judgment motion on jurisdiction as a plea to the jurisdiction and addressed only those arguments. The court addressed some of the city’s arguments and dismissed them because the plaintiff did not make claims against which the city argued. On the federal constitutional claims, the court determined that the city did not support its argument that Robinson could not establish the claims as a matter of law with any citations to evidence in the record. As for the statute of limitations argument, the court determined that since the pleadings only contained federal claims, the statute of limitations was not a jurisdictional requirement.

Tax Rate: Wommack v. City of Lone Star, No. 06-23-00086-CV, 2024 WL 367601 (Tex. App.—Texarkana Feb. 1, 2024) (mem. op.). A councilmember sued the city for injunctive relief for violating state law when the city adopted its tax rate. The trial court dismissed his case without a hearing on the date the defendants filed their answer and a specific denial. The councilmember appealed. On appeal, the court determined that the councilmember was entitled to notice and a hearing before the trial court dismissed the appeal because the trial court misconstrued the specific denial as a Rule 91 motion to dismiss. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded the matter for further proceedings.

Claims Preclusion: In re City of Beaumont, No. 09-23-00197-CV, 2024 WL 377833 (Tex. App.—Beaumont Feb. 1, 2024) (mem. op.). James Mathews, a firefighter with the City of Beaumont, was suspended indefinitely following his involvement in a vehicle collision, after which he was accused of assaulting the driver of the other vehicle. He appealed his suspension under the Civil Service Act, and the hearing examiner upheld his suspension. Mathews sued the city, challenging the hearing examiner’s ruling, and added several constitutional claims to his suit, including an equal protection claim, a retaliation claim, and a claim for declaratory judgment that the city had deprived him of his constitutionally protected interest in employment with the city. The trial court severed Mathews’s appeal of the Civil Service Act ruling from his constitutional claims. Then, the city filed a motion for summary judgment in the severed case, relying on res judicata, claims preclusion, and law-of-the-case doctrine based on a ruling from a federal court dismissing Mathews’s constitutional claims. The district court denied the city’s motion and the city filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the appellate court challenging the trial court’s denial of its motion for summary judgment.

The appellate court denied the city’s petition for writ of mandamus, holding that the record the city had provided was too unclear for the court to determine whether Mathews’s claims were barred because of the federal court’s ruling.

Issue Preclusion: Union Pacific Railroad v. Anderson Cty., No. 12-23-00152-CV, 2024 WL 739110 (Tex. App.—Tyler Feb. 22, 2024). The City of Palestine and Anderson County filed suit in state court seeking to enforce a state court judgment from 1955 that approved an agreement from 1954 that Union Pacific Railroad maintain a certain number of offices and employees in the city. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment regarding the continued validity of the 1954 agreement and 1955 judgment. Union Pacific also argued that the city’s arguments were estopped by issue preclusion after a federal court ruling, and that the agreement and judgment were both preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ITTCA).

The appellate court reversed the judgment of the trial court and rendered judgment, holding that: (1) the city’s arguments were barred by collateral estoppel based on identical litigation in federal court, despite the fact that the previous federal litigation concerned the validity of the agreement while the current litigation concerned the validity of the judgment; and (2) because the requirement that Union Pacific maintain employees and offices related to the movement of property by rail, it was expressly preempted by the ITTCA and therefore the requirement was void.

Contracts: City of Houston v. Aptim Envtl. & Infrastructure, LLC, No. 14-22-00616-CV, 2024 WL 848417 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] Feb. 29, 2024). Aptim LLC sued the City of Houston for unpaid invoices issued to the city under a contract for flood projects that included two amendments. The city filed a plea to the jurisdiction, claiming that it was immune to suit because the waiver of immunity in Chapter 271, Local Government Code, did not apply to claims arising under the second amendment to the contract because that amendment had been signed by an Aptim representative under its previous corporate name, Aptim Inc., which had been changed to Aptim LLC following a corporate restructuring. The trial court denied the city’s plea and the city appealed.

The appellate court affirmed, holding that the failure of Aptim to sign the second amendment to the contract using its current corporate name went to the merits of the case rather than the jurisdiction, and that Aptim had sufficiently pleaded the elements of Chapter 271’s waiver of immunity.