Recent Texas Cases of Interest to Cities

Note: Included cases are from October 1, 2023, through October 31, 2023.

Employment: City of Pasadena v. Poulos, No. 01-22-00676-CV, 2023 WL 7134974 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] Oct. 31, 2023) (mem. op.). Poulos sued the City of Pasadena under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act, asserting claims for hostile work environment, alleging that her supervisor treated her unfavorably compared to her white co-workers. She also asserted claims for retaliation, alleging that she received adverse employment actions such as having leave denied in retaliation for raising the issue of her unfavorable treatment and racial discrimination. The city filed a motion to dismiss, claiming governmental immunity. The trial court denied the motion and the city appealed, arguing that Poulos had not timely filed suit or served the city with process and that her charge of discrimination was not actionable under the TCHRA.

The appellate court reversed in part and affirmed in part, holding that: (1) Poulos’s racial discrimination claim was not actionable under the TCHRA because being denied leave on a specific day did not constitute an adverse employment action; (2) Poulos had not made a prima facie case for her hostile work environment claim because she had not shown that the treatment she received was related to her race or that is was so severe and pervasive that it affected a term, condition, or privilege of her employment; and (3) because the city failed to state why Poulos’s cause of action for her retaliation had no basis in law in its motion to dismiss, there was no grounds to dismiss the retaliation claim.

Tort Claims Act: City of Arlington v. Taylor, No. 02-22-00325-CV, 2023 WL 6631533 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth Oct. 12, 2023) (mem. op.). Taylor sued the City of Arlington after he was in a vehicular collision with a city police officer who was responding to an emergency.  The city filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asserting it was entitled to immunity under the emergency exception to the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA).  The trial court denied the city’s plea, and the city appealed.  After considering the city’s motion for rehearing en banc, the appellate court withdrew its May 18, 2023, memorandum opinion and substituted it with this October 12, 2023, opinion.  The appellate court reversed and rendered the judgement dismissing Taylor’s claims, finding that Taylor bore the burden of negating the application of the TTCA’s emergency exception and had failed to do so.

Tort Claims Act: City of Laredo v. Torres, No. 04-22-00453-CV, 2023 WL 6453823 (Tex. App.—San Antonio Oct. 4, 2023) (mem. op.). The plaintiff sued the city on February 18, 2021, for damages for a light pole that fell on him on February 18, 2019. The city filed a plea to the jurisdiction. The trial court denied the city’s plea and the city appealed.

The appellate court reversed and found: (1) there was a fact issue about the plaintiff’s timely notice of claim letter that identified the plaintiff, his injuries, and that a city lamp post fell on him; (2) the light pole was not a special defect; and (3) the city had no prior knowledge of the light pole as a dangerous condition so the plaintiff could not establish a premises defect.

Tort Claims Act: City of Uvalde v. Pargas, No. 04-23-00150-CV, 2023 WL 7005872 (Tex. App.—San Antonio Oct. 25, 2023) (mem. op.). The plaintiff sued the city for a premises defect and/or special defect when she fell in a hole and fractured her ankle while walking along FM 1435. The city filed a plea to the jurisdiction on multiple grounds, including that it did not owe a legal duty to the plaintiff because it did not own, control, or maintain the premises where she fell. At the hearing on the city’s plea, Texas Department of Transportation’s attorney represented that she believed the hole was in TxDOT’s right-of-way. The trial court denied the plea.

On appeal, the appellate court found that: (1) there was some evidence that the city controlled the premises because: (a) the agreement between the city and TxDOT still required the city to require repairs of utility services and the hole was from a removed utility pole; and (b) the city made the repair after the plaintiff fell which shows control; (2) the plaintiff failed to present evidence that the city had actual knowledge of the hole for an ordinance premises defect; (3) there was a fact issue about whether the hole was a special defect and the city should have known about it; and (4) the city had a duty to repair the hole if it owned or controlled the land where the special defect is. The appellate court reversed the denial of the plea on the ordinary premises defect claim but affirmed on the other grounds.

City of Laredo v. Moreno, No. 04-22-00624-CV, 2023 WL 7005871 (Tex. App.—San Antonio Oct. 25, 2023) (mem. op.). This case involves a lot of procedural history. The plaintiff sued the city when he was terminated from his job as the water treatment superintendent, which is subject to the city’s civil service rules and regulations. He alleged federal and state due process violations and sought an injunction to be reinstated. The trial court granted the request for a temporary injunction and ordered the city to reinstate the plaintiff. The city filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which the trial court denied. The appellate court affirmed the denial.

Then the trial court extended the preliminary injunction and ordered the plaintiff to pay $5,000 in a bond. The city requested the trial court increase the bond and the trial court denied the city’s motion. The city appealed the bond amount and appealed the trial court’s further order requiring the city to reinstate the plaintiff.

The appellate court dissolved the trial court’s injunction and found: (1) the trial court abused its discretion in granting the plaintiff’s request for a temporary injunction to reinstate him because he did not demonstrate an irreparable injury and did not demonstrate why monetary damages would not compensate him; and (2) the city did not demonstrate the amount of the supersedeas bond was improper.

Tort Claims Act: City of Dallas v. Holmquist, No. 05-23-00276-CV, 2023 WL 6547911 (Tex. App.—Dallas Oct. 9, 2023). Remy Holmquist sued the city of Dallas for negligence after falling into a hole in a grassy area after stepping off a sidewalk in one of the city’s parks at night. Holmquist originally claimed the hole was a premise defect under Tex. Civil Practice & Remedies Code Sec. 101.022(a). After the city filed a plea to the jurisdiction, Holmquist amended his petition claiming the hole was a special defect under Sec. 101.022(b). After a hearing, the trial court denied the city’s plea, and the city filed an interlocutory appeal.

The court of appeals, in reversing the trial court’s order, held that the hole was neither a special defect nor a premise defect where: (1) it was in a grassy area off the walking path not intended for use by pedestrians in the park and Holmquist did not act as an ordinary user when he walked in this area; and (2) Holquist presented no evidence the city had any actual knowledge of the hole or was grossly negligent.

Tort Claims Act: Wilson v. City of Houston, No. 14-22-00666-CV, 2023 WL 6561249 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] Oct. 10, 2023) (mem. op.). Brian Wilson was involved in a collision with a City of Houston fire truck on September 29, 2017. He filed a lawsuit against the City on September 27, 2019, claiming negligence and other causes of action under the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA). The city responded with a motion for summary judgment, citing, among other defenses, Wilson’s failure to provide timely notice of his claims, as required by the TTCA as well as the city’s charter. The trial court granted the city’s motion, and Wilson appealed.

The city’s charter mandates that written notice of a claim must be given within 90 days of the incident. Wilson attempted to overcome the city’s motion by submitting a letter expressing his intent to file a claim, a police report, and various pieces of evidence he claimed showed the city had actual notice of the incident, which the appellate court examined. The court stressed that for the city to have actual notice, it must have subjective awareness of its potential culpability. Ultimately, evidence submitted by Wilson was deemed insufficient to establish actual notice as it did not suggest the city was at fault. Wilson’s argument that the city had actual knowledge due to the involvement of its employees and the resulting damages and the fact that city employees knew he was injured was unconvincing, as the accident report charged Wilson with traffic violations rather than attributing fault to the city’s fire truck driver. Consequently, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s judgment, dismissing Wilson’s lawsuit.