Recent Texas Cases of Interest to Cities

Note: Included cases are from September 11, 2022 through October 10, 2022.

Tort Claims Act: Leach v. City of Tyler, No. 21-0606, 2022 WL 4283082 (Tex. Sept. 16, 2022). Leondra Leach alleged that an improperly secured board flew from a city truck and struck her and the truck she was driving. Leach’s employer, who owned the vehicle Leach was driving, gave timely notice to the city of the $207.19 claim for minor damage to the vehicle, but the notice did not include claims related to personal injuries suffered by Leach individually. The city moved for summary judgment based on Leach’s failure to comply with the pre-suit notice requirements found in the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA), and the trial court granted the motion. Leach appealed. The appellate court affirmed the trail court’s ruling, determining that the notice given by Leach’s employer was inadequate to convey to the city its “perceived peril” due to Leach’s potential claim and was therefore inadequate notice under the TTCA. 

On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that: (1) the claims notice form that Leach’s employer filed with city was sufficient to satisfy the TTCA pre-suit notice; (2) personal injury action constituted proper notice to city of claim brought by Leach for purposes of the TTCA; and (3) the claims notice form was sufficient to satisfy city charter provision that required notice of tort claims within 30 days.

Tort Claims Act: The City of Arlington v. Evans, No. 02-22-00160-CV, 2022 WL 5240524 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth Oct. 6, 2022) (mem. op.). Evans sued the city for property damage and personal injuries that he claims resulted from a collision in which his vehicle was struck by a vehicle owned by the city. The city filed a plea to the jurisdiction in which it argued that the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because Evans failed to give the city timely formal notice of his claim as required by the Texas Tort Claims Act and because the city also lacked actual awareness that Evans claimed that he was injured in the accident. The trial court denied the city’s plea to the jurisdiction. 

The appellate court found that Evans did not provide the city with timely notice of his claim. The court determined that Evans’s evidence, which he claims should establish actual awareness of his injuries at the time of the accident or when he was later arrested by an Arlington police officer, fails to support the conclusion that the city had timely actual awareness of Evans’s injury claim. Additionally, the court found that the city did not have actual, subjective awareness of Evans’s personal injury claim. Thus, the court reversed the trial court’s order denying the city’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed solely the portion of Evans’s suit seeking personal-injury damages. The court did not dismiss the portion of Evans’s suit seeking property damages.

Annexation: Diamond Envtl. Mgmt., L.P. v. City of San Antonio, No. 04-21-00058-CV, 2022 WL 4359085 (Tex. App.—San Antonio Sept. 21, 2022) (mem. op.). The appellate court previously decided this case but withdrew its prior opinion and adopted this one. In 2013, the city entered into a development agreement with Diamond for Diamond to delay annexation. In 2019, the city: (1) notified Diamond that it had breached the agreement; (2) notified the relevant emergency services districts that also served Diamond’s property; and (3) passed an ordinance to annex Diamond’s property. The emergency services districts and Diamond sued the city, and the city filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which the trial court granted.

In affirming the grant of the plea, the appellate court: (1) found Diamond lacked standing; (2) found that the city’s pre-annexation notice to the emergency services district satisfied the statute’s requirements; (3) rejected the emergency services districts’ argument that the development agreement or the ordinance created a permit because the ordinance is exempted from the state law governing permits and the development agreements did not freeze any land use regulations; (4) rejected the argument that even if the landowners breached the development agreements, the development agreements are void because the city failed to offer development agreements in compliance with state law; and (5) rejected the emergency services districts’ argument that the Uniform Declaratory Judgment Act waived the city’s immunity.

Nuisance Abatement: Shannon v. Blair, No. 04-21-00257-CV, 2022 WL 4492801 (Tex. App.—San Antonio Sept. 28, 2022) (mem. op.). The plaintiff sued the city in a class action seeking a declaratory judgment that the city’s ordinance requiring property owners to keep their properties and abutting alleys free of garbage and overgrown brush was invalid and that she is not an “owner” of the alley. The city filed a plea to the jurisdiction on the grounds of governmental immunity and lack of standing, which the trial court denied. The city appealed.

In reversing the trial court, the appellate court found that: (1) the city did not provide sufficient evidence to show that the plaintiff did not have standing; (2) the city did not provide sufficient evidence that the claim was unripe; (3) the city’s broad discretion in enforcement of its ordinance was protected by governmental immunity against the plaintiff’s declaratory claim based on ultra vires actions of sending notices that it may enforce its ordinance requiring maintenance of the alleys; and (4) the plaintiff’s claims that she is not the owner of the alley was a restatement of her other ultra vires claim against the city and the city maintained its governmental immunity. The appellate court denied the plaintiff’s request to replead because the city would be entitled to governmental immunity even if plaintiff was given the opportunity.

Tort Claims Act: City of Dallas v. Monroy, No. 05-22-00012-CV, 2022 WL 4363836 (Tex. App.—Dallas Sept. 21, 2022) (mem. op.) Marco Anthony Monroy sued the city of Dallas after sustaining an injury while walking on a city sidewalk. His claim alleged his injury was caused by a hazardous condition that was a special defect, or alternatively, a premise defect. In response, the city filed a plea to the jurisdiction asserting immunity under the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA). After the trial court denied the city’s plea, the city appealed the ruling on the grounds that Monroy was a licensee and the city had no prior knowledge of the dangerous condition and that the alleged hazardous conditions were not special defects. Reversing the trial court order denying the city’s plea to the jurisdiction, the appellate court reasoned that the conditions—the raised concrete lip and hole on one side of the sidewalk—were not special defects akin to excavations or obstructions contemplated by the TTCA. In addition, Monroy failed to show any evidence the city had actual knowledge of the sidewalk’s alleged dangerous condition at the time of his injury. In reversing the order, the appellate court also remanded the case to the trial court to consider Monroy’s request for a continuance that had not been addressed at the city’s plea to the jurisdiction hearing before the court ruled in his favor.

Tort Claims Act: Varner v. City of Andrews, No. 08-20-00072-CV, 2022 WL 4538877 (Tex. App.—El Paso Sept. 28, 2022). Jessica Varner was attacked by a pack of dogs while out for a walk in the City of Andrews. After being released from the hospital, she met with city officials and gave a written statement about the attack to the Andrews Police Department. Just shy of the second anniversary of the attack, Varner sued the city claiming that she was attacked, in part, because the city was not following its own animal control ordinances. The city filed a plea to the jurisdiction arguing governmental immunity, which the trial court granted, making several findings, including that Varner (1) failed to give the city notice of the claim as required by the city’s charter, and (2) failed to plead facts sufficient to show the city waived its governmental immunity. Varner appealed.

A city is generally immune from suit for tort claims, but the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA) provides a waiver of this immunity under certain circumstances. One statutory prerequisite for waiver is that the plaintiff must give the city written notice of the claim within six months of the underlying incident. This statutory notice is in addition to any notice requirements found in the city’s charter or ordinances, and the City of Andrews actually has a shorter 90-day notice period. The pleadings in this case show that formal notice was not given to the city until the day the complaint was filed in court – nearly two years after the attack. Varner argues that the city had actual notice of the incident due to her discussions of the incident with city officials, but the appellate court held that these discussions did not satisfy the notice requirements. Because proper notice is a prerequisite to suit, the court did not address any other issues on appeal and affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

Tort Claims Act: Cameron Cnty. v. Sossi, No. 13-21-00180-CV, 2022 WL 4374994 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi–Edinburg Sept. 22, 2022) (mem. op.). Sossi filed suit against Cameron County for personal injury and property damage arising from a crash that occurred when a county ranger driving in the bicycle lane struck his vehicle as he was turning left. The county filed a plea to the jurisdiction, claiming governmental immunity under the emergency-response exception to the Texas Tort Claims Act or official immunity. The trial court denied the plea and the county appealed.

The appellate court reversed and rendered, holding that the county was entitled to governmental immunity because the ranger was entitled to official immunity.