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City of Pharr v. Herrera

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

March 9, 2017

THE CITY OF PHARR, TEXAS, Appellant,
v.
DORA HERRERA, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF REYNALDO HERRERA, DECEASED, ERIC HERRERA, EFREN HERRERA, MICHAEL HERRERA, JESSICA HERRERA RODRIGUEZ, CELIA HERRERA, VANESSA HERRERA, VERONICA HERRERA RODRIGUEZ HERRERA, AND REY HERRERA, Appellees.

         On appeal from the 370th District Court of Hidalgo County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Rodriguez and Benavides

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROGELIO VALDEZ Chief Justice

         Appellant, City of Pharr (the "City"), appeals from the trial court's denial of its plea to the jurisdiction. Appellees, Dora Herrera, Individually and as Representative of the Estate of Reynaldo Herrera, deceased, Eric Herrera, Efren Herrera, Michael Herrera, Jessica Herrera Rodriguez, Celia Herrera, Vanessa Herrera, Veronica Herrera Rodriguez Herrera, and Rey Herrera, sued the City under the Texas Tort Claims Act for negligence in causing the death of Reynaldo Herrera. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 101.021(1)(A) (West, Westlaw through 2015 R.S.). By two issues, the City contends that the trial court erred in denying its plea to the jurisdiction because appellee did not present a cause of action that overcomes the general rules of government immunity and because Officer Gonzalez would be entitled to official immunity for carrying out his law enforcement duties in good faith. We reverse and render.

         I. Pertinent Facts

         On May 26, 2010, the City's police officer, Emilio Gonzalez, attempted to conduct a traffic stop of a Ford Expedition for a violation of the Texas Transportation Code. The Expedition, which was driven by Rafael Carro Quintero, failed to stop, and Officer Gonzalez pursued the vehicle into the city of Alamo, Texas. Officers from the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office and Department of Public Safety (DPS) joined the pursuit of the Expedition, which traveled at a high rate of speed. Sometime thereafter, Officer Gonzalez disengaged the pursuit at the intersection of Tower and Trenton Roads, but he did not advise the other agencies to disengage pursuit. While two officers with the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office were pursuing the Expedition on a dirt road, the Expedition hit Reynaldo Herrera's vehicle. Herrera passed away as a result of his injuries.

         Appellees filed suit against the City for initiating the chase. The trial court denied the City's plea to the jurisdiction. This appeal followed.

         II. Standard of Review and Applicable Law

         We review a plea to the jurisdiction under a de novo standard of review. Westbrook v. Penley, 231 S.W.3d 389, 394 (Tex. 2007). A plea to the jurisdiction seeks to dismiss a case for want of jurisdiction. Tex. Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 226-27 (Tex. 2004).

A plea to the jurisdiction is a dilatory plea, the purpose of which is to defeat a cause of action without regard to whether the claims asserted have merit. The claims may form the context in which a dilatory plea is raised, but the plea should be decided without delving into the merits of the case. The purpose of a dilatory plea is not to force the plaintiffs to preview their case on the merits but to establish a reason why the merits of the plaintiffs' claims should never be reached.

Bland Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Blue, 34 S.W.3d 547, 554 (Tex. 2000) (internal citations omitted).

         III. Immunity

         Local governmental entities have absolute immunity from suit unless immunity has been expressly waived by the Legislature. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 224. Immunity deprives a trial court of subject matter jurisdiction. Id. The TTCA provides a limited waiver of sovereign immunity in certain situations. See generally Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 101.021(1)(A) (West, Westlaw through 2015 R.S.). The TTCA waives immunity, and a governmental unit is liable for a death proximately caused by the wrongful act or omission or the negligence of an employee acting within his scope of employment if, the death arose from the operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle and "the employee would be personally liable to the claimant according to Texas law." Id.; City of Dall. v. Hillis, 308 S.W.3d 526, 532 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2010, pet. denied).

         IV.Analy ...


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