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Brown v. Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority

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

March 9, 2017

DONNIE DOYLE BROWN, Appellant,
v.
CORPUS CHRISTI REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, Appellee.

         On appeal from the County Court at Law No. 1 of Nueces County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Benavides and Hinojosa

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GINA M. BENAVIDES, Justice

         By one issue, appellant, Donnie Doyle Brown, appeals the trial court's grant of a plea to the jurisdiction in favor of appellee, the Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority ("RTA"). We affirm.

         I. Background

         On May 4, 2012, a RTA bus ("the bus") reported an accident to police near the intersection of South Alameda Street and Texas Trail in Corpus Christi. According to the police report, the bus travelled along its route on Alameda Street, stopped at a bus stop in which two individuals were at the stop, but only one of the individuals boarded the bus. The other individual-later identified as Brown-stayed behind at the stop. Almost immediately after boarding, the passenger who had just boarded asked the driver to exit the bus. The bus driver stopped the bus and complied to let him off the bus. As the bus began to move again, Brown now attempted to board the bus, lost his balance along the curb, fell to the ground, and the bus's right rear tire ran over Brown's left arm causing Brown injury.

         The investigating police officer's report placed fault for the accident solely on Brown and did not attribute any fault to RTA. RTA collected statements from the bus's driver, Angelo Franzone, contact information from other riders on the bus, and conducted its own internal investigation of the incident. Nothing in those internal investigation reports expressly blames, fully or in part, Franzone or RTA.

         Nearly two years later, Brown filed suit against RTA alleging a cause of action for negligence and sought damages. RTA answered and shortly thereafter filed a plea to the jurisdiction alleging that Brown failed to meet the formal notice provision of the Texas Tort Claims Act nor did RTA have actual notice of Brown's claim, to invoke the trial court's subject-matter jurisdiction. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 101.101 (West, Westlaw through 2015 R.S.) (providing that notice is a jurisdictional requirement in all suits against a governmental entity); Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 311.034 (West, Westlaw through 2015 R.S.). In response, Brown did not dispute that he failed to provide formal written notice under section 101.101(a) of the civil practice and remedies code to RTA, but asserted that RTA had actual notice of his claim. See id. § 101.101(c).

         The trial court granted RTA's plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed Brown's claims against RTA. This appeal followed.

         II. Plea to the Jurisdiction

         By his sole issue, Brown asserts that the trial court erred by granting RTA's plea to the jurisdiction.

         A. Standard of Review and Applicable Law

         The purpose of a plea to the jurisdiction is to "defeat a cause of action without regard to whether the claims asserted have merit." Bland Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Blue, 34 S.W.3d 547, 554 (Tex. 2000). A challenge to the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law that we review de novo. Tex. Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 226 (Tex. 2004).

         Section 101.101 of the Texas Tort Claims Act ("TTCA"), "titled 'Notice, ' provides that a governmental unit is entitled to receive notice of a damage or injury claim against it not later than six months after the day the incident giving rise to the claim occurred."[1] Id. (citing Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 101.101(a)). Failure of a claimant to provide the requisite notice deprives a trial court of subject matter jurisdiction. Univ. of Tex. Sw. Med. Center at Dallas v. Estate of Arancibia ex rel. Vasquez-Arancibia, 324 S.W.3d 544, 548 (Tex. 2010) (explaining that the purported failure to provide notice would deprive the trial court of jurisdiction); see also Prairie View A&M Univ. v. Chatha, 381 S.W.3d 500, 511 (Tex. 2012) (providing that any "[s]tatutory prerequisites to a suit, including the provision of notice, are jurisdictional requirements in all suits against a governmental entity").

         However, subsection (c) of section 101.101 provides that "[t]he notice requirements provided . . . by Subsection[ ] (a) . . . do not apply [in pertinent part] if the governmental unit has actual notice that [. . . ]the claimant has received some injury." Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 101.101(c); Univ. of Tex. Sw. Med. Center at Dallas, 324 S.W.3d at 548 (explaining that section 101.101 does not require written notice if a governmental unit has "actual notice" of the injury).

         The Texas Supreme Court stated that it had "rejected an interpretation of actual notice that would 'require[ ] only that a governmental unit have knowledge of a death, an injury, or property damage, ' because a defendant, like a hospital, would then have 'to investigate the standard of care provided to each and every patient that received treatment, ' eviscerating the notice requirement's purpose." Id. (emphasis in original). Instead, the Texas Supreme Court "held that the governmental unit had to know of its 'alleged fault producing or contributing to the death, injury, or property damage.'" Id. The court explained that under section 101.101 actual awareness means that the ...


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