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Guadalupe County v. Woodlake Partners, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

April 12, 2017

WOODLAKE PARTNERS, INC. and Woodlake Partners, L.P., Appellees

         From the 25th Judicial District Court, Guadalupe County, Texas Trial Court No. 11-1270-CV Honorable William Old, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Marialyn Barnard, Justice Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice


          Marialyn Barnard, Justice

         Guadalupe County appeals the trial court's order denying the motion for summary judgment Guadalupe County filed asserting governmental immunity. Guadalupe County contends the trial court erred in denying the motion because the evidence established as a matter of law that any damage to the value of the appellees' property was proximately caused by the Federal Emergency Management Administration's (FEMA) revision of its 100-year flood plain maps and federal regulations governing development in flood plains and floodways, not by Guadalupe County's adoption of its Flood Damage Prevention Court Order.


         In 2007, FEMA revised its 100-year Flood Insurance Rate Maps for Guadalupe County.[1]After the revisions, several lots owned by Woodlake Partners, Inc. and Woodlake Partners, L.P. (collectively "Woodlake Partners"), which previously were not located in a floodway or flood plain, are now located in a floodway or flood plain.[2] In response to FEMA's revisions, Guadalupe County adopted a Flood Damage Prevention Court Order ("Order") governing the development of lots located in a floodway or flood plain.

         On March 24, 2011, Woodlake Partners submitted a Floodplain Development Permit Application in order to develop one of the lots located in a floodway. On March 28, 2011, Guadalupe County sent Woodlake Partners a letter stating the application was incomplete for various reasons, including Woodlake Partners failure to submit "No-Rise documentation from engineer." The letter also noted federal regulations required the construction to have the lowest floor elevated to or above the base flood level.

         On June 28, 2011, Woodlake Partners filed the underlying lawsuit against Guadalupe County asserting an inverse condemnation. Woodlake Partners alleged a builder can only obtain a No-Rise Certificate "if the builder can trade-off credits by removing existing structures or impediments of equal size or square-footage along the floodway within the building area in question." Woodlake Partners also alleged they were "informed by a professional environmental engineer that there is little practical or even possible way a No-Rise Certificate could be obtained for [the] lot(s) located in the floodway because there is no possibility of removing enough material(s) to justify a No-Rise Certificate." In addition, Woodlake Partners alleged to build on the lots located "in the floodplain (or in the floodway, if [they] could obtain the required No-Rise Certificate), [they] would be required to build houses eight to twelve feet above ground level." Woodlake Partners further alleged such construction would be in violation of the subdivision's covenants, would seriously impair the aesthetic value and market value of existing homes in the subdivision, and would be cost-prohibitive.

         On January 14, 2016, Guadalupe County filed a no evidence and traditional motion for summary judgment. In the motion, Guadalupe County asserted: (1) Woodlake Partners had no evidence of causation; (2) the evidence establishes the absence of causation as a matter of law; and (3) Guadalupe County has governmental immunity because Woodlake Partners cannot establish their damages were caused by Guadalupe County's actions as opposed to FEMA's actions. The trial court denied the motion, and Guadalupe County appeals.

         Standard of Review

         "The absence of subject-matter jurisdiction may be raised by a plea to the jurisdiction, as well as by other procedural vehicles, such as [in this case] a motion for summary judgment." Bland Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Blue, 34 S.W.3d 547, 554 (Tex. 2000). We review a summary judgment de novo. Katy Venture, Ltd. v. Cremona Bistro Corp., 469 S.W.3d 160, 163 (Tex. 2015). To prevail on a traditional motion for summary judgment, the movant must show "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the [movant] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Tex.R.Civ.P. 166a(c). A trial court must grant a no-evidence motion for summary judgment unless the nonmovant produces some evidence raising a genuine issue of material fact on each element of the nonmovant's claims challenged in the motion. KCM Fin. LLC v. Bradshaw, 457 S.W.3d 70, 79 (Tex. 2015). We take as true all evidence favorable to the nonmovant, resolve all conflicts in the evidence in the non-movant's favor, and indulge every reasonable inference and resolve any doubts in the nonmovant's favor. Katy Venture, Ltd., 469 S.W.3d at 163.

         No Evidence Motion for Summary Judgment

         As previously noted, Guadalupe County filed both a no evidence and traditional motion for summary judgment. We only have jurisdiction to consider this appeal because Guadalupe County is appealing an order denying a motion for summary judgment based on an assertion of immunity. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 51.014(a)(8) (West Supp. 2016); see also Thomas v. Long, 207 S.W.3d 334, 339 (Tex. 2006) ("The Legislature provided for an interlocutory appeal when a trial court denies a governmental unit's challenge to subject matter jurisdiction, irrespective of the procedural vehicle used."). Because Guadalupe County's motion challenges the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction, Guadalupe County had the burden of proof. Arthur v. Uvalde Cty. Appraisal Dist., No. 04-14-00533-CV, 2015 WL 2405343, at *9 (Tex. App.-San Antonio May 20, 2015, pet. denied). This court has previously held a defendant "may not raise a jurisdictional challenge in a no-evidence motion for summary judgment" because it "improperly shifts the jurisdictional evidentiary burdens." Id.; see also Green Tree Servicing, LLC v. Woods, 388 S.W.3d 785, 794 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2012, no pet.) (holding "a court's subject-matter jurisdiction cannot be challenged in a no-evidence motion for summary judgment"); cf. Foreman v. Whitty, 392 S.W.3d 265, 279 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2012, no pet.) ("A movant cannot file a no-evidence motion for summary judgment on a claim or defense on which he has the burden of proof at trial."). Therefore, we do not further address the no evidence motion.

         Immunity ...

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