Court of Appeals of Texas, Ninth District, Beaumont
Submitted on April 25, 2016
Appeal from the 172nd District Court Jefferson County, Texas
Trial Cause No. E-194, 159
Kreger, Horton, and Johnson, JJ.
Jackson appeals the trial court's order granting a plea
to the jurisdiction filed by the Port Arthur Independent
School District (the District), and a plea to the
jurisdiction filed by the District's superintendent,
Johnny E. Brown. In one appellate issue, Jackson argues the
trial court erred in granting the pleas because a plea to the
jurisdiction is not the proper procedural vehicle to
challenge whether Jackson's pleadings contain sufficient
facts to allege facially valid claims. Jackson argues that
her pleadings are sufficient to allege facially valid
constitutional claims, and that the trial court improperly
declined to exercise jurisdiction over her claims that Brown
and the District violated her constitutional rights. We
conclude the trial court properly granted the defendants'
pleas, and we affirm the trial court's ruling dismissing
Jackson's claims for lack of jurisdiction.
suit, Jackson complains that Brown and the District violated
her rights to free speech and interfered with her property
rights by reassigning her from her position as the principal
at Booker T. Washington Elementary School to a job as an
assistant principal at Memorial High School. When Brown
reassigned Jackson to Memorial High School, she was working
for the District based on a contract through which the
District agreed to employ Jackson for the 2012-2013 and
2013-2014 school years. In the first portion of the periods
covered by the contract, Brown assigned Jackson to Booker T.
Washington Elementary School.
March 2013, Brown reassigned Jackson to Memorial High School,
and he reclassified her to be the high school's assistant
principal. Shortly after Brown moved Jackson to her new
position, Jackson sued Brown and the District, and she asked
that the court reinstate her to her former position.
and the District responded to the suit by filing pleas to the
jurisdiction. Approximately two years after they first
appeared in the suit, Brown and the District supplemented
their pleas. The supplemental pleadings that Brown and the
District filed provided the trial court with more detail
regarding their claims that their rights to official and
governmental immunity prevented the court from exercising
subject-matter jurisdiction over Jackson's claims. In
their supplemental pleadings, Brown and the District argued
that Jackson had failed to allege sufficient facts in her
pleadings to demonstrate that she had any facially valid
constitutional claims against them. Additionally, Brown and
the District argued that Jackson's allegations about
being reassigned were insufficient to demonstrate that the
trial court possessed jurisdiction over Jackson's claims
given Jackson's contract with the District, which allowed
Jackson to be transferred to other jobs in the District.
Jackson's First Amended Original Petition, her live
pleading for the purposes of the hearing the trial court
conducted on the defendants' pleas, Jackson alleges that
Brown demoted her based on criticisms that she made known to
Brown and other administrators in the District about the
matters at the elementary school involving issues of
staffing, scheduling, learning plans, and services that were
available to students enrolled in Booker T. Washington
Elementary School.Jackson's amended petition also asserts
several constitutional claims against Brown and the District,
but all of her claims are based on her transfer to a new
position at Memorial High School. For example, Jackson claims
that Brown and the District retaliated against her for
speaking out about matters involving the elementary school
where she worked in violation of her rights to free speech,
that Brown and the District deprived her of a property
interest in her position at Booker T. Washington Elementary
School in violation of article I, section 19 of the Texas
Constitution, and that Brown and the District failed to
provide Jackson with any procedural or substantive rights to
due process before deciding to demote her. Jackson alleged
that receiving a demotion for speaking out about issues at
the school where she was the principal violated her rights
under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and that
Brown's and the District's conduct was actionable
under title 42, section 1983 of the United States Code.
See 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 (LEXIS through Pub. L.
No. 115-18) (providing that "[e]very person who, under
color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or
usage, or any State or Territory or the District of Columbia,
subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the
United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof
to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the
party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other
proper proceeding for redress").
trial court conducted two hearings on the defendants'
pleas to the jurisdiction. Following the second hearing, the
trial court granted the pleas. In its order, the trial court
found that Jackson did not have a constitutionally protected
property right in her contract to be the principal of Booker
T. Washington Elementary School, and that Jackson had
"failed to plead a facially valid constitutional claim
under the Texas Constitution or the Federal
Constitution." Jackson filed a timely notice of appeal
from the order dismissing her claims.
filing a plea to the jurisdiction, the District and Brown
challenged the trial court's power to exercise
subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims in Jackson's
pleadings. A plea to the jurisdiction is a dilatory plea, and
it is typically used in an effort to defeat a plaintiff's
cause of action without regard to whether the plaintiff's
claims have any merit. See Bland Indep. Sch. Dist. v.
Blue, 34 S.W.3d 547, 554 (Tex. 2000). Whether a trial
court possesses subject-matter jurisdiction over a claim is a
question of law that is reviewed on appeal using a de
novo standard. Tex. Dep't of Parks &
Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 226 (Tex. 2004).
as is the case here, a plea to the jurisdiction presents a
challenge to the sufficiency of the plaintiff's
pleadings, we are required to determine whether the
plaintiff's pleadings allege "facts that
affirmatively demonstrate the court's jurisdiction to
hear the cause." Id. To do so, we construe the
pleadings in the plaintiff's favor and look to the
plaintiff's intent. Id. If the court determines
that the plaintiff's pleadings are deficient but also
determines that the deficiency in the pleadings can be cured,
the plaintiff "deserves 'a reasonable opportunity to
amend' unless the pleadings affirmatively negate the
existence of jurisdiction." Tex. A & M Univ.
Sys. v. Koseoglu,233 S.W.3d 835, 839 (Tex. 2007)
(quoting Harris Cty. v. Sykes,136 S.W.3d 635, 639
(Tex. 2004)); Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 226-27;
Cty. of Cameron v. Brown,80 S.W.3d 549, 555 ...