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City of Westworth Village v. Texas Voices for Reason and Justice, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth

May 18, 2017

CITY OF WESTWORTH VILLAGE, TEXAS, APPELLANT
v.
TEXAS VOICES FOR REASON AND JUSTICE, INC., APPELLEE

         FROM THE 17TH DISTRICT COURT OF TARRANT COUNTY TRIAL COURT NO. 017-282980-15

          PANEL: WALKER, MEIER, and GABRIEL, JJ.

          OPINION

          LEE GABRIEL JUSTICE

         Texas law requires any person who has committed certain sexual offenses to register as a sex offender. See Tex. Code. Crim. Proc. Ann. arts. 62.001(5), 62.051 (West Supp. 2016). In 2007, Appellant City of Westworth Village, Texas, adopted an ordinance prohibiting any person required to register as a sex offender because of an offense involving a victim who was younger than seventeen from establishing a residence within 1, 000 feet of any location where children commonly gather. See Westworth Vill., Tex., Code of Ordinances ch. 8, art. 8.07, § 8.07.032(a) (2016). A violation of the ordinance constitutes a misdemeanor and subjects violators to a fine not exceeding $500 for each day a violation occurs. See id. ch. 8, art. 8.07, § 8.07.036. Appellee Texas Voices for Reason and Justice, Inc. (TVRJ), a Texas nonprofit corporation, sued the City on behalf of its members, claiming the ordinance violates the state constitution. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that TVRJ lacks standing to sue on behalf of its members. The trial court denied the plea, prompting the City to bring this accelerated interlocutory appeal. See Tex. R. App. P. 28.1(a); Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 51.014(a)(8) (West Supp. 2016) (authorizing appeal of an interlocutory order granting or denying a municipality's plea to the jurisdiction).

         On appeal, the City contends that TVRJ lacks standing for two reasons. First, the City asserts that the individuals on whose behalf TVRJ has filed suit are not members of, nor do they possess indicia of membership in, TVRJ. And second, even if TVRJ has members, the City maintains that TVRJ nevertheless has failed to demonstrate that any of its members would have individual standing to challenge the ordinance. We conclude that TVRJ lacks standing because the individuals on whose behalf it has filed suit are not members of it and they do not possess sufficient indicia of membership in it. We therefore reverse the trial court's order denying the City's plea to the jurisdiction and render judgment dismissing TVRJ's claims against the City for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Standing to sue is an element of subject-matter jurisdiction, and a court that lacks subject-matter jurisdiction has no power to decide a case. See Bland Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Blue, 34 S.W.3d 547, 554 (Tex. 2000). Standing is determined at the time suit is filed; if a plaintiff lacks standing at the time suit is filed, the case must be dismissed, even if the plaintiff later acquires an interest sufficient to support standing. Martin v. Clinical Pathology Labs, Inc., 343 S.W.3d 885, 888 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2011, pet. denied); see also Tex. Ass'n of Bus. v. Tex. Air. Control Bd., 852 S.W.2d 440, 446 n.9 (Tex. 1993) ("Standing is determined at the time suit is filed in the trial court, and subsequent events do not deprive the court of subject matter jurisdiction."). A defendant may contest a plaintiff's standing to sue by filing a plea to the jurisdiction. See, e.g., Tex. Dept. of Parks and Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 225-26 (Tex. 2004) (recognizing that a challenge to a trial court's subject-matter jurisdiction "is properly asserted in a plea to the jurisdiction"). We review a trial court's ruling on a plea to the jurisdiction de novo. Houston Belt & Terminal Ry. Co. v. City of Houston, 487 S.W.3d 154, 160 (Tex. 2016).

         A plea to the jurisdiction can contest a trial court's subject-matter jurisdiction on two separate grounds: it can challenge the plaintiff's pleadings or it can challenge the existence of jurisdictional facts. See Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 226-27; Univ. of Tex. at Arlington v. Williams, 455 S.W.3d 640, 643-44 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2013), aff'd, 459 S.W.3d 48 (Tex. 2015).

         When a plea to the jurisdiction challenges the pleadings, our task is to determine whether the pleader has met his burden to allege facts that affirmatively demonstrate the court's jurisdiction to hear the cause. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 226. We answer that inquiry by looking to the plaintiff's pleadings, construing them liberally in favor of the plaintiff and looking to the pleader's intent. Id. Viewed through that lens, if the pleadings contain facts that affirmatively demonstrate the court's jurisdiction to hear the cause, the plea to the jurisdiction should be denied. See id.; Kirby Lake Dev. v. Clear Lake City Water, 321 S.W.3d 1, 3-4 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2008), aff'd, 320 S.W.3d 829 (Tex. 2010). If, however, the pleadings do not affirmatively demonstrate the court's jurisdiction but also do not affirmatively demonstrate incurable defects in jurisdiction, the issue is one of pleading sufficiency, and the plaintiff should be given an opportunity to amend. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d. at 226-27. But if the pleadings affirmatively negate the existence of jurisdiction, a plea to the jurisdiction may be granted without allowing the plaintiff an opportunity to amend. Id. at 227.

         When a plea to the jurisdiction challenges the existence of jurisdictional facts, we will consider evidence submitted by the parties when necessary to resolve the jurisdictional issues raised. Id. (citing Bland, 34 S.W.3d at 555). In such cases, we will only consider evidence relevant to the issue of jurisdiction. Bland, 34 S.W.3d at 555; see Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 227. In considering that evidence, we take as true all evidence favorable to the nonmovant, indulging every reasonable inference and resolving any doubts in the nonmovant's favor. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 228. If the evidence creates a fact question on the issue of jurisdiction, the trial court cannot grant the plea to the jurisdiction, and the fact issue will be resolved by the fact finder. Id. at 227-28. But if the evidence is undisputed or fails to raise a fact question on the jurisdictional issue, the trial court should rule on the plea to the jurisdiction as a matter of law. Id. at 228.

         With our standard of review in mind, we turn now to the law of associational standing.

         II. THE LAW OF ASSOCIATIONAL STANDING

         Texas law provides that in certain circumstances, an association may have standing to sue on behalf of its members. See Tex. Ass'n of Bus., 852 S.W.2d at 446-47. To determine whether an association has standing to sue on behalf of its members under the Texas constitution, our supreme court has adopted the three-pronged test the United States Supreme Court articulated in Hunt v. Washington State Apple Advertising Commission, 432 U.S. 333, 343, 97 S.Ct. 2434, 2441 (1977), that the federal courts apply to analyze the issue of associational standing under the federal Constitution. See Tex. Ass'n of Bus., 852 S.W.2d at 447. Under that test, an association has standing to sue on behalf of its members when "(a) its members would otherwise have standing to sue in their own right; (b) the interests it seeks to protect are germane to the organization's purpose; and (c) neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires the participation of individual members in the lawsuit." Id. at 447 (quoting Hunt, 432 U.S. at 343, 97 S.Ct. at 2441).

         III. MEMBERSHIP AND ...


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