Court of Appeals of Texas, Ninth District, Beaumont
CITY OF WILLIS, LEONARD REED, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS [MAYOR] OF THE CITY OF WILLIS, JAMES NOWAK, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS CHIEF OF POLICE OF THE CITY OF WILLIS, AND HECTOR FORESTIER, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS CITY MANAGER OF THE CITY OF WILLIS, Appellants
LUIS GARCIA, ET AL, Appellees
Submitted on October 27, 2016
Appeal from the 410th District Court Montgomery County, Texas
Trial Cause No. 16-01-00297-CV
McKeithen, C.J., Horton and Johnson, JJ.
an accelerated appeal of an interlocutory order denying a
plea to the jurisdiction. See Tex. Civ. Prac. &
Rem. Code Ann. § 51.014(a)(8) (West Supp. 2016);
Tex.R.App.P. 28.1(a). Appellants, the City of Willis (the
City), Leonard Reed in his official capacity as Mayor of the
City, James Nowak in his official capacity as Chief of Police
of the City, and Hector Forestier in his official capacity as
City Manager of the City,  in one issue contend that the trial
court erred in denying their plea to the jurisdiction.
Appellants argue that the plaintiffs failed to exhaust
administrative remedies and the plaintiffs' claims are
barred by governmental immunity.
underlying lawsuit was originally filed on January 11, 2016,
by Luis Garcia, on behalf of himself and "others
similarly situated" who have paid a civil penalty for
violating the City's Ordinances sections 70.01 through
70.12 (enacted by the passage of Ordinance No. 09-0721A and
hereinafter referred to as the "Red Light Camera
Ordinance") that authorized and created a photographic
traffic signal enforcement system in Willis. Luis Garcia,
joined by Shelby D. Glazier, Alisa Davie, and Debra Earle
(collectively Plaintiffs or Appellees), later filed a First
Amended Original Petition, on behalf of themselves and again
as proposed putative class representatives for those who are
similarly situated registered automobile owners who have paid
a civil penalty for violating the City's Red Light Camera
Ordinance. Plaintiffs sought injunctive relief, declaratory
relief, a refund of penalties paid or, alternatively, damages
for inverse condemnation, certification of a class,
appointment of attorneys to act as class counsel, and
attorney's fees. Plaintiffs' suit specifically
challenges the constitutionality of the City's Red Light
Camera Ordinance, Chapter 707 of the Texas Transportation
Code, and section 29.003(g) of the Texas Government
Code. Additionally, the Plaintiffs allege that
the City failed to meet the requirements of the City's
Red Light Camera Ordinance and Chapter 707 of the Texas
Transportation Code because the City allegedly failed to
conduct a traffic engineering study as required before
installing the cameras.
Defendants filed an answer and asserted a general denial. The
Defendants challenge jurisdiction arguing the Plaintiffs'
claims are barred by governmental immunity, official
immunity, failure to exhaust administrative remedies, res
judicata and collateral estoppel, and that exclusive
jurisdiction rests in the municipal court.
Defendants filed a joint Plea to the Jurisdiction arguing
that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over
the Plaintiffs' claims. The Plaintiffs filed a response.
The Plaintiffs argued in their response that they were
seeking "declaratory relief and injunctive relief that
Chapter 707 and the [City's Red Light Camera] Ordinance,
which was enacted under the authority of Chapter 707, and
Texas Government Code Section 29.003(g), are
unconstitutional, and therefore illegal, void and of no
effect." The Plaintiffs also asserted that they filed a
"common law claim for reimbursement of the
unconstitutional, and hence, unlawful red light camera
penalties involved in this lawsuit. . . . [as well as] a
takings claim under Article I, Section 17 of the Texas
Constitution for reimbursement of the unlawful and illegal
red light camera penalties involved in this lawsuit."
The Plaintiffs further alleged that the failure of the City
to conduct the required traffic engineering study precludes
the City from assessing and collecting the fines. The
Plaintiffs contend that their "claims for declaratory
judgment and injunctive relief, and reimbursement of the
unlawful red light camera penalties involved in this lawsuit,
based on Defendants assessing and collecting red light camera
penalties in violation of the law, are not claims subject to
the exhaustion of remedies defense asserted by
trial court denied Appellants' Plea to the Jurisdiction,
and this interlocutory appeal followed. We reverse and
render judgment for the Defendants.
Light Camera Statutes
2007, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill No. 1119,
which was codified in Chapter 707 of the Texas Transportation
Code, effective September 1, 2007. See Act of May
27, 2007, 80th Leg., R.S., Ch. 1149, §§ 1, 10, 2007
Tex. Gen. Laws 3924, 3931 (current version at Tex. Transp.
Code Ann. § 707.001-.019 (West 2011 & Supp. 2016)).
The Legislature also amended section 29.003 of the Texas
Government Code, adding subsection (g). See Act of
May 27, 2007, 80th Leg., R.S., Ch. 1149, § 3, 2007 Tex.
Gen. Laws 3924, 3930 (current version at Tex. Gov't Code
Ann. § 29.003(g)). Subsection (g) provides that
"[a] municipal court, including a municipal court of
record, shall have exclusive appellate jurisdiction within
the municipality's territorial limits in a case arising
under Chapter 707, Transportation Code." Id.
707 authorizes local municipalities to adopt and implement a
camera enforcement system that imposes civil fines on owners
of vehicles that have been photographed driving through red
lights at designated intersections. See Tex. Transp.
Code Ann. § 707.001-.019.
Section 707.003 of the Texas Transportation Code provides as
Sec. 707.003. Installation and Operation of Photographic
Traffic Signal Enforcement System.
(a) A local authority that implements a photographic traffic
signal enforcement system under this chapter may:
(1) contract for the administration and enforcement of the
(2) install and operate the system or contract for the
installation or operation of the system.
(b) A local authority that contracts for the administration
and enforcement of a photographic traffic signal enforcement
system may not agree to pay the contractor a specified
percentage of, or dollar amount from, each civil penalty
(c) Before installing a photographic traffic signal
enforcement system at an intersection approach, the local
authority shall conduct a traffic engineering study of the
approach to determine whether, in addition to or as an
alternative to the system, a design change to the approach or
a change in the signalization of the intersection is likely
to reduce the number of red light violations at the
(d) An intersection approach must be selected for the
installation of a photographic traffic signal enforcement
system based on traffic volume, the history of accidents at
the approach, the number or frequency of red light violations
at the intersection, and similar traffic engineering and
safety criteria, without regard to the ethnic or
socioeconomic characteristics of the area in which the
approach is located.
(e) A local authority shall report results of the traffic
engineering study required by Subsection (c) to a citizen
advisory committee consisting of one person appointed by each
member of the governing body of the local authority. The
committee shall advise the local authority on the
installation and operation of a photographic traffic signal
enforcement system established under this chapter.
(f) A local authority may not impose a civil penalty under
this chapter on the owner of a motor vehicle if the local
authority violates Subsection (b) or (c).
(g) The local authority shall install signs along each
roadway that leads to an intersection at which a photographic
traffic signal enforcement system is in active use. The signs
must be at least 100 feet from the intersection or located
according to standards established in the manual adopted by
the Texas Transportation Commission under Section 544.001, be
easily readable to any operator approaching the intersection,
and clearly indicate the presence of a photographic
monitoring system that records violations that may result in
the issuance of a notice of violation and the imposition of a
(h) A local authority or the person with which the local
authority contracts for the administration and enforcement of
a photographic traffic signal enforcement system may not
provide information about a civil penalty imposed under this
chapter to a credit bureau, as defined by Section 392.001,
Id. at § 707.003.
CITY'S RED LIGHT CAMERA ORDINANCE
July 21, 2009, the City of Willis enacted Ordinance No.
09-0721A, wherein the City adopted a red light camera
enforcement system for the City for three intersections
within the City limits. Willis, Tex., Code of Ordinances ch.
70. The City's Red Light Camera Ordinance provides that
the owner of a motor vehicle that runs a red light is liable
for a civil penalty of $75, and if payment is late, an
additional penalty of $25. Id. § 70.04. The
notice of violation is to be mailed to the owner of the
vehicle at the address indicated on the state's
registration records not later than the thirtieth day after
the violation is alleged to have occurred. Id.
§ 70.05(B). The notice shall contain (1) a description
of the violation alleged; (2) the location of the
intersection where the violation occurred; (3) the date and
time of the violation; (4) the name and address of the owner
of the vehicle involved in the violation; (5) the
registration number displayed on the vehicle's license
plate; (6) a copy of the recorded image of the area of the
license plate where the registration number appears for the
vehicle involved in the violation; (7) the amount of civil
penalty for which the owner is liable; (8) the number of days
that the person has within which to either pay or contest the
imposition of the civil penalty as well as a statement that
the person incurs a late payment penalty of $25 if the civil