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City of Edinburg v. Balli

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

November 9, 2017

CITY OF EDINBURG, Appellant,
v.
MELINDA BALLI, Appellee.

         On appeal from the 93rd District Court of Hidalgo County, Texas.

          Before Justices Rodriguez, Benavides, and Longoria.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NELDA V. RODRIGUEZ Justice.

         In this interlocutory appeal, appellant City of Edinburg (the City) challenges the denial of its plea to the jurisdiction concerning the personal injury suit brought by appellee Melinda Balli. We reverse and render.

         I. Background

         Balli alleges that on May 19, 2014, she was struck by a vehicle as she used a crosswalk near the Hidalgo County Courthouse. According to her petition, the pedestrian traffic light displayed a "walk" signal for pedestrians when she began to cross North 10th Street. At the same time, the vehicle traffic light at the intersection displayed a green left-turn arrow, indicating that drivers had a protected left turn onto North 10th, across the crosswalk. Cesar Pulido turned left at the intersection and struck Balli.

         Balli filed suit against Pulido for negligent driving, and she sued the City, Hidalgo County, and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for various forms of negligence related to the traffic signals. Balli subsequently nonsuited Hidalgo County and TxDOT, and Pulido does not participate in the City's appeal.

         Balli supplemented her petition to elaborate on her allegations against the City. She alleged that in April of 2001, the City entered into a Municipal Maintenance Agreement with the State of Texas, in which the City undertook the duty "to make changes in the design and operation of the highway traffic signal(s) as it may deem necessary . . . ." The City further assumed the obligation to provide and maintain traffic lights at various intersections, including the intersection where Balli was injured.

         According to Balli's petition, the City was aware of the problem with the traffic signals due to a similar collision on January 17, 2012. She reported that in the prior collision, the traffic lights at the intersection displayed conflicting "walk" and left turn signals, and a driver turned left and struck a pedestrian. Balli claimed that the City became aware of the problem with the traffic lights when the police investigated the prior collision.

          Balli alleged that despite the City's awareness, the City failed to resolve the problem with its real property and thereby breached its duties. The City was purportedly negligent in failing to properly sequence or program its traffic lights, failing to adequately maintain its traffic lights, failing to provide safe crossing, failing to reprogram the traffic lights within a reasonable time after notice of previous incidents, and instead allowing a malfunction to persist. Balli alleged that the City's negligent acts and omissions were a proximate cause of the collision and Balli's resulting injuries. Balli further asserted negligence per se, in that the City allegedly violated two laws enacted for public safety: the Texas Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices section 4D.05(F)(1)(2) and City of Edinburg Resolution No. 01-1611.

         The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction arguing that the traffic lights were not malfunctioning, so as to cause a waiver of immunity under the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA). Instead, the City asserted that the lights were working exactly as intended by TxDOT, which originally designed the traffic lights to simultaneously display "walk" and left-turn signals. The City further argued that Balli's complaint related to the design of the roadway, which was a matter of discretion for which there is no waiver of immunity.

         The City attached multiple exhibits to substantiate its plea, and Balli responded with proof of her own. After reviewing the evidence, the trial court denied the City's plea. This interlocutory appeal followed.

         II. Immunity

         By its sole issue, the City argues that it retained immunity (1) because the traffic lights were functioning as intended at the time of Balli's injury, and therefore they did not constitute a wrongful "condition" of real property, and (2) because Balli ...


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