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Rodriguez v. City of Fort Worth

Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo

December 8, 2017


         On Appeal from the 153rd District Court Tarrant County, Texas Trial Court No. 153-272274-14; Honorable Susan McCoy, Presiding

          Before QUINN, C.J., and CAMPBELL and PIRTLE, JJ.



         Appellant, Jorge Rodriguez, appeals from the trial court's order granting the City of Fort Worth's plea to the jurisdiction in his suit for damages arising from the City's condemnation and subsequent demolition of an unoccupied residence owned by Rodriguez. By two issues, Rodriguez contends the trial court abused its discretion in granting Fort Worth's plea to the jurisdiction and in dismissing his claim with prejudice before allowing him to amend his pleadings.[1] We affirm.


         The record before us establishes that prior to Rodriguez's ownership of a residential structure in the City of Fort Worth, it was found to be substandard and hazardous to public health by the City's Building Standards Commission. On September 24, 2012, the Commission held a hearing to determine whether to condemn and demolish the structure. By written order, the Commission directed that the structure be repaired to conform with City codes by October 24, 2012, or be demolished if repairs were not made. The order provided that failure to repair the premises would authorize the City to enter the property and demolish the structure at the expense of the property owner. A copy of the order was mailed to the then owner and filed in the deed records of Tarrant County on October 19, 2012.

         Rodriguez, a self-employed construction worker, alleged in his live pleading that he purchased the property on December 12, 2012, without personal knowledge of the Commission's order to demolish the property.[2] He purchased the property for approximately $14, 000 from Eduardo Ybarra with whom he had previous dealings in investment properties. Following his purchase, Rodriguez placed building materials inside the structure with the intent to renovate the structure for resale.

         In late May 2013, Rodriguez received a letter from the City that the Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission had approved a Certificate of Appropriateness to demolish his property. On June 17, 2013, he went to the City's Planning and Development Department to seek clarification on the letter. He was advised by an unidentified City employee that the letter had been issued in error and that his property was not scheduled for demolition.

         Despite the City employee's assurance, Rodriguez discovered on June 29, 2013, that his property had been demolished the previous day. The City had engaged an independent contractor for demolition of the structure. Rodriguez again visited City Hall where he was offered paperwork to make a claim and asked whether he intended to file suit. He submitted a claim for damages which was denied.

         The denial of his claim prompted Rodriguez to file suit against the City under the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA). By his first amended petition filed in October 2014, Rodriguez alleged that the City intentionally and negligently demolished his property and its contents through the operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle or motor-driven equipment. In response, the City filed its plea to the jurisdiction seeking dismissal of Rodriguez's suit on the ground that there was no waiver of governmental immunity under the TTCA.

         Rodriguez responded to the City's plea to the jurisdiction by asserting that he plead a "takings claim" in his live pleading in addition to his tort claim under the TTCA.[3] By a supplemental plea to the jurisdiction and a second supplemental plea to the jurisdiction, the City asserted that the TTCA did not apply when an independent contractor performed the work. The City also disputed whether Rodriguez alleged a takings claim in his live pleading. Rodriguez responded to both supplemental pleas by re-urging his takings claim which he maintained was properly alleged in his live pleading. He also alleged he was denied notice and an opportunity to be heard because several notices regarding the demolition had been mailed to the previous owner (Ybarra) by the City even though he had been the record owner for months.[4] Rodriguez requested that he be allowed to amend his pleading but did not, and months later, the trial court granted the City's plea to the jurisdiction.

         Sovereign/Governmental Immunity

         "Sovereign immunity and its counterpart, governmental immunity, exist to protect the State and its political subdivisions from lawsuits and liability for money damages." Mission Consol. Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Garcia, 253 S.W.3d 653, 655 (Tex. 2008); Reata Constr. Corp. v. City of Dallas, 197 S.W.3d 371, 374 (Tex. 2006). Sovereign immunity protects the State, as well as its agencies and officials; Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco Consol. Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Texas Political Subdivs. Prop./Cas. Joint Self-Ins. Fund, 212 S.W.3d 320, 323-24 (Tex. 2006); Reata Constr. Corp., 197 S.W.3d at 374, whereas, governmental immunity protects political subdivisions of the State, including counties, cities, and school districts. Ben Bolt, 212 S.W.3d at 324.

         Under the doctrines of sovereign and governmental immunity, it has long been recognized that there are two separate and distinct components to immunity: (1) immunity from liability, which bars enforcement of a judgment against a governmental entity and (2) immunity from suit, which bars suit against the governmental entity altogether. Tooke v. City of Mexia, 197 S.W.3d 325, 332 (Tex. 2006); Texas Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 224 (Tex. 2004). These two components of immunity have come to be applied in a variety of circumstances to promote the pragmatic purpose of immunity, which is to "shield the public from the costs and consequences of improvident actions of their governments." Tooke, 197 S.W.3d at 332. Accordingly, the State and its political subdivisions are ...

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