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Perales v. Lara

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

January 11, 2018


         On appeal from the County Court at Law No. 4 of Nueces County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Contreras and Hinojosa



         Appellant Norma Perales sued appellees Roel Lara and Alfonso Santos Obregon Jr., alleging that they fraudulently prevented her from being considered for an employment position with the Robstown Independent School District (the District). In this appeal, Perales argues by two issues that the trial court erred by granting a plea to the jurisdiction based in part on section 101.106(f) of the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA). We affirm.

         I. Background

         At the time of the events made the basis of this lawsuit, Perales was a teacher employed by the District, Obregon was the District's superintendent, and Lara was the District's assistant superintendent. Following the end of the 2010-2011 school year, the District offered its employees a Voluntary Exit Incentive Agreement (Exit Agreement) under which employees could choose to waive their continuing contract, resign their position, and accept an incentive stipend of $5, 000. Perales accepted the offer and signed the Exit Agreement on March 21, 2011.[1]

         According to Perales's live petition, her principal asked her in late May 2011 to reconsider her resignation and to continue teaching in her current position. Perales alleged that, in early June, she met with Lara and asked him about the possibility of rescinding her resignation. Perales alleged in her petition that Lara advised her she could either: (1) rescind her resignation and "forego" the incentive payment, despite the fact that the rescission period under the agreement had expired; or (2) keep the incentive payment and re-apply for employment with the District. Perales asserts that, because both Lara and Obregon "acknowledged" to her that other District employees had been able to resign, keep their incentive payments, then successfully re-apply for employment with the District, she decided to do so as well.

         Perales submitted her application for re-employment and claims to have received an email from Lara's secretary stating that she had completed the application process. However, according to Perales, Lara told her principal that she had not completed the application and that her application still needed to be "processed." Later, Perales received an email from Lara stating that she could "reapply and go through the interview process when the administration is ready to interview and start the interview process." After several weeks passed and she had still not been called for an interview, Perales contacted her school's assistant principal, who advised Perales on July 18, 2011 that "she had reviewed the list of applicants and that [Perales's] name did not appear on the list." Meanwhile, according to Perales's petition, Lara told the assistant principal that Perales "had already retired, " and he told another teacher that Perales "had not submitted an application for employment."

         Perales then met with Obregon on August 24, 2011. Perales claims in her petition that Obregon told her that Lara had made "several lapses in judgment" and "if she chose to retire that he would be able to provide her with a consultant job with [the District]."[2] The following day, Perales met again with Obregon and "accepted his offer" to retire and be re-hired for one of the new "coaching" positions. According to Perales, Obregon told her on October 10, 2011 that "her application would be processed" and that "two principals were interested in offering her a coaching position" at their schools. However, she was never contacted about that position.

         In her lawsuit, Perales argued that Lara and Obregon "fraudulently induced [her] not to rescind her resignation based on their representations that they would allow her to submit an employment application as a new employee for a 2011-12 teaching contract which would be considered by [the District]." She argued that the law required Lara and Obregon "to process [her] application and to list her name as an applicant" and that "it was not within their scope of authority not to process her application." She sought damages for fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         Lara and Obregon answered the suit and filed a plea to the jurisdiction arguing that they were immune to suit and that the suit should be dismissed under subsection 101.106(f) of the TTCA because the alleged actions were done within the course and scope of their employment. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 101.106(f) (West, Westlaw through 2017 1st C.S.). The pleas were accompanied by affidavits from both defendants in which they stated: "All of my interactions, communications, and activities undertaken in connection with Norma Perales and her employment status, as described in the Plaintiff's Original Petition, were done so in my capacity as a District employee, within the course and scope of my employment with the District, and generally related to my service to the District." Lara stated in his affidavit that his job duties included "providing information to District employees (current, past, and prospective) about the [Exit Agreement] program, and applications for employment." Obregon stated in his affidavit that his job duties included "interacting and communicating with District employees (current, past, and prospective), like Norma Perales, regarding any and all matters related to employment."

         Several months later, Lara and Obregon filed a "Motion to Dismiss Subject to Plea to the Jurisdiction" in which they repeated their argument for dismissal under TTCA subsection 101.106(f).[3] After a hearing on February 24, 2016, the trial court orally granted the plea to the jurisdiction and rendered an order granting the motion to dismiss Perales's suit under subsection 101.106(f). Subsequently, Lara and Obregon moved for entry of a "corrected order" specifying that the trial court granted the plea to the jurisdiction rather than the motion to dismiss.

         Perales then filed a timely motion for reconsideration or new trial arguing that Lara and Obregon are not immune to suit because they "conspired . . . to prevent [her] application from being reviewed or considered by any of the District's principals, " and because they did not cite any authority showing "that they were authorized [or] that it was within their scope of their employment to determine whether an employment application could even be considered by [the District]." Perales noted in her motion that, according to District policy, although "[t]he Superintendent has sole authority to make recommendations to the Board regarding the selection of contractual personnel, " the District's board of trustees "retains final authority for employment of contractual personnel." Perales further argued that, although District policy provides that "[t]he Superintendent has sole authority to make recommendations to the Board regarding the selection of all personnel, except that the Board may delegate final authority for those decisions to the Superintendent, " Lara and Obregon "did not present nor cite any authority that established that the Board had indeed delegated the final authority to select personnel-because there is none." Lara and Obregon filed a response reiterating their position that their "alleged acts or inaction[s] . . . were all generally related to [their] service to, and fell within the scope of their employment with the District."[4]

         The trial court orally denied the motion for reconsideration. It later rendered a second order, pursuant to Lara and Obregon's request, stating that the plea to the jurisdiction had been granted. This appeal followed.

         II. ...

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