Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg
appeal from the 135th District Court of DeWitt County, Texas.
Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Contreras and Benavides
Paul Minix, an inmate proceeding pro se and in forma
pauperis, appeals the granting of a plea to the
jurisdiction dismissing his suit against appellees Patrick
Charlton, Herman Hernandez, and Brandi Gamez. We construe
appellant's brief as presenting two main issues: (1)
whether the trial court erred in dismissing multiple state-
law theft claims on the basis of governmental immunity; and
(2) whether the trial court erred in dismissing federal
claims for violations of appellant's Eighth and First
Amendment rights on the basis of qualified immunity. We
affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further
was sentenced on or about March 3, 2016 to eight years'
imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
(TDCJ)-Institutional Division. Prior to sentencing, appellant
had been held at the DeWitt County Jail. After sentencing,
appellant was transferred to the Dominguez Unit of TDCJ in
San Antonio. Appellant brought suit against four "DeWitt
county jail employees" for actions that took place
during his time at the DeWitt County Jail.
defendants named in appellant's petition were: jailer
Hernan Hernandez, jail captain Patrick Charlton, jail nurse
Brandi Gamez, and jail mail staff member Ms.
Garcia.Specifically, appellant brought suit for:
(1) theft of legal documents against Hernandez and Charlton;
(2) theft of his personal property against Charlton and
"any others whose name is documented in [and] on
disposition paperwork"; (3) theft of mail and stamps
against "jail officials in the mail
room"-presumably Garcia; (4) violation of his Eighth
Amendment right to adequate medical treatment against Gamez;
and (5) violation of his First Amendment right to "file
grievances" against Hernandez, Charlton, Gamez, and
Garcia. Appellant's petition also stated that
the defendants were "being sued [only] in their
individual and personal capacities . . . ."
December 6, 2016 appellees filed a plea to the jurisdiction
on the grounds that appellant failed to demonstrate: (1) a
valid waiver of governmental immunity to proceed with his
state-law tort claims for theft; and (2) the inapplicability
of appellees' qualified immunity to proceed with his
federal claims for violations of his First and Eighth
hearing on January 4, 2017, appellees did not present any
evidence or testimony in support of their plea to the
jurisdiction. The trial court found that it lacked
subject-matter jurisdiction over appellant's suit and
dismissed all of appellant's claims. This appeal
Standard of Review
to the jurisdiction is a procedural device used to challenge
the court's subject-matter jurisdiction over a claim.
Tex. Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda,
133 S.W.3d 217, 232 (Tex. 2004); Bland Indep. Sch. Dist.
v. Blue, 34 S.W.3d 547, 553-54 (Tex. 2000). Without
subject-matter jurisdiction, a court does not have the
authority to render judgment and must dismiss the claims
without resolving the parties' substantive arguments.
See City of Houston v. Rhule, 417 S.W.3d 440, 442
(Tex. 2013); Blue, 34 S.W.3d at 553-54. Thus, a
defendant can use a plea to the jurisdiction to defeat a
cause of action without regard to its merits. Mission
Consol. Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Garcia, 372 S.W.3d 629, 635
(Tex. 2012); Blue, 34 S.W.3d at 554.
plaintiff has the initial burden to plead facts affirmatively
showing that the trial court has jurisdiction. Dallas
Area Rapid Transit v. Whitley, 104 S.W.3d 540, 542 (Tex.
2003); Tex. Ass'n of Bus. v. Tex. Air Control
Bd., 852 S.W.2d 440, 446 (Tex. 1993). When a plea to the
jurisdiction challenges the existence of jurisdictional
facts, the trial court must consider evidence if it is
necessary to resolve them. Vernco Constr., Inc. v.
Nelson, 460 S.W.3d 145, 149 (Tex. 2015); Heckman v.
Williamson Cty., 369 S.W.3d 137, 150 (Tex. 2012);
Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 227. If evidence creates a
fact question regarding a jurisdictional issue, then the
trial court cannot grant the plea to the jurisdiction.
Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 226. Otherwise, the trial
court rules on the plea to the jurisdiction as a matter of
law. Id. at 228.
a trial court has subject matter jurisdiction and whether the
pleader has alleged facts that affirmatively demonstrate the
trial court's subject matter jurisdiction are questions
of law that we review de novo." La Joya Indep. Sch.
Dist. v. Gonzalez, 532 S.W.3d 892, 896 (Tex. App.-Corpus
Christi 2017, pet. filed) (citing Miranda, 133
S.W.3d at 226; Tex. Nat. Res. Conservation Comm'n v.
IT-David, 74 S.W.3d 849, 855 (Tex. 2002)). We construe
the pleadings liberally in favor of the pleader, look to the
pleader's intent, and accept as true the factual
allegations in the pleadings. See Miranda, 133
S.W.3d at 226, 228. In considering the evidence, we indulge
every reasonable inference and resolve any doubts in the
non-movant's favor. Id. at 227-28.
pleadings do not contain sufficient facts to affirmatively
demonstrate the trial court's jurisdiction but do not
affirmatively demonstrate incurable defects in jurisdiction,
the issue is one of pleading sufficiency and the plaintiff
should be afforded the opportunity to amend. Id. at
226-27. If the pleadings affirmatively negate the existence
of jurisdiction, then a plea to the jurisdiction may be
granted without allowing the plaintiff an opportunity to
amend. Id. at 227. If a plea to the jurisdiction
challenges the existence of jurisdictional facts, we ...