Court of Appeals of Texas, Ninth District, Beaumont
Submitted on November 22, 2017
Appeal from the 88th District Court Tyler County, Texas Trial
Cause No. 23, 261
McKeithen, C.J., Kreger, and Horton, JJ.
CHARLES KREGER Justice
interlocutory appeal arises from the trial court's denial
of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's
("TDCJ") plea to the jurisdiction. See
Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 51.014(a)(8)
(West Supp. 2017) (allowing an appeal from an interlocutory
order denying a plea to the jurisdiction by a governmental
unit). Because timely formal notice of the claim was not
provided, and TDCJ had no actual notice, the trial court
erred in denying TDCJ's plea. Accordingly, we reverse the
trial court's order denying TDCJ's plea to the
jurisdiction and render judgment dismissing appellee Neftali
Cisneros's claims for lack of subject-matter
Cisneros, an offender incarcerated at the Gib Lewis Unit
within TDCJ, filed suit against TDCJ after he was seriously
injured in an accident involving a commercial woodworking saw
in the furniture factory within the unit. Cisneros alleges
that as he approached the saw, it was turned off and the
power was disconnected. Another offender assisting Cisneros
turned on the saw while Cisneros used an air hose to clean
it. Cisneros came into contact with the saw blades, severing
his right hand and fingers. Cisneros sued TDCJ for
issues on appeal, TDCJ first alleges that the trial court
erred in denying TDCJ's plea to the jurisdiction because
Cisneros did not give TDCJ timely formal notice of his claim
and TDCJ did not have actual notice of Cisneros's claim
before suit was filed, and second, TDCJ contends Cisneros
failed to plead a cause of action for which sovereign
immunity is waived under the Texas Tort Claims Act
("TTCA"). TDCJ asserts that the absence of timely
notice is an incurable jurisdictional defect. See
Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 311.034 (West 2013)
("Statutory prerequisites to a suit, including the
provision of notice, are jurisdictional requirements in all
suits against a governmental entity.").
plea to the jurisdiction is a dilatory plea that seeks
dismissal of a case for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction." Harris Cty. v. Sykes, 136 S.W.3d
635, 638 (Tex. 2004); see City of Dallas v.
Carbajal, 324 S.W.3d 537, 538 (Tex. 2010) (per curiam).
"Subject matter jurisdiction is essential to the
authority of a court to decide a case." Tex.
Ass'n of Bus. v. Tex. Air Control Bd., 852 S.W.2d
440, 443 (Tex. 1993). "If a governmental unit has
immunity from a pending claim, a trial court lacks subject
matter jurisdiction as to that claim." Univ. of Tex.
Health Sci. Ctr. at Houston v. McQueen, 431 S.W.3d 750,
756 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2014, no
pet.). Because the existence of subject matter jurisdiction
is a question of law, we review a trial court's ruling on
a plea to the jurisdiction de novo. See Houston
Belt & Terminal Ry. Co. v. City of Houston, 487
S.W.3d 154, 160 (Tex. 2016).
plea to the jurisdiction, a defendant may challenge either
the plaintiff's pleadings or the existence of
jurisdictional facts. Tex. Dep't of Parks and
Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 226 (Tex. 2004). In
this case, TDCJ challenged the existence of jurisdictional
facts. Therefore, this court considers relevant evidence
submitted by the parties when necessary to resolve the
jurisdictional issues raised, as the trial court is required
to do. See id. at 227. If the evidence creates a
fact question regarding the jurisdictional issue, then the
plea to the jurisdiction must be denied, and the fact issue
will be resolved by the fact finder. Id. at 227-28.
But, if the relevant evidence is undisputed or fails to raise
a fact question on the jurisdictional issue, then the court
rules on the plea to the jurisdiction as a matter of law.
Id. at 228. In ruling on a plea to the jurisdiction, a
court does not consider the merits of the parties'
claims. Id. at 226-28; Cty. of Cameron v.
Brown, 80 S.W.3d 549, 555 (Tex. 2002).
standard of review for a plea to the jurisdiction based on
evidence "generally mirrors that of a summary judgment
under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 166a(c)."
Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 228; see also Thornton v.
Ne. Harris Cty. MUD 1, 447 S.W.3d 23, 32 (Tex.
App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2014, pet. denied). Under this
standard, we take as true all evidence favoring the nonmovant
and draw all reasonable inferences and resolve any doubts in
the nonmovant's favor. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at
228. "[A]fter the state asserts and supports with
evidence that the trial court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction, we simply require the plaintiff[ ], when the
facts underlying the merits and subject matter jurisdiction
are intertwined, to show that there is a disputed material
fact regarding the jurisdictional issue." Id.;
see also City of Galveston v. Murphy, 533 S.W.3d
355, 359 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2015, pet. denied)
(stating that if the movant presents conclusive proof that
the trial court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, then the
nonmovant must present evidence sufficient to raise a
material issue of fact regarding jurisdiction, or the plea
will be sustained). Thus, because the trial court ruled on
TDCJ's plea to the jurisdiction, we are compelled to
review such ruling from the record before the trial court at
the time of its ruling.
Texas Tort Claim Act's Notice Requirements
a waiver, governmental entities, like TDCJ, are generally
immune from suits for damages. See Univ. of Tex. Sw. Med.
Ctr. at Dallas v. Estate of Arancibia, 324 S.W.3d 544,
546 (Tex. 2010). The Texas Tort Claims Act waives
governmental immunity for negligent acts in certain
circumstances. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code
Ann. § 101.021 (West 2011). To take advantage of this
waiver and overcome the shield of governmental immunity, a
claimant must notify a governmental unit of the negligent act
not later than six months after the incident. Tex. Civ. Prac.
& Rem. Code ...