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Texas Southmost College District v. Flores Investments, Inc.

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

March 1, 2018


         On appeal from the County Court at Law No. 2 of Cameron County, Texas.

          Before Justices Contreras, Benavides, and Longoria Memorandum Opinion by Justice Benavides



         This is an interlocutory appeal from an order denying a plea to the jurisdiction filed by appellant Texas Southmost College (TSC), a/k/a Texas Southmost College District. By its sole issue, TSC asserts the trial court erred in denying the plea. We reverse and remand.

         I. Background

         In the fall of 2013, TSC contacted appellee Flores Investments, Inc., a/k/a American Investigations and Security International (Flores) about an immediate need for security officers. TSC and Flores entered into a contract on November 1, 2013 for a term of 303 days, ending on August 31, 2014. The contract contained a provision stating that the contract would automatically renew until it was terminated by written notice thirty days before the end of the term.

         The contract between TSC and Flores renewed on August 31, 2014, and again on June 30, 2015, with a specific ending date of April 28, 2016, for a term of 303 days. According to Flores's petition, it received information that TSC had put out a notice for bids in June of 2015 and another security contract was awarded to American Surveillance Company.[1]

         Flores contends that TSC continued to utilize its security services until October 2015, when Flores received notice[2] that TSC would cease using its services within thirty days. Despite this alleged notice, TSC requested security services from Flores through written requests, [3] although in a lesser capacity, up until December 11, 2015, when Flores received an e-mail from Randy Paredes, the security representative of TSC, stating that December 11, 2015 was the last working day for Flores. Flores's security services were not utilized after December 11, 2015.

         TSC sent Flores a letter terminating the contract prior to the renewal of the next term. Flores filed suit against TSC alleging a breach of the contract terms and requesting $316, 076.47 in damages. Flores claimed there was a "balance due and owed" for money it "would have received" under the contract from December 2015 through April 2016 had TSC not breached the contract. TSC responded by denying Flores's allegations and filed a plea to the jurisdiction alleging it had sovereign immunity because Flores did not plead a cause of action that would waive immunity. The trial court denied TSC's plea to the jurisdiction. This interlocutory appeal followed.

         II. Plea to the Jurisdiction

         By one issue, TSC alleges the trial court improperly denied its plea to the jurisdiction. TSC claims that Flores did not allege a cause of action that falls under a waiver of sovereign immunity.

         A. Standard of Review

         A plea to the jurisdiction is a dilatory plea; its purpose is "to defeat a cause of action without regard to whether the claims asserted have merit." Bland Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Blue, 34 S.W.3d 547, 554 (Tex. 2000). The plea challenges the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction over a pleaded cause of action. Tex. Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 226 (Tex. 2004); Cameron County, Tex. v. Ortega, 291 S.W.3d 495, 497 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2009, no pet.).

         Subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law; therefore, we review the trial court's ruling on a plea to the jurisdiction de novo. See Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 228. Whether undisputed evidence of jurisdictional facts establishes a trial court's jurisdiction is also a question of law. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 226. However, disputed evidence of jurisdictional facts that also implicate the merits of the case may require resolution by the finder of fact. Id. When a plea to the jurisdiction challenges the pleadings, we determine if the pleader has alleged facts that affirmatively demonstrate the court's jurisdiction to hear the case. Id.

         A plaintiff bears the burden of alleging facts that affirmatively demonstrate the trial court's jurisdiction. Tex. Dep't of Transp. v. Ramirez,74 S.W.3d 864, 867 (Tex. 2002); State of Tex. Parks & Wildlife Dep't. v. Morris,129 S.W.3d 804, 807 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2004, no pet.). In deciding a plea to the jurisdiction, a court may not weigh the merits of the causes of action, but must consider only the plaintiff's pleadings and any evidence in the record pertinent to the jurisdictional inquiry. County of Cameron v. Brown,80 S.W.3d 549, 555 (Tex. 2002); City of Laredo v. Nuno,94 S.W.3d 786, 788 (Tex. App.- San Antonio 2002, no pet.). The appellate court must examine the pleader's intent and construe the pleading in the plaintiff's favor. Brown, 80 S.W.3d at 555; Ramirez, 74 S.W.3d at 867. However, a plea to ...

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