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Martinez v. San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

April 10, 2019

Pedro MARTINEZ, Superintendent of San Antonio Independent School District;Patti Radle, President of Board of Trustees for San Antonio Independent School District; Arthur V. Valdez, Vice-President of Board of Trustees for San Antonio Independent School District;Debra Guerrero, Secretary of Board of Trustees for San Antonio Independent School District;Steven Lecholop, Trustee of Board of Trustees for San Antonio Independent School District;James Howard, Trustee of Board of Trustees for San Antonio Independent School District;Ed Garza, Trustee of Board of Trustees for San Antonio Independent School District; and Democracy Prep Public Schools, Inc. Appellants
v.
SAN ANTONIO ALLIANCE OF TEACHERS AND SUPPORT PERSONNEL, Appellee

          From the 224th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2018-CI-08318 Honorable Karen H. Pozza, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice Irene Rios, Justice Beth Watkins, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BETH WATKINS, JUSTICE

         Appellee San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel (the "Alliance") filed the underlying lawsuit alleging a contract entered into between the San Antonio Independent School District ("SAISD") and Democracy Prep Public Schools, Inc. ("Democracy Prep") pursuant to section 11.174 of the Texas Education Code is void.[1] The appellants are Democracy Prep and the superintendent and all of the members of the board of trustees of SAISD, who were sued in their official capacities. In their briefs, the appellants present four alternative bases for holding the trial court erred in denying their pleas: (1) SAISD's superintendent and trustees did not engage in the ultra vires act alleged by the Alliance in approving and signing the contract; (2) the Alliance failed to exhaust its administrative remedies; (3) the Alliance lacks associational standing; and (4) the Alliance's claims are moot. Because we hold SAISD's superintendent and trustees did not engage in the alleged ultra vires act, we reverse the trial court's order and render judgment dismissing the underlying lawsuit. We do not address the appellants' alternative arguments. See Tex. R. App. P. 47.1.

         Background

         P.F. Stewart Elementary School is a public school campus within SAISD. Because the campus received a rating of Improvement Required for four consecutive years, SAISD was notified the Commissioner of Education ("Commissioner") intended to impose sanctions on SAISD after the end of the 2017-2018 school year unless some action was taken to improve the rating. In response, pursuant to section 11.174 of the Code, SAISD entered into a contract with Democracy Prep to operate the campus. Under the terms of the contract, Democracy Prep was to begin operating the campus on July 1, 2018.

         On May 4, 2018, the Alliance filed the underlying lawsuit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The Alliance alleged the contract was void because SAISD failed to consult with campus personnel regarding the provisions to be included in the contract before the contract was entered into as required by section 11.174(c) of the Code.

         On May 24, 2018, SAISD's superintendent and trustees filed a first amended plea to the jurisdiction and brief in support, asserting the trial court did not have jurisdiction to consider the Alliance's claims. The Alliance filed a response to the plea on May 31, 2018. That same day, Democracy Prep also filed a plea to the jurisdiction.

         On June 1, 2018, the trial court held a hearing on the pleas and the Alliance's request for a temporary injunction. On June 4, 2018, the trial court signed an order denying the pleas and the request for temporary injunction. The appellants timely appealed the provisions in the trial court's order denying their pleas.

         Standard of Review and Ultra Vires Acts

         "Appellate courts reviewing a challenge to a trial court's subject matter jurisdiction review the trial court's ruling de novo." Meyers v. JDC/Firethorne, Ltd., 548 S.W.3d 477, 486 (Tex. 2018). The resolution of the jurisdictional inquiry in this case involves statutory construction, which we also review de novo. Levinson Alcoser Assocs., L.P. v. El Pistolón II, Ltd., 513 S.W.3d 487, 493 (Tex. 2017). Our primary objective in statutory construction is to give effect to the Legislature's intent. Id. We seek that intent "first and foremost" in the statutory text. Lexington Ins. Co. v. Strayhorn, 209 S.W.3d 83, 85 (Tex. 2006). "Where text is clear, text is determinative of that intent." Entergy Gulf States, Inc. v. Summers, 282 S.W.3d 433, 437 (Tex. 2009) (op. on reh'g). Because we presume the Legislature chose the language in a statute deliberately and purposefully, we "endeavor to interpret each word, phrase, and clause in a manner that gives meaning to them all." Levinson Alcoser Assocs., L.P., 513 S.W.3d at 493. "We accordingly read statutes as a whole so as to render no part inconsistent, superfluous, or devoid of meaning." Id.

         Immunity and Ultra Vires Acts

         "Although governmental entities and officers are generally immune from liability absent the government's waiver or consent, such immunity does not prohibit suit against a state official if the official's actions are ultra vires." Honors Acad., Inc. v. Tex. Educ. Agency, 555 S.W.3d 54, 68 (Tex. 2018). "To state an ultra vires claim, the plaintiff must allege and prove that the named officials acted without legal authority or failed to perform a ministerial act." Id. "'Ministerial acts' are those where the law prescribes and defines the duties to be performed with such precision and certainty as to leave nothing to the exercise of discretion or judgment." City of Hous. v. Hous. Mun. Employees Pension Sys., 549 S.W.3d 566, 576 (Tex. 2018) (internal quotation omitted).

         Section ...


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