Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg
appeal from the 444th District Court of Cameron County,
Justices Rodriguez , Longoria, and Hinojosa
L. LONGORIA JUSTICE
Hilda Hernandez filed a lawsuit against appellant Point
Isabel Independent School District (District) arguing that
she was unlawfully terminated from her position with the
school due to age discrimination and retaliation. The
District filed a plea to the jurisdiction for lack of
subject-matter jurisdiction. The trial court denied the plea
to the jurisdiction. The District argues on appeal that the
trial court lacked jurisdiction over Hernandez's claims
under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA). We
reverse and render.
worked for the District as a teacher. On February 17, 2016,
she was asked to resign from her position "over an
alleged incident that occurred on or about February 12,
2016." The incident involved an allegation from a
third-grade student which was being investigated by Child
Protective Services. Hernandez had a hearing before the Board
of Trustees (Board) regarding the nonrenewal of her
employment contract on or about April 12, 2016. Hernandez did
not testify before the Board. After the hearing, the Board
determined that Hernandez's contract would not be
renewed. Hernandez appealed the Board's decision to the
Texas Commissioner of Education (Commissioner).
15, 2016, the Commissioner issued his decision, which
included findings of fact and conclusions of law.
See Tex. Educ. Code Ann. § 21.301. The
Commissioner found that Hernandez "roughly grabbed a
student who was under her supervision" and that
Hernandez's action with the student "was unnecessary
and without justification and was not done to correct any
misbehavior on the part of the student." The student had
"minor soft tissue injury" as a result of the
incident. The Commissioner found that the nonrenewal of
Hernandez's contract was based on the evidence of the
incident with the student and therefore was not an unlawful
non-renewal, specifically stating that "[s]ubstantial
evidence supports [the District's] decision to nonrenew
[Hernandez's] contract." Hernandez appealed the
Commissioner's decision to the 357th District Court of
Cameron County. On May 3, 2017, the district court issued a
final judgment upholding the Commissioner's decision,
denying Hernandez's appeal.
about July 29, 2016, Hernandez filed a complaint with the
Texas Workforce Commission Division of Civil Rights
(Workforce Commission) complaining of age discrimination and
retaliation based on the nonrenewal of her contract. She
received a notice of dismissal and right to file a civil
action from the Workforce Commission on December 5, 2016, and
subsequently filed the underlying lawsuit on January 27,
2017. The District filed a plea to the jurisdiction which was
denied. This appeal followed.
Plea to the Jurisdiction
District argues that it has governmental immunity from suit
unless Hernandez actually "states a claim for conduct
that would violate the Texas Commission of Human Rights
Act." It argues that she cannot establish the elements
of her claim under the TCHRA because of collateral estoppel.
Standard of Review
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). Subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law;
therefore, when the determinative facts are undisputed, we
review the trial court's ruling on a plea to the
jurisdiction de novo. Id. "Sovereign immunity
deprives a trial court of jurisdiction over lawsuits in which
the state or certain governmental units have been sued,
unless the state consents to suit. As a result, immunity is
properly asserted in a plea to the jurisdiction."
Mission Consol. Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Garcia, 372
S.W.3d 629, 636 (Tex. 2012).
plea to the jurisdiction challenges the existence of
jurisdictional facts, a trial court's review
"mirrors that of a traditional summary judgment
motion." Id. at 635. The trial court must take
as true all evidence favorable to the nonmovant, indulging
every reasonable inference and resolving any doubts in the
nonmovant's favor. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 228.
The defendant carries the initial burden to meet the summary
judgment proof standard for its assertion that the trial
court lacks jurisdiction. Garcia, 372 S.W.3d at 635.
If it meets its burden, the plaintiff is then required to
show that a disputed material fact exists regarding the
jurisdictional issue. Id. If there is a fact
question regarding the jurisdictional issue, the trial court
must deny the plea to the jurisdiction. Miranda, 133
S.W.3d at 227-28. However, if the evidence is undisputed or
if the plaintiff failed to raise a fact question on the
jurisdictional issue, the trial court rules on the plea to
the jurisdiction as a matter of law. Id. at 228.