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Grand Prairie Independent School District v. Castro

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

June 19, 2019

GRAND PRAIRIE INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, Appellant
v.
MANDY CASTRO AS NEXT FRIEND OF J.I.C., A MINOR, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 191st Judicial District Court Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. DC-18-06947

          Before Justices Myers, Molberg, and Carlyle

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KEN MOLBERG, JUSTICE.

         In two issues, Appellant Grand Prairie Independent School District (GPISD) challenges the trial court's denial of its plea to the jurisdiction in this negligence action that is subject to the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA), Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. §§ 101.001-.109. Because we conclude that the minor plaintiff properly pleaded that his injuries arose from the negligent operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle, we affirm the trial court's denial of GPISD's plea to the jurisdiction without the need to address GPISD's second issue, and remand this cause to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         JIC, a school child, was a frequent passenger on school buses operated by GPISD. On December 8, 2017, he was on a bus waiting to be transported from Kennedy Middle School to another destination. At some point after the bus driver started the bus to begin the trip, but while the bus remained stationary, JIC reached beneath his seat to place his backpack out of the way. When he did, three fingers on one of his hands were lacerated by the turning blades of an unscreened fan that became operational when the bus was started by its driver. GPISD personnel knew of the exposed fan blades before the bus was started.

         Through his next friend, Mandy Castro, JIC sued the school district for negligence. The district filed its plea to the jurisdiction, claiming it is immune from plaintiff's claims because the TTCA does not waive the district's governmental immunity based upon the facts pleaded. The district court denied the plea and GPISD brought this interlocutory appeal.

         Analysis

         In the sole issue material to our disposition of this appeal, GPISD argues that it is immune from suit under the TTCA because the minor plaintiff's injuries did not arise from the "operation or use" of the school bus, a motor-driven vehicle, within the meaning of the TTCA. Accordingly, GPISD argues it is entitled to the cloak of governmental immunity, and that the lower court erred by denying its jurisdictional plea and failing to dismiss JIC's claims.

         As relevant here, the TTCA waives a school district's liability for,

(1) . . . personal injury . . . proximately caused by the wrongful act or omission or the negligence of an employee acting within his scope of employment if:
(A) the . . . personal injury . . . arises from the operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle . . .; and
(B) the employee would be personally liable to the claimant according to ...

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