Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas
KAUFMAN COUNTY COMMISSIONERS COURT, THE HONORABLE BRUCE WOOD, COUNTY JUDGE IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, MIKE HUNT, COUNTY COMMISSIONER IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, SKEET PHILLIPS, COUNTY COMMISSIONER IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, TERRY BARBER, COUNTY COMMISSIONER IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, JACKIE ALLEN, COUNTY COMMISSIONER IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, Appellants
EARL LASSITER AND SUE LASSITER, Appellees
Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 2 Kaufman County,
Texas, Trial Court Cause No. 100368-CC2
Justices Brown, Schenck, and Pedersen, III.
J. SCHENCK JUSTICE.
and Sue Lassiter sued the Kaufman County Commissioners Court,
and the individual Commissioners and the County Judge, in
their official capacities, (collectively the
"Commissioners") over a dispute concerning the
maintenance of a section of road located within Kaufman
County. The Commissioners filed a plea to the jurisdiction
arguing that governmental immunity barred the Lassiters'
claims. The trial court denied the Commissioners' plea.
In two issues, the Commissioners challenge the jurisdiction
of the statutory county court to consider the dispute at
issue in this case and claim there has been no waiver of
immunity from suit. We affirm the trial court's order
denying the Commissioners' plea. Because all issues are
settled in law, we issue this memorandum opinion.
Lassiters purchased property in Kaufman County in 2015. The
only access to and egress from the property is Kaufman County
Road 273. Over time, the road deteriorated and came to a
state of disrepair. The Lassiters complained to the County
Commissioners claiming Kaufman County is responsible for
maintaining the road all the way to their property. The
Commissioners disagreed with the Lassiters and asserted
Kaufman County's obligation to maintain the road ends
approximately one hundred feet shy of the Lassiters'
property. After receiving the Lassiters' complaint, the
Commissioners caused a sign (the "Sign") to be
erected approximately 100 yards prior to where County Road
273 meets the Lassiters' property stating KAUFMAN
COUNTY ROAD MAINTENANCE ENDS.
30, 2018, the Lassiters filed suit against the Commissioners
in the district courts of Kaufman County. The District Clerk
assigned the case to County Court at Law No. 2. In their
petition, the Lassiters allege that the road leading to their
property is a public road and claim Kaufman County is
responsible for the maintenance of the road and that the
Commissioners Court may not discontinue maintenance of the
road before a new road is ready to replace it. Tex. Transp.
Code Ann. § 251.051(c). By their suit, the Lassiters do
not seek monetary damages; rather, they seek an injunction
pursuant to section 251.058(a)(2) of the transportation code,
which entitles a person to relief if "the portion of the
road being closed, abandoned, and vacated provides the only
ingress to or egress from the person's property."
Id. § 251.058(a)(2). They request an injunction
requiring the Commissioners to take down the Sign and
continue to maintain County Road 273 all the way to their
property. They further seek a declaration that sections
251.051(c) and 251.058(a)(2) of the transportation code
collectively require Kaufman County to continue to maintain
County Road 273 all the way to the their property until a
replacement road is ready to replace the road. The Lassiters
attached to their petition the affidavit of Earl Lassiter
verifying two photographs he took along County Road 273. The
Lassiters also attached copies of deeds, Commissioners Court
minutes, and a County surveyor's sketch to their
Commissioners filed a plea to the jurisdiction, and, in the
alternative, an original answer. The trial court denied the
Commissioners' plea, and the Commissioners filed this
their first issue, the Commissioners urge the county court at
law lacked subject matter jurisdiction over this case. We
review an order denying a plea to the jurisdiction de novo.
Tex. Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda,
133 S.W.3d 217, 228 (Tex. 2004). The Commissioners' first
issue turns on the statutory construction of government code
provisions governing statutory county courts; and thus,
likewise presents a legal question that we review de novo.
City of Rockwall v. Hughes, 246 S.W.3d 621, 625
Commissioners first urge that section 25.1312(a) of the
government code, applicable specifically to the Kaufman
County Courts at Law, adds to the jurisdiction of section
25.0003(a), which applies generally to all statutory county
courts, and that section 25.0003(b) meanwhile exempts from
the statutory county courts' jurisdiction cases involving
a road dispute with the Commissioners Court. Tex. Gov't
Code Ann. §§ 25.0003(a), (b), 25.1312(a).
construing statutes, we ascertain and give effect to the
Legislature's intent as expressed by the language of the
statute. See State v. Shumake, 199 S.W.3d 279, 284
(Tex. 2006). We use definitions prescribed by the Legislature
and any technical or particular meaning the words have
acquired. Gov't § 311.011(b). Otherwise, we construe
the statute's words according to their plain and common
meaning, Texas Department of Transportation v. City of
Sunset Valley, 146 S.W.3d 637, 642 (Tex. 2004), unless a
contrary intention is apparent from the context, Taylor
v. Firemen's and Policemen's Civil Service Commission
of City of Lubbock, 616 S.W.2d 187, 189 (Tex. 1981), or
unless such a construction leads to patently absurd results.
Univ. of Tex. S.W. Med. Ctr. v. Loutzenhiser, 140
S.W.3d 351, 356 (Tex. 2004). When a statute's language is
clear and unambiguous, it is inappropriate to resort to rules
of construction or extrinsic aids to construe the language.
See St. Luke's Episcopal Hosp. v.
Agbor, 952 S.W.2d 503, 505 (Tex. 1997).
25 of the government code provides broad rules governing
statutory county courts. See Gov't §§
25.0001-25.2625. Subchapter A contains general provisions
that apply to each statutory county court in Texas and
specifies that if a provision of subchapter A conflicts with
a specific provision for a particular court or county, the
specific provision controls. Id. § 25.0001(a);
see also Gov't § 311.026 (stating similar
rule in Code Construction Act); Brennan v. State,
334 S.W.3d 64, 69-70 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2009, no pet.)
(concluding specific provision applicable to a Kaufman County
Court at Law controlled over general provisions). Subchapter
C contains provisions relating to particular counties.
Gov't §§ 25.0041-25.2512. Section 25.1312
contains provisions applicable only to the Kaufman County
Courts at Law. Id. § 25.1312.
25.0003 of the government code addresses the jurisdiction of
all statutory county courts, and provides, in part, "[a]
statutory county court has jurisdiction over all causes and
proceedings, civil and criminal, original and appellate,
prescribed by law for county courts" and that "[a]
statutory county court does not have jurisdiction over causes
and proceedings concerning roads, bridges, and
public highways . . . ." Id. § 25.0003(a),
(b) (emphasis added). That provision was originally enacted
and became effective ...