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City of Houston v. Garza

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

July 9, 2019

CITY OF HOUSTON, Appellant
v.
CASSANDRA GARZA, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 281st District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 2018-15552

          Panel consists of Justices Keyes, Kelly, and Goodman.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PETER KELLY JUSTICE

         This is an interlocutory appeal of the trial court's denial of the City of Houston's traditional motion for summary judgment, in which it argued that it was immune from suit under the Texas Tort Claims Act. On appeal, the City argues that the trial court erred by denying its motion because appellee Cassandra Garza's summary judgment affidavit was a sham that should have been disregarded.

         Because the City did not conclusively prove its entitlement to summary judgment, we affirm the order of the trial court.

         Background

         City of Houston Police Officer J. Turretine and his partner stopped Cassandra Garza for speeding at 5:14 a.m. on March 9, 2016. She was arrested for outstanding traffic warrants and taken to the City's Southeast Jail. At the jail, Officer Turretine's partner found Garza in possession of clear plastic bags containing less than a gram of cocaine residue. Based on that information, Officer Turretine contacted a Harris County assistant district attorney, "who accepted charges of possession of cocaine less than one gram." Officer Turretine had no further contact with Garza.

         Garza alleged that she was injured later that day when a vehicle taking her from the City jail to the Harris County jail collided with another vehicle. She sued both the City and Harris County, stating that it was "undetermined at this time whether the Plaintiff was in the custody of the City of Houston or Harris County, Texas at the time of the accident."

         The City filed a traditional motion for summary judgment in which it argued that immunity precluded Garza's suit as a matter of law. The City contended that its evidence-two affidavits and discovery responses-conclusively proved that Garza's alleged injuries did not arise from the City's use of a motor driven vehicle. The City attached affidavits from Officer Turretine, who arrested Garza, and Officer R. Hall, who worked later that day. Officer Turretine stated that he and his partner were uniformed and in a marked patrol car when they met Garza. He averred that they were not involved in a motor vehicle collision while transporting her.

         Both Officers Turretine and Hall denied having taken Garza to the Harris County jail, although Officer Hall said that it was within his job responsibilities to transport inmates. Officer Hall averred that he had provided inmate transportation for 14 years and never had an accident. On March 9, 2016, he was assigned to the evening shift, which began at 2:00 p.m. It was his usual practice to open the back doors of the transport vehicle upon arrival at the Harris County jail, he "never observed any inmates on the floor of the van after opening the doors," and he "never received a report from an inmate that they were injured during the drive."

         The City's final piece of summary judgment evidence was Garza's sworn interrogatories. In response to interrogatories, Garza stated that:

• She was a passenger in a vehicle owned and operated by either the City of Houston or Harris County.
• The vehicle in which she was riding rear-ended another vehicle.
• She was seated in the rear of the vehicle, and she was being ...

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