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Meuth v. City of Seguin

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

July 17, 2019

Trece MEUTH, Appellant
v.
CITY OF SEGUIN, Appellee

          From the 25th Judicial District Court, Guadalupe County, Texas Trial Court No. 14-0546-CV-A Honorable William Old, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice Liza A. Rodriguez, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Liza A. Rodriguez, Justice.

         In her second appeal, Trece Meuth appeals from the trial court's judgment granting the City of Seguin's second plea to the jurisdiction and dismissing all of Meuth's live claims. We reverse the trial court's judgment and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.

         Background

         Trece Meuth is the fee simple owner of 628 Gloria Drive, Lots 7 and 8, Block 1, in the City of Seguin, Texas (the "Property"). The Property is located in the River Oaks Terrace subdivision and backs up to the Guadalupe River. The City annexed the subdivision in 1965 and a residence was built on the Property in 1974. A steel drainage pipe runs underneath the residence and funnels storm water from a concrete inlet at the street underneath the Property and into the Guadalupe River. Meuth purchased the Property in 2012.

         In 2014, Meuth sued the City seeking monetary damages, declaratory relief, and injunctive relief because the flow of storm water from the subdivision through the drainage pipe culvert under her home has caused soil erosion and instability on her Property. Meuth alleged that she contacted the City about the drainage problem in March 2012 while she was negotiating the purchase of the Property and informed the City that the drainage culvert was located outside the City's easement. Meuth further alleged that, at the time, the City acknowledged responsibility for the storm water drainage culvert and promised to "repair the property by filling in the culvert, replacing the lost soil, and building a new drainage culvert in a location with a legal easement." In response to Meuth's lawsuit, the City filed a plea to the jurisdiction claiming immunity from the suit. The trial court granted the City's plea and dismissed Meuth's claims for an unconstitutional taking, a declaratory judgment, intentional and negligent misrepresentations, fraud in a real estate transaction, and gross negligence. Meuth's remaining claim for injunctive relief was severed into a separate cause of action. Meuth appealed.

         Our prior opinion held that Meuth failed to plead a valid takings claim because her petition did not allege an affirmative, intentional act by the City that resulted in the Property being taken for public use; rather, her takings claim was based on the City's failure to take action, i.e., its failure to repair and replace the drainage culvert. Meuth v. City of Seguin, No. 04-16-00183-CV, 2017 WL 603646, at *2-4 (Tex. App.-San Antonio Feb. 15, 2017, pet. denied) (mem. op.) (referred to as "Meuth I"). As to Meuth's declaratory judgment claim, we held it was an impermissible attempt to obtain monetary damages because she sought to "hold the City 'liable' for the costs associated with removing the drainage culvert and restoring the property." Id. at *5. With respect to Meuth's other claims, we held the City was immune from those claims and that its refusal to repair and replace the drainage culvert was a governmental function for which immunity is not waived. Id. at *6-7. We therefore affirmed the trial court's grant of the City's plea to the jurisdiction. Id. at *9. We explicitly stated that Meuth's remaining claim for injunctive relief had been severed and was not before us. Id. at *1 & n.1.

         After Meuth I became final, the City filed a second plea to the jurisdiction in the severed cause of action, trial court no. 14-0546-CV-A, in which Meuth's injunctive relief claim remained pending. The City asserted the Meuth I opinion was now "law of the case" and required dismissal of Meuth's remaining claim. On the same day, Meuth filed a "Motion for Leave to File Plaintiff Trece Meuth's First Amended Petition in Severed Action for Injunctive Relief," along with other motions, and incorporated the amended petition as her response to the City's second plea to the jurisdiction. Meuth's amended petition raised new factual allegations of affirmative acts by the City, added a claim for nuisance, and broadened the injunctive relief requested. A hearing was held on the City's second plea to the jurisdiction on February 26, 2018. After taking the matter under advisement, the trial court signed an order on March 8, 2018 granting the City's plea to the jurisdiction. Meuth filed a motion for reconsideration and/or new trial. She attached a transcript of the deposition of City Engineer Joe Ramos acknowledging the City's responsibility to address storm water within its right-of-ways and discussing the City's construction of a lift station across the street from Meuth's house which affected the flow of storm water toward the Property. The City filed a response urging denial of the motion for reconsideration and requesting the trial court to enter a final judgment dismissing all of Meuth's claims and expressly including her nuisance claim. On May 7, 2018, the trial court signed an order denying Meuth's motion for reconsideration/new trial and stating that, "Defendant City of Seguin's Second Plea to the Jurisdiction should be in all things granted including all causes of action including nuisance" and "Final Judgment [is] entered for Defendant City of Seguin." The trial court made no express findings of fact or conclusions of law in support of its order granting the City's plea as to all of Meuth's causes of action. Meuth appealed.

         Analysis

         Meuth argues the trial court erred in granting the City's second plea to the jurisdiction on the basis of law of the case because she amended her petition to allege affirmative, intentional acts by the City with respect to the drainage culvert and added a new claim and requested more injunctive relief, neither of which were addressed in Meuth I. In its appellate brief, the City maintains its position that Meuth's new claim for nuisance and her broadened request for injunctive relief are resolved by Meuth I under law of the case; therefore, the City is shielded by sovereign immunity from Meuth's claims.

         Standard of Review

         Sovereign immunity deprives a trial court of subject matter jurisdiction for lawsuits in which the state or certain governmental units have been sued, unless the state consents to suit. Tex. Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 224 (Tex. 2004). Immunity from suit is properly asserted in a plea to the jurisdiction. Id. at 225-26. Because subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law, an appellate court reviews a trial court's ruling on a plea to the jurisdiction de novo. Id. at 226.

         If a plea to the jurisdiction challenges the pleadings, the court liberally construes the pleadings to determine whether the plaintiff has alleged facts that "affirmatively demonstrate the court's jurisdiction to hear the cause." Id. If a plea to the jurisdiction challenges the existence of jurisdictional facts which also implicate the merits of the case, the court considers any relevant evidence submitted by the parties to determine whether a fact issue exists. Id. at 227. In doing so, the court takes as true all evidence favorable to the nonmovant, indulging every reasonable inference and resolving any doubts in the nonmovant's favor. Id. at 228. "[I]f the relevant evidence is undisputed or fails to raise a fact question on the jurisdictional issue, the trial court rules on the plea to the jurisdiction as a ...


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