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City of San Antonio v. Herrera

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

August 21, 2019

The CITY OF SAN ANTONIO, Appellant
v.
Elena HERRERA, Appellee

          From the 224th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2017-CI-10253 Honorable Antonia Arteaga, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice Liza A. Rodriguez, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice.

         The City of San Antonio appeals the trial court's order denying its plea to the jurisdiction, asserting it has governmental immunity from the suit filed against it by Elena Herrera. We reverse the trial court's order and render judgment dismissing Herrera's suit for lack of jurisdiction.

         Background

         Elena Herrera sued the City for damages she suffered as a result of a fall in a City owned and operated parking garage. Herrera's petition alleged that in January 2016, she "was exiting an elevator and fell as a result of the unreasonably dangerous condition created by the curb and ramp leading to the parking area." She alleged the City negligently created the dangerous condition, allowed it to exist, and failed to warn about the condition. The City answered, pleading, among other things, governmental immunity and the defenses and immunities to which it is entitled under Chapter 101 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies code (The Texas Tort Claims Act).

         More than a year later, the City filed its plea to the jurisdiction, alleging Herrera failed to plead a valid waiver of governmental immunity and that her premises liability claim, as articulated in her petition and discovery responses, arose out of the City's exercise of its discretionary powers, for which the City retains its immunity pursuant to section 101.056 of the Act. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 101.056. Herrera filed an amended petition, in which she alleged the City's immunity from her premises liability claim is waived by section 101.021 of the Act. See id. § 101.021. She also filed a response to the City's plea, attaching evidence. After a hearing, the trial court signed an order denying the plea to the jurisdiction, and the City filed this interlocutory appeal. See id. § 51.014(a)(8).

         Standard of Review

         Immunity from suit defeats a trial court's subject matter jurisdiction and is properly raised in a plea to the jurisdiction. Tex. Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 225-26 (Tex. 2004). Whether the trial court has jurisdiction over a case is a question of law we review de novo. City of Elsa v. Gonzalez, 325 S.W.3d 622, 625 (Tex. 2010). When reviewing a trial court's ruling on a challenge to its jurisdiction, we consider the plaintiff's pleadings and factual assertions, as well as any evidence in the record that is relevant to the jurisdictional issue. Id.; Bland Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Blue, 34 S.W.3d 547, 555 (Tex. 2000). When the plea to the jurisdiction challenges the sufficiency of the pleadings, we construe the pleadings liberally in favor of the plaintiff, look to the pleader's intent, and determine if the pleader has alleged facts affirmatively demonstrating the court's jurisdiction. Id. When the plea to the jurisdiction challenges the existence of jurisdictional facts that are not intertwined with the merits of the case, we decide the jurisdictional issue as a matter of law if the jurisdictional facts are undisputed. Worsdale v. City of Killeen, No. 18-0329, 2019 WL 2479177, at *6 (Tex. June 14, 2019); City of San Antonio v. Rocha, No. 04-18-00367-CV, 2018 WL 6517169, at *2 (Tex. App.-San Antonio Dec. 12, 2018, no pet.) (mem. op.). If those facts are disputed, we defer to the trial court's express or implied factual determinations that are supported by sufficient evidence. Id.

         Governmental Immunity

         Under the common law, the City is immune from suit and liability for damages arising from the performance of its governmental functions unless that immunity is waived by the legislature. Id. at *3. Because the City's operation of a parking garage is a governmental function, the City is generally immune from a suit arising from its operation of the garage. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 101.0215(a)(25). In the Texas Tort Claims Act, the legislature waived that immunity for certain premise defect claims. See id. §§ 101.021(2), 101.022(a), 101.025. However, the legislature excepted from the waiver and preserved immunity for claims based on the governmental unit's discretionary functions. See Tarrant Reg'l Water Dist. v. Johnson, 572 S.W.3d 658, 662 (Tex. 2019); Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 101.056. Section 101.056 provides:

         [The Tort Claims Act] does not apply to a claim based on:

(1) the failure of a governmental unit to perform an act that the unit is not required by law to perform; or
(2) a governmental unit's decision not to perform an act or on its failure to make a decision on the performance or nonperformance of an act if the law leaves the performance or nonperformance of the ...

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