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Torres v. Dallas/ft Worth International Airport

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

August 29, 2019

RUTH TORRES, Appellant
v.
DALLAS/FT WORTH INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 44th Judicial District Court Dallas County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. DC-16-08711

          Before Justices Myers, Osborne, and Nowell

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LANA MYERS JUSTICE.

         Appellant Ruth Torres files this interlocutory appeal of the trial court's order granting Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport Board (DFW)'s plea to the jurisdiction. Torres brings six issues on appeal. Four of her issues question DFW's defense of governmental immunity and whether it was waived. Torres's fifth issue argues she is entitled to a remedy under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act. Her sixth issue avers that DFW's "appeal to the jurisdiction" stayed all proceedings and that the trial court erred by continuing to issue orders after jurisdiction was questioned. We affirm the trial court's grant of the plea to the jurisdiction.

         BACKGROUND

         The underlying dispute in this case concerns a contract in which Torres was to provide human resources consulting services to Pursuit of Excellence (POE), a corporation that contracted with DFW to provide airport operations services. DFW operates Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. See Tex. Transp. Code §§ 22.074(c), (d). On July 20, 2016, POE filed suit against Torres for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, misappropriation of trade secrets, unjust enrichment, tortious interference with contract and business relationships, and commercial disparagement. Torres filed an answer, denying the allegations and asserting counterclaims against POE. She also added third-party claimants, including DFW. On May 14, 2018, DFW filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asserting governmental immunity from tort and contract claims. Torres filed an answer, and DFW filed a reply to that answer. On June 4, 2018, the trial court signed an order granting DFW's plea to the jurisdiction. Torres filed a notice of appeal challenging that order, among other orders. We ordered Torres to file a brief in this case limited to the trial court's order granting DFW's plea to the jurisdiction. We determined that we lack jurisdiction over numerous issues raised in Torres's notice of appeal, and that review of the trial court's denial of Torres's motion to dismiss under the TCPA would proceed under a separate case number. Accordingly, we now review the arguments before us on appeal.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Both standing to sue and governmental immunity are issues of the trial court's subject-matter jurisdiction. Tex. Ass'n of Bus. v. Tex. Air Control Bd., 852 S.W.2d 440, 443 (Tex. 1993) (standing is a component of subject-matter jurisdiction); Tex. Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 225-26 (Tex. 2004) (governmental immunity from suit implicates trial court's subject matter jurisdiction). Subject-matter jurisdiction is never presumed and cannot be waived. Tex. Ass'n of Bus., 852 S.W.2d at 443-44. Whether a court has subject-matter jurisdiction is a question of law. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 226.

         We review the trial court's ruling on a plea to the jurisdiction under a de novo standard of review. Town of Fairview v. Lawler, 252 S.W.3d 853, 856 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2008, no pet.). When a plea to the jurisdiction challenges the pleadings, we look to whether the plaintiff has alleged facts that affirmatively demonstrate the court's jurisdiction to hear the case. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 226.

         When a plea to the jurisdiction challenges the existence of jurisdictional facts, we consider relevant evidence submitted by the parties when necessary to resolve the jurisdictional issues raised. Id. at 227. This standard mirrors the summary judgment standard under rule 166a(c), Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, and places the burden on the plaintiff to allege facts that affirmatively demonstrate the trial court's jurisdiction. City of Dallas v. Hughes, 344 S.W.3d 549, 553 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2011, no pet.) (citing Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 227-28). Once the plaintiff has done so, the government entity must meet the summary judgment standard of proof to support its contention that the trial court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction. Id. The plaintiff must then show that a disputed fact issue exists. Id. If the relevant evidence fails to raise a fact question or is undisputed on the jurisdictional issue, we determine the plea as a matter of law. Id. (citing Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 228).

         DISCUSSION

         I. The Operation of DFW Airport is a Governmental Function as a Matter of Law

         In her first issue, Torres contends the trial court "erred or abused its discretion" in granting DFW's plea to the jurisdiction. She argues that by providing evidence in response to DFW's plea to the jurisdiction, she created a fact issue, obligating the trial court to deny the plea.

         DFW is a special purpose governmental entity. Dallas/Fort Worth Int'l Airport Bd. v. Ass'n of Taxicab Operators, USA, 427 S.W.3d 547, 458 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2014, pet. denied). That status affords it governmental immunity as a matter of law, precluding the existence of the fact issue Torres alleges. See Dallas/Fort Worth Int'l Airport Bd. v. Vizant Techs., LLC,576 S.W. 362, 367 (Tex. 2019). We conclude ...


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