Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth
James H. Watson and Others Similarly Situated, Appellant
City of Southlake, Appellee James H. Watson and Others Similarly Situated, Appellant
City of Allen, City of Amarillo, City of Arlington, City of Austin, City of Balch Springs, City of Balcones Heights, City of Bastrop, City of Baytown, City of Bedford, City of Burleson, City of Cedar Hill, City of Conroe, City of Coppell, City of Corpus Christi, City of Dallas, City of Denton, City of Duncanville, City of El Paso, City of Elgin, City of Farmers Branch, City of Fort Worth, City of Frisco, City of Garland, City of Grand Prairie, City of Haltom City, City of Humble, City of Hurst, City of Hutto, City of Irving, City of Jersey Village, City of Killeen, City of League City, City of Little Elm, City of Longview, City of Marshall, City of Mesquite, City of North Richland Hills, City of Richland Hills, City of Roanoke, City of Round Rock, City of Tomball, City of University Park, City of Watauga, American Traffic Solutions, Inc., American Traffic Solutions, LLC, Xerox State & Local Solutions Inc., and The State of Texas, Appellees
Appeal from the 153rd District Court Tarrant County, Texas
Trial Court Nos. 153-278080-15, 153-298996-18
Sudderth, C.J.; Gabriel and Birdwell, JJ.
James H. Watson challenges the constitutionality of the state
and local laws that provided for automated red-light cameras.
He sues on behalf of a putative class of citizens, seeking a
declaration and injunction against enforcement of these
red-light-camera laws, as well as the return of the fines
that he and other citizens were assessed.
consolidated appeal, Watson contends that the trial court
erred by granting pleas to the jurisdiction in favor of all
but one defendant. While Watson's appeal was pending, the
Texas Supreme Court addressed a nearly identical set of
arguments against the constitutionality of red-light-camera
laws, and it rejected the appellant's challenges on
grounds of standing, immunity, and failure to exhaust
administrative remedies. See Garcia v. City of
Willis, No. 17-0713, 2019 WL 1967140, at *3–7
(Tex. May 3, 2019). Also while this appeal was pending, the
Legislature undid the whole of the red-light-camera statute,
repealing it and replacing it with a measure that generally
prohibited the use of red-light cameras for traffic
enforcement. Act of May 17, 2019, 86th Leg., R.S., ch. 372,
H.B. 1631, §§ 2, 6; see Tex. Transp. Code
Ann. § 707.020. Thus, following the guidance of
Garcia, and accounting for the effect of the
Legislature's repeal, we reject Watson's arguments
2002, the Texas Office of Attorney General issued an opinion
suggesting that under state law at the time, cities could not
use red-light cameras to impose civil penalties. See
Tex. Att'y Gen. Op. No. JC-0460 (2002). In 2007, the
Legislature responded to that opinion by enacting chapter 707
of the transportation code, which authorized municipalities
to establish, by ordinance, a system of red-light cameras and
civil fines. See Act of May 16, 2007, 80th Leg.,
R.S., ch. 1149, § 1, 2007 Tex. Gen. Laws 3924 (former
Tex. Transp. Code Ann. §§
707.001–.019). Under the former statute,
participating municipalities could assess a civil fine of up
to $75 for red-light violations, along with a late fee of up
to $25 if payment was not timely made. Id. (former
Tex. Transp. Code Ann. § 707.007). If the penalty was
not paid at all, the statute authorized the Texas Department
of Motor Vehicles to refuse to renew the vehicle's
registration. Id. (former Tex. Transp. Code Ann.
§ 707.017(a)). The statute provided that persons charged
with violations could contest the penalty at an
administrative hearing. Id. (former Tex. Transp.
Code Ann. § 707.014(a)).
the enactment of chapter 707, the City of Southlake adopted a
red-light-camera ordinance, as did many other municipalities.
Southlake's ordinance provided that violations were
subject to a civil fine of $75, a $25 late fee, and
additional fees if the violator's check was returned for
Halloween of October 2014, Watson, a resident of Louisiana,
was cited for violating Southlake's ordinance. It is
undisputed that Watson did not take advantage of his
administrative remedies. Instead, he filed suit in district
court. Watson alleged that he was not in the vehicle or even
in the state of Texas at the time of the purported violation,
and he did not give permission to whoever was driving his
vehicle. Watson alleged that he nonetheless paid the $75 fine
under duress, fearing that he would be assessed late fees,
would be refused renewal of his registration, and would
suffer damage to his credit score.
Watson did not simply sue Southlake for the return of his
$75. Rather, Watson sought class certification and purported
to sue on behalf of all others who had been affected by
Texas's red-light-camera laws. To that end, Watson sued
municipalities throughout Texas that had enacted
red-light-camera ordinances. Watson also sued Redflex Traffic
Systems, Inc., the private company that administered
Southlake's red-light-camera program, as well as three
other similarly situated private administrators: American
Traffic Solutions, Inc.; American Traffic Solutions, LLC; and
Xerox State & Local Solutions, Inc. Finally, Watson's
petition named the State of Texas as defendant for its role
in enacting the unconstitutional enabling statute. In all, he
sought the return of millions of dollars that had been, he
said, wrongfully "fleeced" from citizens; he
alleged an amount in controversy of well over a million
dollars. Watson alleged several claims:
• unconstitutional takings;
• reimbursement of the civil fines;
• injunction prohibiting the government defendants from
enforcing their red-light-camera laws;
• declaratory judgment that the red-light-camera laws
were unconstitutional under several provisions of the Texas
• claims for common law misrepresentation and deceptive
trade practices violations against the private
long, many of the government defendants filed pleas to the
jurisdiction. In its plea, the State of Texas argued that it
was not involved in the issuance of Watson's fine, and
Watson therefore lacked standing to bring claims against the
State. According to the State, it was purely passive in the
matter, and Watson had suffered a cognizable injury only at
the hands of Southlake and Redflex-the entities which had
issued his ticket. The State further reasoned that even if
Watson had standing, his claims were barred by sovereign
immunity. Many of the municipalities and private
administrators voiced their own standing and immunity
arguments. Other municipalities contended that Watson's
claims were barred due to his failure to exhaust
April 6, 2018, the trial court rendered two orders concerning
the pleas to the jurisdiction, from which Watson appeals. In
one order, the trial court granted Southlake's plea to
the jurisdiction on the basis of immunity. Watson
subsequently filed an accelerated interlocutory appeal of
that order in appellate cause number 02-18-00143-CV.
another order, the trial court granted pleas to the
jurisdiction in favor of all defendants except Southlake and
Redflex, reasoning that Watson had no standing to raise his
claims against the State, the other municipalities, or the
private administrators who were not involved in Watson's
ticket. The trial court subsequently severed these claims and
rendered a final judgment dismissing them with prejudice.
Watson timely appealed this final judgment in appellate cause
number 02-18-00151-CV. Together, the order and the judgment
left Redflex as the only remaining defendant in the case. We
consider Watson's appeals together.
Standing & Mootness
trial court implicitly concluded that Watson had standing to
sue Southlake and Redflex, but it explicitly concluded that
he lacked standing to sue any of the other defendants who
were not involved in his particular ticket.
we deem his first issue, Watson challenges the trial
court's ruling that he lacked standing to sue any of
these other defendants. Before we consider his issue,
however, we take up sua sponte the question of whether Watson
had standing to bring prospective claims against any
defendant in this appeal.
is a question of law that we review de novo. Heckman v.
Williamson Cty., 369 S.W.3d 137, 149–50 (Tex.
2012). The burden is on the plaintiff to affirmatively
demonstrate the trial court's jurisdiction. Id.
at 150. When assessing a plea to the jurisdiction, our
analysis begins with the live pleadings. Id. We
construe the plaintiff's pleadings liberally, taking all
factual assertions as true, and look to the plaintiff's
intent. Id. Because it is a component of subject
matter jurisdiction, standing cannot be waived and may be
raised for the first time on appeal. Meyers v.
JDC/Firethorne, Ltd., 548 S.W.3d 477, 484 (Tex. 2018).
Texas, the standing doctrine requires a concrete injury to
the plaintiff and a real controversy between the parties that
will be resolved by the court." Id. Under Texas
law, the standing inquiry begins with determining whether the
plaintiff has personally been injured. Id. at 485.
The second element requires that the plaintiff's alleged
injury be "fairly traceable" to the defendant's
conduct. Id. To establish the third standing
requirement, a plaintiff must show that there is a
substantial likelihood that the requested relief will remedy
the alleged injury. Id.
is a "prerequisite to subject-matter jurisdiction, and
subject-matter jurisdiction is essential to a court's
power to decide a case." Garcia, 2019 WL
1967140, at *2. We are "duty-bound" to explore
potential standing problems sua sponte. See id.
Watson Lacks Standing to Raise Prospective Claims for
seeks two forms of prospective relief. First, he seeks a
declaration that multiple sections of the statute-and the
ordinances enacted under that statute-are unconstitutional.
Second, he seeks injunctive relief prohibiting all defendants
from enforcing or collecting money under these
red-light-camera laws. Watson also ...