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Lucas v. City of Corpus Christi

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Corpus Christi Division

January 2, 2020

CECELIA LUCAS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CORPUS CHRISTI, et al, Defendants.

          ORDER ON PENDING MOTIONS

          NELVA GONZALES RAMOS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Cecilia Lucas (Lucas) filed this action against Defendant Todd A. Beach (Beach), alleging that Beach negligently caused a collision of their respective vehicles, resulting in personal injury damages. D.E. 1-3. Lucas joined Defendant City of Corpus Christi, Texas (the City), alleging that Beach was the City's employee at the time of the collision and that the City is liable under the theory of respondeat superior. Lucas also sued the City for its direct liability, in the form of negligent entrustment of the City's vehicle to Beach and negligent hiring, training and supervision of Beach. Id. Both Defendants have filed motions to dismiss certain claims against them. And the City filed a motion for summary judgment on the remaining claim against it.

         For the reasons set out below, the Court GRANTS the City's “Partial Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Pursuant to FRCP 12(b)(6)” (D.E. 8), TAKES UNDER ADVISEMENT the “Motion to Substitute United States as Defendant and Dismiss Plaintiff's Original Complaint” (D.E. 10) pending jurisdictional discovery, and DENIES the City's Motion for Summary Judgment (D.E. 11).

         DISCUSSION

         A. The City's Motion to Dismiss: Direct Liability Claims Against the City

         The City invokes its governmental immunity in seeking dismissal of the direct liability claims for negligent entrustment, hiring, training, and supervision. D.E. 8. The City's request is brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), challenging whether Lucas has stated a claim upon which relief may be granted. More specifically, the City offers authority that the waiver of governmental immunity in the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA) does not apply to the types of direct liability claims Lucas has brought. The provision at issue states:

         A governmental unit in the state is liable for:

(1) property damage, personal injury, and death proximately caused by the wrongful act or omission or the negligence of an employee acting within his scope of employment if:
(A) the property damage, personal injury, or death arises from the operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle or motor-driven equipment; and
(B) the employee would be personally liable to the claimant according to Texas law; . . . .

         TTCA, Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 101.021 (emphasis added).

         According to the City, the only conduct that triggers liability is the primary conduct: operation of the vehicle. Secondary conduct involving supervisors, recruiters, and department heads, such as entrusting the vehicle, failing to screen employees in the hiring process, or employee training and supervision is conduct too far removed to fall within the waiver of governmental immunities. Courts have agreed, consistent with the twin principles that: (a) a governmental unit enjoys a heavy presumption in favor of immunity; and (b) a legislature's waiver of sovereign immunity must be clear and unambiguous. See, City of Galveston v. State, 217 S.W.3d 466, 469 (Tex. 2007); Duhart v. State, 610 S.W.2d 740, 742 (Tex. 1980).

         Using this line of reasoning, the Fifth Circuit has determined that the TTCA is “not the appropriate vehicle for claims of negligent failure to train or supervise.” Goodman v. Harris Cty., 571 F.3d 388, 394 (5th Cir. 2009). In her response, Lucas seeks to distinguish Goodman as addressing only an intentional tort. D.E. 14. However, the Fifth Circuit expressly stated that it was considering negligence and gross negligence allegations against the governmental unit “arising out of the same conduct that formed the basis of the intentional tort claims against its employee.” Id. The Fifth Circuit's decision, which is in line with Texas appellate court opinions, precludes a contrary result here.

         Under the TTCA, “A party suing the governmental unit bears the burden of affirmatively showing waiver of immunity.” Univ. of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Ctr. v. McKenzie, 578 S.W.3d 506, 512 (Tex. 2019). While Lucas has attempted to discredit or distinguish the cases the City has cited, she has not produced a single authority to the contrary. D.E. 14. The Court determines that the issue is well-settled. The Court GRANTS the City's motion and DISMISSES the claims for negligent entrustment, hiring, training, and supervision. Lucas's claim against the ...


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