Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Tarrant County v. Lerner

Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth

January 9, 2020

Tarrant County, Texas, Appellant
v.
Jeffrey D. Lerner, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 141st District Court Tarrant County, Texas Trial Court No. 141-307634-19

          Before Sudderth, C.J.; Gabriel and Kerr, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Lee Gabriel Justice

         Appellant Tarrant County, Texas (the County), contends in this accelerated interlocutory appeal that the specific waiver of immunity from suit for injunctive relief provided in the County Purchasing Act (CPA) does not extend to provide subject-matter jurisdiction over appellee Jeffrey D. Lerner's claim under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act (UDJA) based on the County's alleged violations of the CPA. Because the narrow waiver of immunity in the CPA applies only to claims for injunctive relief and not to UDJA claims, the trial court erred by denying the County's plea to the jurisdiction based on the County's immunity from suit.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Since 1983, the County has had a contractual relationship with Dispute Resolution Services of North Texas (DRS) to manage the County's alternative-dispute-resolution services for "citizen disputes." Although the contract was renewed annually, sometimes retroactively, Tarrant County did not seek competitive bids for the management contract, valued at over $400, 000 per year.

         For the County's 2018 fiscal year-October 1, 2017, to September 30, 2018- the management contract was to expire on September 30, 2018. On August 15, 2018, appellee Jeffrey Lerner contacted the County and asked for the opportunity to bid for the management contract for fiscal year 2019. The County informed Lerner on August 31, 2018, that it intended to renew the contract with DRS. On December 27, 2018, the County's commissioners court, as part of its consent agenda, approved the management contract with DRS for fiscal year 2019-October 1, 2018, to September 30, 2019.[1]

         Four months later, Lerner filed suit against Tarrant County for violating the CPA based on the County's failure to comply with the CPA's competitive-bidding requirements. See Tex. Loc. Gov't Code Ann. § 262.023. Lerner pleaded for a declaration under the UDJA that the fiscal year 2019 management contract between the County and DRS was void based on the CPA violation, for a temporary and permanent injunction barring further performance under the noncompliant management contract under the CPA, and for attorney's fees under the UDJA. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. §§ 37.003(a), .004, .009; Tex. Loc. Gov't Code Ann. § 262.033.

         Tarrant County filed a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that it had governmental immunity from Lerner's claims for declaratory relief and for attorney's fees under the UDJA, which had not been waived by either the UDJA or the CPA. Tarrant County conceded that its immunity was waived for purposes of Lerner's request for injunctive relief under the express terms of the CPA. See Tex. Loc. Gov't Code Ann. § 262.033.

         On August 22, 2019, the trial court held a nonevidentiary hearing on Lerner's temporary-injunction request and Tarrant County's plea to the jurisdiction and orally denied both.[2] The trial court signed a nonspecific order to that effect on September 12, 2019-before the expiration of the management contract for fiscal year 2019. Tarrant County appeals the denial of its plea; Lerner does not appeal the denial of a temporary injunction. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 51.014(a)(4), (8).

         II. JURISDICTION

         When a political subdivision of the State is immune from suit, a court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction. Tex. Dep't of Transp. v. Jones, 8 S.W.3d 636, 638 (Tex. 1999) (per curiam). Governmental immunity will bar UDJA actions against the State and its political subdivisions absent a clear legislative waiver. Tex. Dep't of Transp. v. Sefzik, 355 S.W.3d 618, 620 (Tex. 2011) (per curiam). Although the UDJA contains a limited and inapplicable waiver of immunity for challenges to the validity of an ordinance or statute, see Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 37.006(b); Sefzik, 355 S.W.3d at 621, the UDJA is "not a general waiver of sovereign immunity." Tex. Parks & Wildlife Dept v. Sawyer Tr, 354 S.W.3d 384, 388 (Tex. 2011); see also Town of Shady Shores v. Swanson, No. 18-0413, 2019 WL 6794327, at *6 (Tex. Dec. 13, 2019). Thus, governmental immunity "will bar an otherwise proper [U]DJA claim that has the effect of establishing a right to relief against the State for which the Legislature has not waived sovereign immunity." Sawyer Tr, 354 S.W.3d at 388.

         The County argues that the trial court erred by denying the jurisdictional plea because it was entitled to immunity from Lerner's UDJA claim and attendant claim for attorney's fees, [3] which deprived the trial court of subject-matter jurisdiction over those claims. We review the trial court's denial de novo as a question of law. Hous. Belt & Terminal Ry. Co. v. City of Hous., 487 S.W.3d 154, 160 (Tex. 2016); Harris Cty. Hosp. Dist. v. Tomball Reg'l Hosp., 283 S.W.3d 838, 842 (Tex. 2009). In this review, we construe the pleadings liberally, taking all factual assertions as true and looking to Lerner's intent. See Heckman v. Williamson Cty., 369 S.W.3d 137, 149-50 (Tex. 2012). Lerner bore the burden of alleging facts affirmatively demonstrating that the trial court had subject-matter jurisdiction over his UDJA-based claims-facts constituting a claim for which the County's governmental immunity from suit had been waived. See Zachry Constr. Corp. v. Port of Hous. Auth. of Harris Cty., 449 S.W.3d 98, 110 (Tex. 2014); Heckman, 369 S.W.3d at 149-50; Schmitz , 550 S.W.3d at 351.

         Lerner contends that the CPA waives the County's immunity for purposes of his UDJA-based claims as well as for his claim for injunctive relief It is solely within the province of the Legislature to consent to a suit against a governmental entity. See Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco Consol. ISD v. Tex. Political Prop./Cas. Jt. Self-Ins. Fund,212 S.W.3d 320, 326 (Tex. 2006); Tex. Nat. Res. Conservation Comm'n v. IT-Davy,74 S.W.3d 849, 854 (Tex. 2002). Such a waiver is effectuated only through clear and unambiguous ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.