The Collin County District Court has granted the College District’s plea to the jurisdiction. That means the College District wins, and the plaintiffs lose.
If you’re not a lawyer, to understand the reasoning, you’ve got to understand the following:
1. The State of Texas, like all states, is immune from suits to which it has not consented. That means that, for a prospective litigant to be able to sue the state, the legislature must have passed a statute consenting to the suit. The principle is called sovereign immunity.
2. Political subdivisions of the state have a similar immunity called governmental immunity. Collin County Community College District is a political subdivision of the State of Texas.
3. Thus the College District is generally entitled to immunity except where the legislature has consented to suit on its behalf.
4. To assert its immunity, a political subdivision should file a plea to the jurisdiction, the plea that the College District filed.
So far, so good for the college district. It has immunity absent a waiver as to a particular suit or class of suits, and it filed the correct plea to assert that immunity. It was then up to the plaintiffs to show that immunity was waived for their suit.
But the plaintiffs’ suit arose under the Texas whistle blower statute (Chapter 554 of the Texas Government Code). The prospect of governmental immunity to whistle blower suits is bizarre. The point of the whistle blower statute is to protect employees who reveal information the political entity doesn’t want revealed. If political entities are immune to the whistle blower statute, the statute offers no protection to the employee, and the statute becomes a trap for the unwary employee who may think he has protection but does not.
The Texas legislature is capable of fumbling legislation, but did it fumble this legislation that badly? Section 554.0035 of the Texas Government Code, which is part of the Texas whistle blower statute, provides as follows:
Sec. 554.0035. WAIVER OF IMMUNITY. A public employee who alleges a violation of this chapter may sue the employing state or local governmental entity for the relief provided by this chapter. Sovereign immunity is waived and abolished to the extent of liability for the relief allowed under this chapter for a violation of this chapter.
That looks like a waiver of immunity to me to the extent the petition requests relief afforded by the statute. The petition in this case requested the correct relief. The waiver is to both immunity from suit and immunity from liability. So why didn’t the district court deny the plea to the jurisdiction? I have no idea.
As a cautionary note, I am not a counsel in this case, and I am not privy to everything that was presented to the court. Maybe there is an explanation for the court’s ruling that comports with the law. It’s just that I’m having a hard time imagining what that might be. Based on what I know, the ruling seems an anomaly.
I am told the court’s ruling was conclusional. It is not supported by findings of fact and conclusions of law. Without those findings and conclusions, it is impossible to know why the court ruled as it did.