Employment contract not included in Chapter 271 waiver of immunity says 12th Court of Appeals.

Damuth v. Trinity Valley Community College, 12-11-00248-CV (Tex. App. – Tyler, July 31, 2013).

This is a contractual immunity case in an employment contract dispute. Damuth was a teacher and coach for Trinity Valley Community College (“TVCC”). Five months into the one year contract, he was discharged and then brought suit for breach of contract. TVCC filed a plea to the jurisdiction which was granted and Damuth appealed.

Damuth argued that Chapter 271 (specifically §271.152) waived immunity for employment contracts since the employee is providing a service. The Tyler Court of Appeals disagreed. Chapter 271 falls within Title Eight of the Local Government Code, which is entitled “Acquisition, Sale, or Lease of Property.” These statutes are applicable in situations where third parties are doing business with a governmental entity. There is no indication in Title Eight of the Local Government Code that it applies to employees of the governmental entity.   The court distinguished the Texas Supreme Court case of Houston v. Williams 353 S.W.3d 128 (Tex. 2011)(holding Chapter 271 waived immunity for collective bargaining contact) noting that firefighters services are of such a significance, they are civil servants and subject to special rules and other regulatory chapters. As a result, Williams is not a blanket holding that Chapter 271 waives immunity for all employment contracts. The court found immunity was not waived in this case. As a result, the trial court properly granted TVCC’s plea to the jurisdiction dismissing Damuth’s claims.

This holding is helpful when dealing with employment contracts of non-civil service employees, such as city managers, executive directors, and other high ranking officials.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.

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