City immune from suit by tenant at airport after roof collapse says Texarkana Court of Appeals

Sidney B. Hale, Jr. v. City of Bonham, 06-15-00021-CV (Tex. App. – Texarkana, September 23, 2015)

This is a lease/premise liability case where the Texarkana Court of Appeals dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims as the City was immune from suit.

Hale rented an airport hangar owned by the City.  After an ice storm caused the collapse of the roof, Hale sued for damage to his property contained within the hanger. He sued under a number of causes of action ranging from premise defect, to breach of contract, to DTPA, to bailment.  The City asserted in a plea to the jurisdiction it was immune from suit which the trial court granted and Hale appealed.

The court first determined the City was performing a governmental function instead of a proprietary function. The Texas Tort Claims Act §101.0215 expressly states operation of an airport is a governmental function and the “real estate” aspect of leasing the hangar was not enough to remove it from the governmental umbrella. The court, on its own, asserted the Municipal Airports Act expressly states “use of property” and “entering into a contract, lease or other agreement” for airport privileges are governmental functions. Next, the court held the Texas Tort Claims Act only waives immunity for personal injury damages (not property damage) under a premise defects cause of action. Property damage claims can only be brought for the negligent operation or use of motor driven equipment or tangible personal property.  Both are absent under Hale’s facts.  The court then held immunity is not waived under Section 271.152 of the Texas Local Government Code (waiver of immunity for contracts for goods or services) since the lease was a real estate transaction. As a result, the City is immune from all claims.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Chief Justice III Morriss, Justice Moseley and Justice Burgess. Opinion by Justice Moseley.  The attorneys for the City are listed as Christopher S. Kilgore, Dottie Sheffield and John J. Reenan.  The attorneys for Hale are listed as George A. Coats and Gary L. Evans.

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