No waiver of immunity where County provided pain medication to pretrial detainee before hearing which allegedly caused detainee to misunderstand guilty plea

Loyd Landon Sorrow v. Harris County, Et Al, 14-15-00571-CV (Tex. App— Houston [14th Dist.], August 23,2016)

Sorrow was a pretrial detainee housed in the Harris County Jail. Sorrow asserts that during pre-trial detention he received medical treatment that included anti-psychotics and narcotics. He claims that he was given a narcotic just before a court date and that the medication kept him from understanding the consequences of pleading “guilty”. Sorrow contends that as a result of his “guilty” plea, he was thrown out of the jail and forced to spend the night on the street. He asserts he was without his medication and suffered withdrawal symptoms including headaches, confusion, and sleeplessness.  Sorrow sued Harris County and various departments and officials asserting cruel and unusual punishment, violations of Texas Health and Safety Code sections 611.006(a)(4), (a)(7), and (a)(11), 611.006(b), and 614.017(duty to disclose medical information), as well as his right to due process of law. The Harris County Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment which the trial court granted. Sorrow appealed.

The Plaintiff bore the burden of pleading facts demonstrating a waiver of immunity.  Sorrow’s argument the defendants waived their immunity defense is misplaced since immunity from suit cannot be waived. For §101.021(2) to waive sovereign immunity and trigger claims under the Health and Safety Code, a condition or use of tangible property must have proximately caused personal injury or death. Sorrow’s complaint under §611.005 is that the Harris County Parties failed to disclose his medical records and the failure to disclose the records caused him to suffer injury. But that is not the use of tangible property but a failure to take action. So no waiver of immunity exists. The Defendant’s claims of immunity are broad enough so that the defense automatically encompasses the newly added claims by Sorrow without the need for the Defendants to amend their answer. Finally, findings of fact and conclusions of law have no place in summary judgment orders so the court did not error in refusing to issue any. As a result, the order granting summary judgment is affirmed.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. The Panel includes Chief Justice Frost, Justice Boyce and Justice Wise. Chief Justice Frost delivered the opinion of the court. Loyd Landon Sorrow appeared pro se. Attorney for the County Defendants: Keith Toler

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