School District can raise immunity for first time on appeal says 13th Court of Appeals

Special contributing author Laura Mueller, City Attorney for Dripping Springs

Josephine Martinez v. Mathis ISD, 13-18-00495-CV (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi, July 30) (mem. op.).

In this action for back wages, the Court of Appeals held that the plaintiff did not allege a waiver of governmental immunity and so reversed the trial court’s monetary judgment in favor of the plaintiff.

The plaintiff was an at-will employee of the school district.  After she terminated her employment, she sued the school district, pro se, for back wages arguing there was a discrepancy in her rate of pay.  The pro se plaintiff did not allege any specific cause of action or argue that the school district’s immunity had been waived.  The trial court awarded the plaintiff a portion of the back wages she requested.  Both the plaintiff and the school district appealed.  On appeal, the plaintiff argued for additional back wages.  The school district argued that its immunity had not been waived, an argument that was first brought at the appellate court.

Before a judgment can be ordered against a public entity, governmental immunity must be waived.  Governmental immunity determines whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals held that subject matter jurisdiction, and governmental immunity can be raised at any time, including for the first time in the appellate court.  Tex. Ass’n of Bus. v. Tex. Air Control Bd., 852 S.W.2d 440, 445 (Tex. 1993).  Finding no waiver of immunity present, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s award and rendered judgment for the district.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justices Hinojosa, Perkes, and Tijerina.  Opinion by Jaime Tijerina.