Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals holds trial court granting of plea to the jurisiction did not address amended pleadings

Trisa Crutcher (Trisa St. Clair) v City of Forth Worth, No. 05-22-00650-CV (Tex. App-Dallas, May 15,2023)

In this case the Dallas Court of Appeals reversed the granting of the city’s plea to the jurisdiction under the Plaintiff’s Whistleblower cause of action.

Trisa Crutcher was an employee at a Crime Lab in Fort Worth as a forensic scientist. Crutcher claimed that she was wrongfully terminated. Crutcher filed her first original petition under the Texas Whistleblower Act, after making allegations that the Lab she worked for lacked procedure when handling government documents. Crutcher asserted crime lab policies and procedures required the form to be completed by the “Investigating Detective/Officer” but were routinely completed by crime lab employees. In her opinion, this equated to tampering with and falsifying government documents. The City placed her on administrative leave twice, while investigating her for “failure to perform work in a satisfactory manner” The District Attorney’s office determined “the potential of calling [her] as a witness . . . is problematic, due to the allegations that she has made against the Crime Lab.”   Crutcher was ultimately terminated. She sued under the Texas Whistleblower Act. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asserting some actions were time barred and others were not adverse disciplinary actions. The trial court granted the plea and Crutcher appealed.

The court first held Crutcher could amend her petition, after the expiration of the limitations period, as long as she did not raise new claims. Contrary to the City’s assertion, Crutcher amended her preexisting whistleblower claim to allege additional adverse personnel actions, including her termination, that occurred after she filed her lawsuit. She did not assert a new whistleblower cause of action. The City filed its plea to the jurisdiction before Crutcher amended her petition. The plea therefore addressed only the allegations in the original petition. The trial court erred in determining that governmental immunity was not waived based on the allegations in Crutcher’s original petition when that was no longer the live pleading.

The panel consists of Justice Partida-Kipness, Justice Reichek, and Justice Miskel. Memorandum opinion by Justice Reicek. If you would like to read this opinion, click here.

Authored with the assistance of Yamila Cartwright. 

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