5th Court of Appeals holds mandatory third-party venue provision controls over TTCA venue provision

Pioneer Natural Resources USA, Inc. v. Texas Department of Transportation, 05-17-01245-CV (Tex. App. – Dallas, July 20, 2018).

This is a Texas Tort Claims Act (“TTCA”)/vehicle accident case where the Dallas Court of Appeals reversed an order dismissing the third-party claims against TxDOT.

A fatal vehicle accident occurred between Edward Pittinger and a Kenworth tractor trailer owned, serviced, and maintained by Pioneer-related business entities. Pittinger’s survivors filed a petition in Dallas County asserting wrongful death and survival claims against Pioneer. Pioneer filed a third-party petition against TxDOT alleging TxDOT controlled the roadway and breached its duties to ensure no defects existed or warn of the dangerous conditions.  TxDOT filed a motion to dismiss arguing a waiver of sovereign immunity exists “only if the claim meets each and every requirement for waiver under the entire” TTCA. Section 101.102(a) provides that “[a] suit under this chapter shall be brought in state court in the county in which the cause of action or a part of the cause of action arises.” TxDOT further cited §311.034 of the Government Code, which provides that “[s]tatutory prerequisites to a suit, including the provision of notice, are jurisdictional requirements…”  The trial court dismissed the suit and Pioneer appealed.

The term “statutory prerequisite” has three components: (1) a prerequisite must be found in the relevant statutory language, (2) the prerequisite must be a requirement, and (3) the term “pre” indicates the requirement must be met before the lawsuit is filed. No court has decided whether §101.102(a) constitutes a statutory prerequisite to suit. The Plaintiff’s choice of venue should be honored absent a mandatory venue statute that requires transfer is shown. Section 15.062(a) of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code notes mandatory venue for third-party claims, but §101.102(a) notes a form of mandatory venue for TTCA claims. After analyzing case law and using statutory construction principles, the court held the third-party-venue provision of §15.062(a) controls over other mandatory venue provisions.  The trial court erred in dismissing the case.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justice Bridges, Justice Brown and Justice Schenck. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Bridges. The docket page with attorney information is found here.