First Court of Appeals holds 380 development agreement was an agreement for goods and services (waiving immunity) but dismissed all other claims brought against the City by the developer


Town Park Center, LLC v. City of Sealy, Texas, Janice Whitehead, Mayor, Lloyd Merrell, City Manager and Warren Escovy, Assistant City Manager, 01-19-00768-CV, (Tex. App – Hou [1st], Oct. 28, 2021)

In this contract dispute, the First Court of Appeals in Houston affirmed in part and reversed in part the City’s plea to the jurisdiction. This is the third lawsuit involving the parties and underlying dispute.

Town Park Center and the City executed a “380” Economic Development Agreement (“the EDA”) to develop a commercial shopping center on Town Park’s property. Town Park Center agreed to develop and construct the shopping center according to a development plan that the City had approved. The City agreed to pay annual economic development grant payments (based on sales tax collections) to Town Park Center “as an incentive to comply with this Agreement.” Town Park Center first filed suit against the City and officials, asserting breach of contract and other claims. The basis was an assertion the EDA required the City to sell stormwater detention capacity to Town Park and failed. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which was granted as to the city but not the individual officials. The officials appealed but Town Park non-suited. Town Park then filed a second suit against other officials, but which was otherwise identical.  Town Park later non-suited, only to file a third suit seeking mandamus, declaratory, injunctive relief, takings, ultra vires claims and claims under the “vested rights provision” of Local Government Code chapter 245. The factual allegations were nearly identical to the first and second suit. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction and argued immunity as well as res judicata “ish” arguments. The trial court granted the plea and Town Park Center appealed.

The court noted that res judicata is an affirmative defense and could not be raised in a plea to the jurisdiction. It declined to consider the arguments through the lens of a summary judgment noting the trial court consideration lacked the hallmarks of a true summary judgment proceeding, including the required 21 days’ notice of a hearing date. However, the City also raised immunity defenses. The court held the EDA constituted a contract for goods or services which can trigger a waiver of immunity. The EDA included a provision for Town Park Central to build and dedicate a road to the City as part of the development, which therefore constitutes a service.  The trial court therefore erred in granting the plea as to the breach of contract claim. However, as to the Chapter 245 vested rights claim, Town Park Center did not identify any City order, regulation, ordinance, rule, or other requirement in effect when its rights in the project vested that mandates the sale of the capacity at issue. With no change in order or rule, Chapter 245 is inapplicable. As to Town Park’s takings claim, it failed to establish the City’s refusal to allow the purchase of detention capacity deprived them of the beneficial use of the property. Specifically, the court noted Town Park Center finished the development and sold it to host a grocery store. The City, therefore, did not deprive it of all economic use of the property. As to the ultra vires claims, the court first chastised the parties for failing to follow proper pleadings rules, making the determination more difficult on the court, specifically by labeling various amended pleadings as supplemental pleadings. Considering the pleadings as filed, the court held the City officials ended up joining the City’s plea as part of a supplement (without objection from the other side). Merely failing to comply with a contract does not give rise to an ultra vires claim.  While Town Park Central points to a city resolution allowing for detention capacity purchases, it does not mandate the sale of detention capacity. It instead only provides that the City may sell detention capacity, which is discretionary. As a result, the ultra vires claims were properly dismissed.

In short, the court reversed the dismissal of the breach of contract claim, ultimately affirmed the dismissal of all other claims, and remanded for trial.

Panel consists of Justices Kelly, Guerra, and Farris. Opinion by Justice Farris can be read here. Docket page with attorney information found here.

The Tenth Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment against the plaintiff developer because it did not challenge all possible grounds supporting the summary judgment order



Special contributing author Laura Mueller, City Attorney for Dripping Springs

David A. Bauer, et al. v. City of Waco, No. 10-19-00020-CV (Tex. App.—Waco  December 9, 2020) (mem. op.).

The Waco Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s judgment dismissing the plaintiff’s vested rights and takings claims on summary judgment.

The plaintiff developer sued the city after being required to provide an easement for a water line and meet other requirements in the city’s code prior to construction of its project.  The city required changes to various permit applications of the plaintiff prior to approval and required an easement for a previously placed waterline. The plaintiff developer sued the city for vested rights and takings, arguing the regulations were inapplicable due to the vesting of its original permit.  Among its summary judgment arguments, the City argued that a declaration of the plaintiff’s vested rights would not resolve the issue because the ordinance in place at the time of initial permit vesting would yield the same result.  As to the required easement, the City argued that the plaintiff did not seek a variance from the easement and could not claim a taking.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the city but the order did not provide specific reasons.

To appeal a summary judgment, the appealing party has to prove that any or all bases for the summary judgment is error.  Star-Telegram, Inc. v. Doe, 915 S.W.2d 471, 473 (Tex. 1995); Lesher v. Coyel, 435 S.W.3d 423, 429 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2014, pet. denied). To establish a claim for vested rights under Chapter 245 of the Local Government Code the plaintiff needs to show that the city is required to review a permit application based on the regulations in effect at the time the original application is filed.  See Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code § 245.002; Milestone Potranco Dev., Ltd., v. City of San Antonio, 298 S.W.3d 242, 248 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2009, pet. denied).  For a takings claim, the plaintiff needs to show that the action where the property was taken was done without consent of the property owner and that there has been a final decision regarding the application of the regulations to the property at issue. Mayhew v. Town of Sunnyvale, 964 S.W.2d 922, 929 (Tex. 1998). The court of appeals upheld the trial court’s judgment on both the vesting rights and takings claims because the plaintiff failed to disprove every basis for the summary judgment including that the ordinance in effect for vesting would not have changed the result and that the original property owner had given consent for the installation of the water line.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.   Panel consists of Chief Justice Gray and  Justices Davis and Neill. Opinion by Chief Justice Tom Gray.


Property owner failed to allege Ch. 211 or 245 claims for zoning change; failure-to-exhaust-remedies bar applied to inverse-condemnation claim



City of Dickinson v Stefan, 14-18-00778-CV, (Tex. App. – Houston [14th Dis.], Oct. 27, 2020)

Stefan operated his home computer business in a residential zone, but allowed his church group to host events, including weddings on the property.  The City changed later changed the zoning code and created a registration process for non-conforming uses. The registration allows a property owner to continue the same nonconforming use after the City adopted the change but the owner cannot expand the nonconforming use. Stefan registered his home computer business but did not list any church activities. Stefan did not write “events,” “wedding venue,” “event center,” or anything else that would indicate he had been using the Property for events.  Neither party produced evidence the City approved the request. Stefan was later cited for operating a special event center against the zoning code without a special use permit. Stefan appealed to the Board of Appeals, which denied his request to operate special events. Stefan then sued the City for declaratory relief claimed inverse-condemnation.  The city filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which was denied. The City appealed.

The Court first held that Stefan failed to allege a vested right determination under chapter 245 or a board of adjustment appeal under chapter 211 of the Texas Local Government Code. The operation of an ongoing business is not a “project” within the meaning of chapter 245. Rights to which a permit applicant is entitled under chapter 245 accrue on the filing of an original application or plan for development or plat application that gives the regulatory agency fair notice of the project and the nature of the permit sought.  Stefan’s pleadings do not mention chapter 245 or a vested right. Stefan does not cite § 211.011 or seek a writ of certiorari for a BOA appeal. He sued the City, not the BOA. As a result, he failed to seek judicial review of the BOA decision. The City challenged jurisdiction for the declaratory judgment and takings claims for failure to timely appeal the City Board of Adjustment determination and that Stefan did not exhaust his administrative remedies regarding nonconforming uses. Even under a liberal construction of the pleadings, the court cannot create a claim Stefan’s pleading did not contain, and it could not conclude that Stefan sought judicial review of the BOA decision under chapter 211. The exhaustion-of-administrative-remedies rule requires that a plaintiff pursue all available remedies within the administrative process before seeking judicial relief. Chapter  211 must be exhausted before a party may seek judicial review of a determination made by an administrative official. As a result, the trial court lacked jurisdiction over his declaratory claims and inverse-condemnation claims.

The concurrence believed Stefan’s failure to allege 211 should not preclude consideration, but then held Stefan abandoned that consideration in his briefing.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice Frost and Justices Wise and Hassan (Hassan, J. concurring – opinion found here).

Austin Court of Appeals holds no vested rights for zoning changes related to square foot of use ratio


River City Partners, Ltd. V City of Austin, 03-19-00253-CV (Tex. App. —  Austin, June 4, 2020).

This is a vested rights/Chapter 245 challenge suit where the Austin Court of Appeals affirmed the granting of the City’s plea to the jurisdiction.

In 1986, River City’s predecessor in title applied to rezone the property to the Community Commercial classification and the  City approved with some conditions.  In April 2003, the property owner applied to the City for approval to create an eight-lot commercial subdivision.  While the application was pending the City passed its zoning ordinance.  The City then approved the plat.  Fast forward to 2017, aware that its plans exceeded the zoning ordinance limits on use size in relation to the building, River City sought an exemption on the ground that the ordinance conflicted with the 1986 Covenants. When the City denied the request, River City Partners sued for declaratory and injunctive relief asserting the City must apply the regulations in effect at the time of the application. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction which was granted.  River City Partners appealed.

Under Chapter 245 of the Texas Local Government Code, a vested right will attach to a project rather than a permit holder and follow any conveyances or transfers of rights related to the project. River City’s as-applied challenge is consistent with parts of Chapter 245 that apply on a project-by-project basis.  However, Chapter 245 “does not apply to,” municipal zoning regulations unless they affect certain categories, including building size.   Section 245.004 also does not employ similar language or even include the term “project” so the project-based analysis is not applicable. So, the question becomes does the restriction qualify as a zoning regulation on “building size.” The court interpreted the LDC provisions as they applied to the entire code and not simply in isolation.  The City’s LDC required that uses not exceed a certain ratio of gross floor area to gross site area. However, the LDC does not prohibit multiple uses within the same building and therefore River City failed to establish the LDC affected building size, only use size. Since Chapter 245 only waives immunity for applicable vested rights, and River City failed to establish a possible vested right, the trial court was without jurisdiction. The plea was properly granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice Rose, and Justices Triana and Smith.

Property owner did not allege viable constitutional claim after County granted neighbor development permit


Stephen Sakonchick II v. Travis County, 03-19-00323-CV (Tex. App. – Austin Oct. 30, 2019).

This is a constitutional challenge to a construction permit where the Austin Court of Appeals affirmed the granting of the County’s plea to the jurisdiction.

Sakonchick owned a home on in a neighborhood known as Bee Creek Hills, in Travis County and the City of Austin’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (“ETJ”). Bee Creek’s only means of vehicular ingress and egress is along Canon Wren Drive.  The Overlook is a real estate development featuring a four-story mixed-use office building on the corner of Bee Cave Road and Canon Wren Drive. The Overlook’s owners applied for a basic development permit to construct a parking garage and a second driveway, which was granted. Prior to it being granted, Sakonchick began calling Travis County to voice his objections. Unhappy that Travis County failed to address his concerns before issuing the permit, Sakonchick sued Travis County and The Overlook’s owners pleading various theories and seeking to enjoin the construction of the garage.  Essentially, Sakonchick claims Travis County denied him due process when it issued the basic development permit without first affording him notice or hearing to object. Travis County filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which the district court sustained after an evidentiary hearing.

As an ostensible property interest, Sakonchick alleges an “ownership of an appurtenant easement” in “the Canon Wren Drive right of way.” But a vested property right is “more than a unilateral expectation” or an “abstract need or desire” on the part of the individual asserting the right. Instead, a vested property right exists when its claimant has “a legitimate claim of entitlement” to the right asserted. He and his neighbors do not, however, have an exclusive right to use Canon Wren Drive to access the neighborhood without encountering traffic or any other inconvenience typically associated with suburban life. Sakonchick did not produce any evidence the proposed parking garage and driveway will jeopardize his ability to access the real property he owns in Bee Creek. Nor has he alleged or produced evidence that the proposed structures will encroach on private property or restrict use of the residential real estate in the Bee Creek neighborhood.  As a result, he has not pled a viable constitutional theory against the County. Further, the record affirmatively negates the existence of jurisdiction over Sakonchick’s claim against Travis County, so Sakonchick is not entitled to replead.  However, the court did modify the dismissal noting it was dismissed “without prejudice” as a dismissal with prejudice constitutes adjudication on the merits and operates as if the case had been fully tried and decided.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice Rose, Justices Kelly and Smith.  Memorandum opinion by Justice Smith. Sakonchick appeared pro se. the attorneys listed for Travis County are Mr. Brian P. Casey, Mr. Patrick M. Kelly, and Ms. Cynthia Wilson Veidt.

7th Court of Appeals holds vested rights statute requires a showing of two permits; one vesting and one after a change in regulations


Jon E. Jacks v. The Zoning Board of Adjustment of the City of Bryan  07-18-00174-CV (Tex. App. – Amarillo, July 9, 2019)

This is a board of adjustment appeal/vested rights case where the Seventh Court of Appeals upheld the Zoning Board of Adjustment’s motion for summary judgment.

Jacks purchased a piece of property in a residential subdivision intending to build a laundromat. Because the original plan for the subdivision had been filed with the City in 1960, Jacks asserted he possessed a vested right to 1960 regulations under chapter 245 of the Texas Local Government Code. When asked for a declaration from the City’s planning department that he possessed vested rights, Jacks was informed the City had no process for a blanket declaration and Jacks must apply for a permit on the project before an analysis of any vested right is performed. Relying on an e-mail “denial” from the Planning Manager Jacks pursued an appeal of this decision to the City’s Zoning Board of Adjustment. The Board denied Jacks’ request noting Jacks failed to identify any specific regulation that had changed, and Jacks failed to identify any permit application that had been denied.  Jacks appealed to district court pursuant to Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code §211.011.  The trial court granted the City’s motion for summary judgment and Jacks appealed.

Under Texas Local Government Code §245.002, once an application for the first permit of a development is filed all subsequent applications for permits shall be considered under the laws and regulations in effect at the time the first application was filed. The Amarillo Court of Appeals held the statute requires two permit applications be involved; one to vest the rights and the second after a law changed but which must be applied under the old law. Here, Jacks pointed to the 1960 first application, but failed to point to a second application in which the City tried to apply a different set of rules.  Second, Jacks objected to the trial court considering evidence not presented at the Board level.  Jacks did not preserve his objection, but additionally, §211.011 authorizes the trial court to consider additional evidence. As a result, the trial court properly dismissed the claims.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice Quinn, Justice Pirtle and Justice Parker. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Parker. Jon Jacks appeared pro se. The attorneys listed for the ZBA are Ryan S. Henry, Artin T. DerOhanian and Michael McCann Jr.


City’s denial of plat application citing inconsistencies with “general plan” of city, without more, is insufficient and therefore vested rights are implicated


The Village of Tiki Island, et al.  v. Premier Tierra Holdings Inc., 14-18-00014-CV (Tex. App. – Houston [14th Dist.], July 10, 2018)

This is an interlocutory appeal in a land-use case were the 14th Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of the City’s plea to the jurisdiction.

This case has gone up and down the appellate ladder already.  Prior summary found here. Premier sought to develop property for a mixed-use marina project. Premier submitted a plat application which included up to one hundred residential units and up to 250 dry stack enclosed boat slips. The City had no meaningful land-use regulations or platting or subdivision regulations. Five days later the city enacted a zoning ordinance prohibiting dry boat storage, limiting heights and set-backs, and restricting rental dates and parking. The City then rejected the plat application as being inconsistent with the new ordinance. Premier next sought a rezoning application as a planned unit district, which was denied.  It also sought several plat amendments which were denied. Premier filed a mandamus and sought declaratory relief asking the court to approve the original plat application and successive plat applications based on vested rights under chapter 245 of the Texas Local Government Code. It further brought a takings claim. The City Defendants filed a plea to the jurisdiction which was denied. The City Defendants appealed.

Chapter 245 creates a system by which property developers can rely on a municipality’s regulations in effect at the time the original application for a permit is filed. It freezes” the rules at the time the original application for a permit is filed, and limits the rights of a city to “change the rules in the middle of the game.” Chapter 212 of the Texas Local Government Code deals with plat approval and requires plats to conform to the “general plan” of the city and for extensions of utilities and roadways. The City’s assertion that it relied on a pre-existing “general plan” of the City in denying the original plat application was rejected as the City did not provide, in the record, evidence of such a plan or what its framework would have been. Chapter 212 plans must be adopted after public hearings, which is not evident in the record. A vague reference to a general plan of the city is insufficient for plea purposes and a fact question exists preventing the plea. Further, Chapter 245 expressly authorized a declaratory judgment suit to establish Chapter 245 rights. As to the takings claim, the court held Premier alleged facts to support a takings claim based on the denial of its vested rights in the project.

If you would like to read this legal opinion, click here. Justice Christopher, Justice Donovan and Justice Wise. Opinion by Justice Wise.

Zoning amendment was not retroactive and property owner had no vested interest in perpetual use of his property for a specific purpose says Dallas Court of Appeals


Hinga Mbogo, et al. v. City of Dallas, et al. 05-17-00879-CV (Tex. App. – Dallas, June 19, 2018)

This is an appeal from an order granting the City Defendants’ plea to the jurisdiction in a constitutional challenge to zoning laws. The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed the granting of the plea.

Hinga leased land and opened a general repair shop on Ross Avenue in Dallas, Texas, in 1986. At that time, the City’s zoning ordinances allowed automobile-related businesses on Ross Avenue. After performing a study which found automobile-repair shops were a concern in the area based on the connected roads and services in the area, the City amended its zoning ordinance in 1988 prohibiting such uses. At that time, Hinga was fully aware that continuing his business became a “nonconforming use.” In 1991, Hinga purchased the property, expanded and upgraded knowing the property was nonconforming. In 2005 the City again amended the zoning ordinance and codified specific provisions related to non-conforming uses and provided deadlines. A property owner could appeal to the board of adjustment to extend deadlines to comply with the requirements. The BOA gave Hinga a new compliance date of April 13, 2013. Hinga then received a zoning change and SUP which expired in 2015. Hinga applied for a new SUP in February 2016, which was denied. The City filed suit seeking a permanent injunction to prevent operations and sought fines of $1,000 per day. Hinga counterclaimed and brought in various City officials. The City defendants filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which was granted. Hinga appealed.

Hinga argues the City’s ordinances, as applied to him, are unconstitutionally retroactive. A retroactive law is one that extends to matters that occurred in the past. Hinga asserted in 2005 and 2013 he had no notice the City would at some point make his use illegal. However, a law is not retroactive because it upsets expectations based in prior law.  Further, there are strong policy arguments and a demonstrable public need for the fair and reasonable termination of nonconforming property uses. In 2005 the City’s ordinance change allowed the owner of a nonconforming use to apply for a later compliance date if the owner would not be able to recover his investment in the use by the designated conformance date. The ordinance did not change any use but rather, it prospectively altered a property owner’s future use of the property. The 2013 ordinance likewise set a deadline for when it expired. As a result, the ordinances are not retroactive. Additionally, the court noted not all retroactive laws are unconstitutional. Here, any interest that Hinga had in the use of his property is not “firmly vested.” There is no bright-line rule and, generally speaking, an individual has no protected property interest in the continued use of his property for a particular purpose. The process provided likewise did not deprive Hinga of due process or single him out in any respect. The City allowed Hinga to run a business from 1991 through 2015 as either a nonconforming use or under a SUP; however, his use became illegal once his SUP expired. Hinga’s position under his takings argument appears to be that any restriction on his desired use of the property results in unconstitutional damage or destruction to his property. That is simply not the case as he had no vested right to perpetual, guaranteed use of his property in a specific way. As a result the plea was properly granted.

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

Trial court abused its discretion in awarding attorney’s fees to City in vested rights and declaratory judgment case


Patsy B. Anderton, et al. v. City of Cedar Hill, 05-17-00138-CV (Tex. App. – Dallas, May 25, 2018)

The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed-in-part and reversed-in-part a judgment for the City of Cedar Hill (“City”) in a case involving a non-conforming use in a specific zoning district.

This case went up and down the appellate latter in one appeal already. The Andertons purchased an existing landscaping and building materials business—a commercial rather than local retail business—that operated on Lots 5 and 6, about the time the City rezoned the area to a retail zone. The Andertons requested a zoning change to make their legal non-conforming use a legal conforming use, which the City denied. Several years later the City filed a declaratory petition and sought civil penalties against the Andertons prohibiting them from operating the existing business on the lots. The Andertons counterclaimed under Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code Chapter 245 for vested rights and inverse condemnation. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted the City’s summary judgment motions and denied the Andertons’ motions. The Andertons appealed the first time and won a partial remand. However, afterwards, the City passed two zoning amendments making the lots lawful. The City sought attorney’s fees for the claims it won in the first appeal and filed a plea to the jurisdiction on the Andertons’ remaining counterclaims. The trial court denied the plea and went to trial on the attorney’s fee issue. The trial court later entered a final judgment on remand, dismissing the Andertons’ claims for non-conforming use rights in Lots 5 and 6 as moot and awarding the City its attorney’s fees. The Andertons appealed.

The court first held, given the zoning amendments, at the time it rendered judgment, the trial court had no practical ability to alter the legal relationship between the parties. As a result, the Andertons’ claim as to the non-conforming use status was moot and the trial court was obliged to dismiss barring some valid exception. There are two exceptions that confer jurisdiction regardless of mootness: (1) the issue is capable of repetition, yet evading review; and (2) the collateral consequences doctrine. The record did not reflect any evidence indicating the City was likely to rezone the property back to retail only, so the first exception does not apply. Theoretical possibility is not sufficient to satisfy the test.  The “collateral consequences” doctrine applies to the narrow circumstances when vacating the underlying judgment will not cure the adverse consequences suffered by the party seeking to appeal that judgment.  The Andertons, however, do not argue, and the record does not reflect, any concrete disadvantages or disabilities that will persist should their claim be dismissed as moot. So, the judgement is affirmed as to the Andertons’ counterclaims. As to the award of attorney’s fees, the UDJA does not condition the entitlement to fees on prevailing party status. The trial court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law affirmatively indicate the trial court awarded the City its attorney’s fees as “equitable and just based on the claims asserted in this case, the objectives sought by the parties and the outcome of this case” and not as a “prevailing party.” However, not withstanding, the extent of a plaintiff’s success is a crucial factor in determining the proper amount of an award of attorney’s fees. As in cases involving only a modicum of success in the context of the prevailing party statute, even fees supported by uncontradicted testimony may be “unreasonable” in light of the amount involved, the results obtained, and in the absence of evidence that such fees were warranted due to circumstances unique to the case. After going through the win/loss points and going through each lot in the case, the appellate court held the trial court abused its discretion in awarding attorney’s fees.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justice Lang, Justice Fillmore and Justice Schenck. Opinion by Justice Schenck. The attorney listed for Patsy Anderton is Arthur J. Anderson. The attorneys listed for the City are Ronald G. Macfarlane Jr., James W. Morris Jr., and Terry D. Morgan.

If you have a case involving Chapter 245 vested rights, zoning changes, and distance restrictions on alcohol sales read this 71 page opinion


FLCT, Ltd. and Field Street Development I, Ltd. v. City of Frisco, Texas, 02-14-00335-CV (Tex. App.- Fort Worth, May 26th 2016)

Owners are two partnerships that own adjacent property in Frisco. FLCT’s tract is located on the actual corner; Field’s tract is located directly east of FLCT’s. In both 2006 and 2007, the City’s zoning ordinance permitted property owners in the C-1 district to sell beer and wine “by right.” However, no public school was located within three hundred feet.  After Owners submitted a preliminary site plan for an expanded facility, Frisco ISD began negotiating with Owners to purchase the southernmost part of FLCT’s and Field’s tracts for an elementary school. Before Owners closed on the sale to Frisco ISD in 2009, they filed an amended preliminary site plan application with the City. The City Council then amended the zoning ordinance. Owners then sold a portion of the property to 7-Eleven which conditioned the sale on the ability to obtain all permits (including selling beer and wine). The City asserted 7-Eleven could not sell alcohol at that location. The City then went through several ordinance amendments to adjust and prohibit alcohol sales near churches, schools, and hospitals. 7-Eleven eventually sued under §11.37(d) of the alcoholic beverage code seeking an order requiring the City Secretary to make the statutory certification. Tex. Alco. Bev. Code Ann. § 11.37(d) (West Supp. 2015). However, the City Secretary certified the area was in a dry region. Owners submitted a vested rights petition to the City under Chapter 245 of the Texas Local Government Code asserting they began developing the property at time alcohol sales were permitted so their rights vested at that moment to forever be able to sell alcohol at that location. The trial court granted the City’s plea to the jurisdiction and the Owners appealed.

First, the court held Chapter 245 provides the authority for a declaratory judgment action to enforce a landowner’s rights. Owners are seeking a determination of the existence and extent of their rights to develop and use the Property.  As a result, the plea should not have been granted as to the Chapter 245 claims. Next the court analyzed the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code and held not only does it permit a city to enact distance regulations it also allows the city to grant variances as to enforcement of those distance requirements. Accordingly, the code does not pre-empt the City’s enactment and enforcement of the distance requirements, which means the Owners are not limited to the relief under the TABC. Here, Owners have raised both a constitutional claim and a vested property rights claim in the form of a declaratory judgment, which is specifically authorized by statute. They are not seeking to appeal any action by the TABC or any action in connection with a pending permit, so again, no pre-emption. The TABC does not provide the exclusive remedy for Owners’ claims based on the City’s enforcement of the distance requirements with respect to the Property. Next, the Owners contend the City’s zoning changes are void as they did not provide individual notice to property owners. However, such notice is only applicable for changes in zoning classifications, not other types of zoning changes. The court analyzed the term “classification” and held the legislature intended that if a city (either through its zoning commission or city government) wishes to consider a zoning district or boundary change to a discrete piece of property, it is to ensure that owners of surrounding properties that would be affected by the change have notice and an opportunity to participate in any hearing regarding that change. Here, the City’s December 2012 zoning ordinance purported to place restrictions on the types and places where businesses could sell alcohol within five different districts where alcohol sales were then permitted. Thus, this was not a rezoning of classification applicable only to the Property itself; the Property was still included in the C-1 district after the passage of the ordinance. In other words, the City’s interpretation is correct and this was not a “classification” change requiring individual notice. Next, the City contended that it could not issue a “permit” for alcohol so no vested right applies to its sale. However, Chapter 245 also applies to certificates. The certificate required by the City Secretary qualifies. Further, the Owner’s claims are not predicated on the continued operation of a particular type of business but on use restrictions and, thus, they are not excluded on that basis from §245.001’s definition of project. The court agreed with Owners’ contention that the amended ordinance affected the C-1 district by imposing additional restrictions on alcohol sales that had not previously been imposed. Accordingly, the Owners’ pleadings and evidentiary facts show that the exemption in §245.004(2)(i.e. no vested right for certain zoning classifications) does not preclude their remaining Chapter 245 claims. Next the court concluded that the preliminary site plan originally applied for contained sufficient notice it intended to include alcohol sales. Further, a regulatory taking can occur when government action unreasonably interferes with a landowner’s use and enjoyment of the property. After analyzing the facts and a detailed analysis of the legal standards, the court held facts were sufficiently pled and established to confer jurisdiction for a regulatory taking claim. As a result, the trial court order granting the plea is affirmed-in-part, reversed-in-part and remanded.

To read the opinion click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice Livingston, Justice Walker and Justice Sudderth. Opinion issued by Chief Justice Livingston. Attorney for FLCT, Ltd. Is Arthur J. Anderson. Attorney for City of Frisco is Richard Abernathy and Field Street Development I, Ltd. is represented by Arthur J. Anderson.


Payday loan company has no jurisdiction to challenge City ordinance regulating payday loans says Fort Worth Court of Appeals


ACE Cash Express, Inc. v. The City of Denton, Texas 02-14-00146-CV (Tex. App. – Fort Worth, June 4, 2015).

This is a case involving a company’s attempt to invalidate a city ordinance regulating credit access businesses in which the Fort Worth Court of Appeals affirmed the granting of a plea to the jurisdiction.

The Credit Services Organizations Act (the CSO Act) contained within the Texas Finance Code provides for the licensing and regulation of credit access businesses (sometimes referred to as payday lenders).  The City of Denton enacted additional requirements and imposed misdemeanor penalties for violations. ACE Cash Express (“ACE”) sued to invalidate the ordinance asserting it exceeded the City’s police power and was unconstitutional.  The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction which the trial court granted and ACE appealed.

Generally, declaratory and injunctive relief are not applicable to challenge criminal statutes. The crux of ACE’s argument is that it could not challenge the statute in criminal court since no employees would conduct actions to trigger liability.  An exception to the general requirement that challenges to criminal statutes must occur in criminal court is City of Austin v. Austin City Cemetery Ass’n, 87 Tex. 330, 28 S.W. 528 (1894), in which customers of a cemetery had to participate in the criminal act in order to allow the Cemetery to challenge a city ordinance. However, the Fort Worth court noted a distinction between requiring “customer” participation to challenge a criminal ordinance and requiring an employee and/or agent. Therefore the Austin City Cemetery exception does not apply. When ACE self-reported certain matters the City refused to prosecute and thereby prevented ACE from challenging the ordinance.  However, that does not mean ACE would not be able to challenge the ordinance when the City does prosecute. Further, no vested right exists entitling ACE to challenge the constitutionality of the ordinance. The ordinance did not deprive ACE of any physical property, did not retroactively cancel any loans already made, and did not forbid ACE from engaging in its business.  It only regulated the terms under which it may offer its services. ACE did not have a vested property right to its contractual options to renew, extend, or refinance the loans. Finally, the Texas Declaratory Judgment Act does not waive immunity by itself, but is only a procedural mechanism for which independent waiver of an underlying claim exists.  Finding none, the court affirmed the granting of the plea.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.  Panel: Justice Dauphinot, Justice Gabriel and Justice Sudderth. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Gabriel.  The attorney listed for the City is Jerry Drake, Jr.  The attorneys listed for ACE Cash are Benjamin Leon Stewart and Clayton E. Bailey.

Because developer did not ascertain reason for City’s plat denial, no justiciable controversy exists


The Village of Tiki Island v. Premier Tierra Holdings, Inc., 14-14-00629-CV (Tex. App. – Houston [14th Dist.], March 24, 2015)

The Plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment action to determine vested development rights under Chapter 245 of the Texas Local Government Code. This is an interlocutory appeal from the denial of a plea to the jurisdiction where the 14th Court of Appeals determined no justiciable controversy exists and reversed the denial.

Premier Tierra Holdings, Inc., owns a tract of property in the Village of Tiki Island (“City”), located in Galveston County. Premier desires to develop or sell the property for a mixed-use marina development (the “Project”). Premier asserted that chapter 245 required the City to consider the approval of an application for a permit solely on the basis of the regulatory scheme existing at the time the first plat application for a project is filed, and therefore certain provisions of the City’s zoning ordinance (adopted later) could not be applied to its project. The application was denied.  Premier sued seeking a declaration it has a vested right as of its original plat application with the marina project. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction asserting the relief sought was for a ruling on a “hypothetical future application of land-use regulations.”  The trial court denied the City’s plea and it appealed.

The court held that while Chapter 245 allows a declaratory judgment action to determine certain vested rights, at the time Premier filed its plat application, the City was governed by chapter 212 of the Local Government Code, which establishes the standards for approval of a proposed subdivision plat.  The City contended Premier never exercised its statutory right to request that the City provide the reasons for the denial, never appealed the denial, and never advanced the denial was improper. The court held “Premier’s request for declaratory relief fails to present a justiciable controversy because the record does not disclose the reasons why the City denied the 2010 plat application; no plat or permit applications have since been denied for any specified reasons; and Premier has not challenged the City’s denial of its plat application in this or any other proceeding.” The City was not required to approve the application simply because it was filed, but was entitled to approve, disapprove, or conditionally approve based on regulations in effect at the time. Essentially, since Premier did not ascertain the reason for the denial or attempt to cure any defects and the City has the right to deny for some reasons but not others, no controversy yet exists. The court disagreed that the claims failed because of mootness and ripeness and expressly stated that its opinion should not be read or implied to hold “the plat application itself or any statutory rights Premier acquired for the project as a result of filing the plat application are necessarily mooted..”  “Premier may have vested rights in the project, but there is no context within which to declare what they are. Any such declaration would be a prohibited advisory opinion that would not resolve” the dispute. Since the court could not do anything at this juncture, no jurisdiction yet exists.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Justice Christopher, Justice Donovan and Justice Wise.  Opinion by Justice Wise.  The attorney for the Village is John J. Hightower.  The attorney listed for Premier Tierra Holding is H. Fred Cook.

Suit against City employee, individually, dismissed, but ultra-vires claims remain even under Sec. 101.106 of Civil Practice and Remedies Code

Charles N. Draper v. Greg Guernsey, in his Capacity as Director of Planning and Development Watershed Protection Review Department; and City of Austin, 03-14-00265-CV (Tex. App. – Austin, February 25, 2015).

This is a land-use dispute but the opinion focuses on the dismissal of a City employee under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §101.106 vs ultra-vires claims.

Draper, pro se, sued the City of Austin and the Director of Planning, Guernsey, regarding property he owns but whose development is under certain restrictions pursuant to City ordinance. The City filed a motion to dismiss Guernsey under §101.106(a)(suit against entity precludes suit against employee) and (e)(suit against entity and employee means employee entitled to dismissal), which the trial court granted.

The court first noted that the pleadings are not very clear, but it appears some claims by Draper are ultra-vires claims to force the defendants to recognized some form of vested right under Chapter 245 of the Texas Local Government Code. The proper defendant to an ultra-vires claim seeking to restrain allegedly unlawful actions by the City would be Guernsey, not the City.  However, Draper also sought monetary damages exceeding $10 million asserting various improper acts by Guernsey and other City officials.   The court analyzed the interplay between subsection (a) and (e) and ultimately held 1) all claims against Guernsey, individually, were properly dismissed, 2) suit against Guernsey in his official capacity only is a suit against the City, but must be brought against Guernsey in his capacity as an official for ultra-vires purposes, and 3) the trial court’s wording that dismissed Guernsey in all respects was error.  So, Guernsey individually is let out but the ultra-vires claims remain.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Justice Pemberton, Justice Puryear and Justice Bourland. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Pemberton. The attorney for City of Austin and Greg Guernsey is Sandra Kim. Appellant Charles Draper is pro se.

City’s fair notice ordinance to establish vested rights deemed preempted says 4th Court of Appeals.


City of San Antonio v. Greater San Antonio Builders Association and Indian Springs LTD, 04-13-00013-CV (Tex. App. – San Antonio, November 20, 2013).

This is a vested rights case under Chapter 245 of the Texas Local Government Code. The City of San Antonio appealed from a declaratory judgment invalidating its fair notice ordinance and the San Antonio Court of Appeals affirmed.

In relation to permits for development, the City passed an ordinance requiring the applicant to fill out a specific City form which flags the permit for the City to recognize vested rights. The purpose is “to provide standard procedures for an applicant to accrue rights under Chapter 245 of the Texas Local Government Code.”  The Plaintiffs are organizations whose members include individuals and entities who are concerned with issues affecting the real estate industry in the greater San Antonio area or who own real property in the City. In a separate interlocutory appeal, the Plaintiff’s standing was affirmed and they were permitted to proceed at the trial court level. The Plaintiffs filed traditional summary judgment motions (2 of them on different issues) which the trial court granted. The City appealed.

The City asserted the fair notice ordinance ensures it will have enough information about a project to determine whether the project has changed and, therefore, is subject to current development regulations. GSABA and Indian Springs countered that the fair notice ordinance allows the City to prevent owners from obtaining or utilizing vested rights that have already been authorized by the legislature under Chapter 245. The City conceded it would not recognize a vested right without the fair notice form since its absence makes an application incomplete.  However, the court held that Chapter 245 expressly defines the documents and information that cause the accrual of a vested right. Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code. § 245.002(b)(West 2011). The City’s form requires additional information beyond what is recognized in the statute and therefore fails to recognize rights which vest under state law. Unfortunately, the court then held that since the City did not present the severance clause argument in response to the summary judgment, they could not do so on appeal. The entire ordinance is therefore invalid.  This seems a little extreme since the law is the law and whatever provision may be invalid, the presence of a severance clause separates it as an operation of law.  But the 4th Court did not see it that way and invalidated the entire ordinance.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.