City immune from alleged wrongful sale of seized vehicle

Marissol Ochoa Sierra and Emilio Chapa Trevino v City Of Pharr, 13-14-00425-CV, (Tex. App. — Corpus Christi, May 21, 2015)

This is an appeal from the granting of a plea to the jurisdiction involving the alleged wrongful sale of an impounded vehicle.  The Thirteenth Court of Appeals affirmed the granting of the plea.

Pharr police reported that it was informed by an agent with Customs and Border Protection that the agency had Sierra in custody.  At the time of her arrest she was driving a Cadillac Escalade which was impounded. While Sierra provided proof of ownership of other property seized, she could not provide proof of ownership of the vehicle, noting it was purchased from a friend but the ownership transfer had not yet occurred. When the Escalade remained unclaimed for more than twenty days, the City put notices in a newspaper then sold it. Later, seeking return of the vehicle, Sierra and Trevino filed suit asserting the seizure was improper and the City had no valid claim to the title. The City filed a plea asserting the recorded title owner (Armando Guadalupe Bazan Garcia) made no claim and that Sierra and Trevino had no standing as they were not the title owners. The court granted the plea.

Although Sierra and Trevino alleged that Trevino owned the vehicle, they provided no evidence to establish title or standing to seek recovery of the Escalade. Instead, the City provided a bill of sale, which it attached to its plea to the jurisdiction that identified Garcia as the registered owner of the vehicle. This conforms with Sierra’s statement to police that the sale had not been completed. Sierra and Trevino did not respond to this evidence by disputing it with contrary evidence.  As a result, they did not establish standing and the plea was properly granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Chief Justice Valdez, Justice Rodriguez, and Justice Longoria.  Majority Opinion given by Justice Rodriguez.  The attorney listed for the Appellant is Kelly K. McKinnis. The attorneys listed for the Appellee are Miguel “Michael” Pruneda and J. Arnold Aguilar.