City of Houston can be sued by pension board for non-compliance with statutory pension provision and PIA

 

City of Houston, et. al.  v. Houston municipal employees pension system, 17-0242, — S.W. 3d — (Tex. June 8, 2018).

City of Houston created several local government corporations to which it transferred some of its employees. Specifically at issue is the adoption of resolutions by the Houston Municipal Employees Pension System’s Board of Trustees (the board) related to those employees, their status, and the City’s obligation to contribute to the pension fund. Under the state statute applicable to Houston’s board, the board has authority to interpret the statute and such interpretation is considered final.  The system interpreted the term “employee” subject to the pension fund to include employees of several local government corporations, especially those where the corporation is controlled by City appointees and funded by the City (such as the pension system employees).  The City refused to fund those individuals and the system sued under an ultra virestheory. It also sued for failure to provide information under the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA).

The Court first held that the statute states the pension system can file suit on behalf of the board, therefore the system has standing. The Court agreed with the City that the system was trying to use an ultra viresclaim to enforce a contract where the end result is the payment of funds.  However, the contract in this case was simply the mechanism used for the City to comply with the requirements of the statute. The City must still follow the statutory requirements for funding the pension plan, so the system can bring an ultra viresclaim to compel compliance with the statute. However, the Court interpreted the pleadings to read the system seeking prospective relief only. Strangely enough, the Court held that the identity of the party is not relevant to the jurisdictional situation in the PIA portion of this case (city v Public Information Officer) as a mandamus is proper against the entity under the PIA.  However, the PIA is not applicable to the other defendants who are not the PIO or the City.   It also held that where the City has a right of access to the information (that of the other corporations), the information is subject to the PIA. Therefore jurisdiction is proper for the system’s claims.

If you would like to read this opinion, click here.Justice Johnson PER CURIAM.