First District Court of Appeals holds inmate failed to property provide notice of claim for alleged sexual assault

Troylencia Wolf Anderson v. Waller County, Texas, et al, 01-20-00097-CV, (Tex. App – Houston [1st Dist.], July 20, 2021)

This is an alleged sexual assault case brought under the Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA) where the First Court of Appeals affirmed the granting of the County’s plea to the jurisdiction.

Anderson alleged that while incarcerated at the Waller County Jail, she was taken to her cell by an unknown female jailor and given a minor amount of food and water. She took mayonnaise and obstructed the security camera. After eating her food, she claims she blacked out and therefore assumed she had been drugged. She asserts she was sexually assaulted then released. Anderson brought claims against the County, the Sheriff, and several jailors for sexual assault, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence. She amended her pleadings indicating the misuse or malfunctioning of security cameras lead to the assaults as well as providing unsafe food. The County filed several pleas to the jurisdiction, which were eventually granted. Anderson appealed.

A plaintiff’s failure to provide the statutorily required notice deprives the trial court of jurisdiction and requires the court to dismiss the plaintiff’s case. Knowledge that an injury has occurred, standing alone, is not sufficient to put a governmental unit on actual notice for TTCA purposes.  Further, mere investigation of an incident or injury does not show that a governmental unit had actual notice for purposes of the TTCA. Anderson’s written notice was provided four years after her incarceration and nothing in the record indicates the County was aware, for actual notice purposes, that Anderson had reported her claims to the Texas Rangers. Anderson did not allege the date on which the County received actual notice and did not allege that the County had actual notice that Anderson had received some injury within six months of the incident giving rise to Anderson’s claimed injury. Anderson’s allegations that the Texas Rangers investigated an unspecified complaint by Anderson at some unspecified time, even if taken as true, do not show actual knowledge of the claim. Finally, the court held that when a plea is granted, if it is one of pleading defects only which could be cured, the dismissal may be without prejudice, but if the petition could not possibly allege facts demonstrating a waiver of immunity, or if the Plaintiff had been given an adequate opportunity to replead and failed, then the dismissal should be with prejudice. The trial court properly granted the plea with prejudice.

Panel consists of Chief Justice Radack, and Justices Landau and Countiss. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Countiss can be read here. Docket page with attorney information found here.