Fort Worth Court of Appeals holds Plaintiff’s claim officer negligently deployed road spikes was actually a battery, so no waiver of immunity exists

City of Fort Worth, Texas v. Mary Deal, 02-17-00413-CV (Tex. App. – Fort Worth, May 31, 2018).

This is a Texas Tort Claims Act (“TTCA”) case were the Fort Worth Court of Appeals reversed the denial of the City’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the Plaintiff’s claims.

Officer Shelton observed Plaintiff’s son, Lange, speeding and initiated pursuit. Officer Shelton’s in-car video camera recorded the pursuit and shows Lange dangerously speeding through residential areas and violating numerous traffic laws.  Lange did not yield or pullover. At some point at least one police officer stopped to deploy a “Stop Stick”—a device designed to puncture a vehicle’s tires when they contact the  embedded steel spikes—but Lange passed by before the officer could get into position. Less than six minutes later, Lange lost control of his vehicle and struck a tree. He was ejected from the vehicle and died. Deal sued the City, which filed a plea to the jurisdiction. The trial court denied the plea and the City appealed.

Deal claimed that the unknown police officer had deployed the TDD negligently, that the tires were damaged and that is what caused Lange to lose control. The City asserts Deal’s negligent-deployment claim was barred by the TTCA’s intentional-tort exception. Texas has recognized common law battery claims for more than a century. Actual physical contact is not necessary to constitute a battery, so long as there is contact with clothing or an object closely identified with the body. Lange had such a close connection with his vehicle that the indirect, offensive contact between the TDD and the vehicle was sufficient to constitute contact with Lange’s person. Taking the Plaintiff’s pleadings as true, the unknown police officer’s alleged negligent decisions about where, when, and how to deploy the TDD here were all subsumed in, and not distinct from, the commission of the battery. Consequently, Deal’s negligence claims arise out of the battery and is subject to the TTCA’s intentional-tort exception. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 101.057(2). The Plaintiff’s claims are dismissed and judgment rendered for the City.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice Sudderth, Justice Meier and Justice Pittman. Opinion by Justice Meier. The attorney listed for Deal is Joe Riddell.  The attorney listed for the City is Laetitia Coleman Brown.