No waiver of immunity to compel TxDMV to comply with contract

 

Texas Department of Motor Vehicles v. Pinnacle Motors, 04-13-00496-CV (Tex. App. –  San Antonio, February 19, 2014)

This is an interlocutory appeal from the denial of a plea to the jurisdiction arising from a breach of contract suit. The San Antonio Court of Appeals reversed the denial holding immunity has not been waived.

In a prior lawsuit, Pinnacle sued Bexar County and the Texas Department of Transportation (now TDMV) over the revocation of titles to certain vehicles. In October 2011, Pinnacle, Bexar County, and the Bexar County Tax Assessor Collector executed a settlement and release in exchange for agreeing to salvage titles being issued upon the submission of a letter from a certified mechanic.  TDOT was not a party to the agreement, however, Pinnacle nonsuited with prejudice as to “all parties.”  However, despite Pinnacle’s compliance and Bexar County’s compliance, TxDMV refused to issue the titles. Pinnacle sued TxDMV and the executive director alleging certain statutes gave Bexar County the final authority on titles and TxDMV was bound by Bexar County’s agreement.  TxDMV filed a plea to the jurisdiction which the trial court denied. TxDMV appealed.

The 4th Court cited to the Texas Supreme Court’s holding in City of El Paso v. Heinrich, 284 S.W.3d 366, 370–71 (Tex. 2009) asserting that claims under the Uniform Declaratory Judgment Act (“UDJA”) are limited against a governmental entity and only apply with express waivers of other statutes or to challenge a statute or ordinance. No express waiver exists for a suit to compel compliance with a contract, whether TxDMV was a party to it or not. Further, this type of case is prohibited under Heinrich as it is an attempt to control governmental functions. As a result, TxDMV is immune.  The opinion is unclear as to whether the executive director is also dismissed.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.  Panel: Justices Marion, Martinez, and Alvarez.  Opinion by Justice Marion.  The attorney listed for TDMV is Dennis M. Mckinney. The attorneys listed for Pinnacle Motors and its successor corporation are Kenneth E. Grubbs and  Christopher John Deeves.