Suit for umpire under TML coverage documents is not proper mechanism to seek appointment says 4th Court of Appeals

 

Texas Municipal League Joint Self-Insurance Fund, and the The Texas Municipal League Intergovernmental Risk Pool v Housing Authority of the City of Alice, 04-15-00069-CV (Tex. App.—San Antonio, October 14, 2015).

The Housing Authority is a member of a joint self-insurance pool called the Texas Municipal League Joint Self-Insurance Fund, the purpose of which is to provide liability and property self-insurance coverage to political subdivisions. Under the Pool’s coverage documents, if the member and Pool cannot agree on the amount of a loss under a covered claim, each shall select an appraiser. The appraisers shall select a disinterested umpire. If the appraisers do not timely select an umpire, one may be appointed by a judge in a court of record.  The Housing Authority reported a claim for hail damage to its property. The Housing Authority felt the Pool’s evaluation of the amount of loss was insufficient and initiated suit to appoint an umpire. The Pool filed a plea to the jurisdiction asserting it maintained immunity from any suit. The Housing Authority asserted that since this was not a “suit” but merely a request for an appointment, immunity is not implicated. The trial court signed an order naming an umpire, which it termed as a final order. The Pool appealed.

The selection of an umpire by a judge in accordance with the terms of the Property Coverage Document does not require the filing of a lawsuit or invoke the subject matter jurisdiction of a court. However, the Housing Authority did not merely ask a judge to select an umpire. It filed a lawsuit.  The “Housing Authority sought and obtained an order of the district court that it now asks this court to affirm.” Whether the Pool is entitled to immunity or not, the mechanism and relief sought by the Housing Authority demonstrates a complete lack of jurisdiction of the court.  There is no case-or-controversy in the relief sought. As a result, the district court’s order is void.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.  Panel: Justice Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice Patricia O. Alvarez, and Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa.  Opinion given by Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa. Attorneys for the appellant are Barry Abrams, and Jack Wilson Higdon.  Attorney for the appellee is Anthony F. Constant.