Texas Supreme Court holds county commissioner has no authority over plats, so is an improper party to suit by developer

W.A “Andy” Meyers, individually and in his capacity as Fort Bend County Commissioner v. JDC/Firethorne, LTD., a Texas limited partnership; from Fort Bend County; 14th Court of Appeals District (14-15-00860-cv, 514 sw3d 279, 12-22-16)

In this land development suit, the Texas Supreme Court held because an individual county commissioner lacks legal authority to receive, process, or present a completed plat application the developer failed to shown a substantial likelihood that the injunction will remedy its alleged injury and therefore no jurisdiction exists.

Firethorne had a subdivision within Commissioner Meyer’s precinct. The County’s plat application and approval process for proposed subdivisions is governed by chapter 232 of the Texas Local Government Code and the Fort Bend County Regulations of Subdivisions. The County’s regulations designated its county engineer as the official charged with receiving and processing plat applications. Firethorne contends certain plan applications were placed on “hold” in an effort to “extract a concession” that Firethorne that it must construct four lanes of West Firethorne Road, a road within the Firethorne development. Firethorne did not wish to construct the lanes. Firethorne filed this lawsuit seeking mandamus relief requiring Stolleis to “submit the completed plat application” and that failing to do so is an ultra vires act. Firethorne presented emails showing the engineer was holding the application based on Meyer’s instructions. Firethorne sought an injunction to prevent the County from interfering with Firethorne’s construction. Meyers filed a plea to the jurisdiction which was denied. The trial court found Meyer injected himself into the process and therefore was an essential part and subject to suit. The court of appeals affirmed.

The Texas Supreme Court held Meyer’s arguments are actually challenges to Firethorne’s standing, which Firethorne disguised as an ultra vires claim. Under a standing analysis, the claims asserted must satisfy the redressability requirement of the Texas Constitution. The County’s Regulations of Subdivisions designate the county engineer as the sole county official responsible for receiving all documentation and information that must be submitted with the plat application. A sole commissioner has no authority to receive, process, or present a plat to the collective body. Meyer also has no obligation or duty to do so. A sole commissioner also has no authority to fire the engineer. When a plaintiff seeks an injunction which cannot possibly remedy their situation, the plaintiff has failed to establish standing. Meyer filed the plea, but Firethorne also sought relief from the engineer and the rest of the commissioner’s court which are not part of the appeal. If Firethorne received relief from the other defendants no relief from Meyer is possible. If Firethorne does not receive releif from the other defendants, relief as to Meyer would not remedy its situation. The argument that Meyer has some influence over the engineer is a “political reality” but is not a basis for suit. As a result, as to Meyer, no standing exists to sue him in his official capacity.

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