Texas Supreme Court says Tort Claims Act dismissal does not affect amended pleadings which add sec. 1983 claims

TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF AGING AND DISABILITY SERVICES V. WATSON, et al. 12-0830 (Tex. January 9, 2015)

This is a Texas Tort Claims Act case where the Texas Supreme Court holds that while individual employees are entitled to dismissal for tort claims, they are not entitled to dismissal for claims outside of the TTCA, such as 42 U.S.C. §1983.

Patrick Dyess was a resident of a state supported living center run by the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (“DADS”). Waston, Hubbard and Turner were employees at the center. Dyess died during an incident where the employees physically restrained him after he became disruptive.   Dyess’ mother, Cannon, sued  DADS and the employees first under the Texas Tort Claims Act. DADS filed a motion to dismiss the employees under TEx. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §101.106(a) and (e)(West 2003). While the motion was pending, Cannon amended her complaint alleging §1983 claims against the individuals and agreed to dismiss the tort claims. DADS asserted the employees were entitled to dismissal under the perfected immunity of §101.106(e) regardless of the type of claims. The trial court denied the motion entirely. The court of appeals reversed as to DADS noting it retained immunity for the claims asserted, but affirmed the denial of the employees. The employees appealed.

The sole issue for the court was whether the employees are entitled to dismissal pursuant to §101.106(e) which states “If a suit is filed under this chapter against both a governmental unit and any of its employees, the employees shall immediately be dismissed on the filing of a motion by the governmental unit.”  The Texas Supreme Court has previously held that all common law claims are brought “under” this chapter, regardless of whether immunity has been waived for them.  However, independent waivers in other statutes are not brought “under” the Act. DADS argued an amended pleading brought while a §101.106(e) motion is pending should not be considered since the statute requires “immediate” dismissal. However, no dismissal occurs until a court signs an order finding the requirements of (e) are met. Claims brought under §1983 are not subject to chapter 101, so the dismissal of an employee under the chapter does not affect the plaintiff’s ability to bring a §1983 claim. Although not directly at issue, the Court discussed §101.106(f) as a comparator for explanation purposes noting it expressly contemplates amended pleadings and (a) noting their interpretation of (e) does not make (a) inconsistent.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Opinion by Justice Lehrmann. The docket page with attorney information can be found here.