trial court properly awarded attorney’s fees to school district as plaintiffs should have reasonably known the individual officials were absolutely immune

Farr et. al. v Arlington ISD, 02-17-00196-CV (Tex. App. – Fort Worth, July 19, 2018)

In this asserted ultra vires case, the Fort Worth Court of Appeals affirmed the granting of the school district defendants’ plea to the jurisdiction.

The Plaintiffs comprise of students, employees, and parents who asserted they were exposed to poor air quality at the school causing dizziness, nausea, and a host of other ailments. In addition to suing the school district, the individual board of trustees, the superintendent, and several private parties. They originally sued for negligence, gross negligence, and other claims, but after a host of court proceedings, the primary focus ended up centering on injunctive relief. The school district officials counterclaimed for attorney’s fees. They filed a plea to the jurisdiction and motion to dismiss which the trial court granted. The Plaintiffs appealed.

The court first held the Plaintiffs did not bring a true ultra vires claim. The Plaintiffs did not allege the individual school officials acted outside of their authority. Next, the court held the last live pleading omitted the claims against the officials in their official capacities. As a result, ultra vires injunctive relief is not applicable. Next, in the education context, attorney’s fees can be viewed as sanctions. Under a sanctions analysis the strictures of the loadstar method of calculations is not applicable. The record demonstrates sufficient evidence to support the sanction. Given the officials retain absolute immunity from suit, a reasonable attorney should have known a suit against them was improper.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justices Sudderth, Gabriel, & Kerr. Opinion by Justice Gabriel.