Trial court properly dismissed subsequent purchaser’s TTCA and Takings claims after City demolished house

Jorge Rodriguez v. City of Fort Worth, 07-16-00037-CV (Tex.App. – Amarillo, December 8, 2017)

This is a takings/condemnation and TTCA case where the Fort Worth Court of Appeals affirmed the granting of the City’s plea to the jurisdiction.

Prior to Rodriguez’s ownership of a residential structure, the City’s Building Standards Commission found it to be substandard and hazardous to public health. A copy of the order was mailed to the then owner and filed in the deed records of Tarrant County on October 19, 2012.  Rodriguez purchased the property on December 12, 2012, without personal knowledge of the Commission’s order, but the court found Rodriguez possessed constructive knowledge due to the filing in the deed records. The property was demolished on June 28, 2013 by a contractor hired by the City.   Rodriguez brought suit, alleging the City intentionally destroyed the building (takings) or negligently destroyed it under the Texas Tort Claims Act. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction which the trial court granted. Rodriguez appealed.

As to Rodriguez’ tort claims, nothing in the record shows City employees were involved with the demolition by “operating” or “using” motor-driven vehicles or equipment or by exercising any control over the independent contractor or its employees. No City owned motor-driven vehicles or equipment were used in the demolition.  As a result, the City has not waived its immunity under the Texas Tort Claims Act. As to Rodriguez’ takings claim, Rodriguez did not allege any facts demonstrating that demolition of his property was for public use.  The improvements on the property were found to be substandard and hazardous to public health; however, the owner was given the opportunity to bring those improvements up to code in order to prevent their demolition. When the owner failed to comply, the City removed the public health hazard. As such, Rodriguez’s claims do not allege a constitutional takings.   Rodriguez also asserted he requested leave to amend his pleadings and was denied. However, Rodriguez was given and took advantage of two prior amendments to address the City’s plea and supplemental plea. Because Rodriguez had a reasonable opportunity to amend he cannot now complain about being deprived of an opportunity to amend.  Furthermore, even if Rodriguez were afforded an opportunity to amend his live pleading indicates incurable defects – specifically, the use of an independent contractor of the tort claims and lack of a public purpose for takings. As a result, the plea was properly granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice Quinn, Justice Campbell and Justice Pirtle.  Memorandum Opinion by Justice Pirtle. The attorney listed for Rodriguez is Timothy E. Brown.  The attorney listed for the City is Harvey L. Frye.