School districts immune from prevailing wage suit, appeals court rules

By David Yates | Apr 5, 2011

Texas Justices seated on the Ninth Court of Appeals recently found that a Beaumont judge did not err in granting the Beaumont and Port Arthur Independent School Districts governmental immunity in a prevailing wage case.

Last February, the Southeast Texas Record reported on litigation brought by a group of electricians and their union against 10 contractors and the two school districts, alleging the defendants did not follow prevailing wage laws when they paid the electricians.

Two months later, the PAISD and BISD filed motions arguing that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 479 failed to show any cause as to why the districts' governmental immunity should be waived, court papers say.

On April 16, 2010, Judge Donald Floyd, 172nd District Court, held a hearing on the matter, thereafter granting the districts' plea to the jurisdiction motions.

Court records show that the plaintiffs appealed the ruling on July 1, arguing Judge Floyd failed to take into account the prevailing-wage language written into the contract.

On Thursday, March 31, the Ninth Court issued a memorandum opinion affirming the judge's ruling, finding that because the plaintiffs' suit named only the districts rather than the individuals responsible for entering contracts on behalf of the districts, the districts retained their sovereign immunity.

"We conclude that the BISD and the PAISD are immune from being sued on the claims the appellants assert in their second amended petition," states the opinion, authored by Justice Hollis Horton.

"We affirm the trial court's orders dismissing the appellants' claims against the BISD and the PAISD with prejudice."

In total, 16 electricians claim in 2009 they worked on the Willie Ray Smith Middle School construction project in Beaumont and the Stephen F. Austin Middle School, Sam Houston Middle School and Tyrell Elementary School projects in Port Arthur.

The electricians, whose salaries ranged from $12.50 per hour to $21 per hour, claim they were not paid the prevailing wage rates as they should have been for their work, court papers show.

Electricians earn the prevailing wage for their work to protect "local wage standards by preventing contractors from basing their bids on wages lower than those prevailing in the area [and] giving local labor and the local contractors a fair opportunity to participate" in public-works building programs, court papers say.

In their suit, the electricians accused PAISD and BISD of neglecting to include prevailing-wage determinations in their contracts with bidders.

The electricians are suing for actual, special and incidental damages and attorney's fees.

They are represented by John Werner of Reaud, Morgan and Quinn law firm.

The districts are represented in part by Beaumont attorney Melody Chappell.

The plaintiffs in the case are James Doty, Kelvin L. Brown, Cornelious Thomas, Justin Brown, Dereck Hadnot, Jerry Gage, Brandon McKenney, Larry E. Lewis, Reginald Dean, Jardell Resean Elam, Adam Guillot, Stephen Rivero, Matt Faul, Herman Joseph, David R. Die Jr. and Angela Polk.

U.S. General Contractors, Prime Electrical Services, Prime Electrical WBE, Walker Electric Co., Express Services Inc., Express Employment Professionals, Frost Enterprises Inc., Healthy Resources Enterprise, Cooper Group and DSF Advance Staffing are the other named defendants.

Trial case No. E185-886
Appeals case No. 09-10-00306-CV

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