Texas SC proves retired district judge right, planning commission has immunity definitively yanked

By David Yates | Jun 7, 2017

BEAUMONT – In June 2015, the Ninth Court of Appeals reversed and remanded a now-retired district judge’s decision denying the South East Texas Regional Planning Commission governmental immunity.

Two years later, on May 17, the Texas Supreme Court issued a mandate stating that its ruling reversing the Ninth Court is final, confirming Judge Gary Sanderson, formerly of the 60th District Court, was ultimately right in his decision to waive the commission’s immunity. 

The litigation stems from a suit brought by Byrdson Services, doing business as Excello Construction. The company sued SETRPC and several other defendants in 2013, alleging breach of contract for work centered on repairing homes damaged by Hurricane Ike.

Court records show the homes were repaired through a program funded by the federal government and administered by the states affected by the hurricane. Byrdson claimed the commission had not fully compensated the company for work performed.

In order to bypass the issue of governmental immunity, Byrdson asserted the legislature had waived the commission’s immunity for breach of contract claims.

The commission countered by filing a plea to the jurisdiction, which was denied by Judge Sanderson, prompting the appeal.

On appeal, the commission had argued Byrdson had not established that its claims fall under the legislature’s waiver of immunity in the Texas Tort Claims Act.

On Dec. 23, the Texas Supreme Court delivered an opinion finding Byrdson’s suit falls within Chapter 271 of the Local Government Code, which waives immunity if the contract, among other things, provides goods or services to the local governmental entity.

“We hold the agreements Byrdson made with the Planning Commission do in fact provide services to the Commission and are thus covered by chapter 271’s immunity waiver,” the opinion states.

The Planning Commission had argued the homeowners and not it were the real beneficiaries of the Byrdson contracts, since the homeowners received the benefits of the reconstruction services.

Houston attorneys Ronald Bair and Richard Griffin Jr. of Bairhilty P.C. represent Byrdson.

Supreme Court case No. 15-0158

Appeals case No. 09-14-00198-CV

Trial case No. B194-446

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