Southeast Texas Record

Monday, March 30, 2020

Appeals court determines Galveston County has immunity in Whistleblower case

State Court

By Charmaine Little | Jan 22, 2020

General court 10

An appeals court settled a jurisdiction dispute in a woman’s Texas Whistleblower Act claims against Galveston County, Texas.

Justice Jerry Zimmerer of the Fourteenth Court of Appeals wrote the opinion while Justices Ken Wise and Charles A. Spain concurred on Jan. 7. The 212th District in Galveston County previously denied the county’s plea of jurisdiction and motion for summary judgment in Bonnie Quiroga’s lawsuit. She sued after she was fired 14 years after a promotion. She worked for the county for roughly 30 years.

“Concluding that the trial court does not have jurisdiction over Quiroga’s claims under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act and one of the claims under the Whistleblower Act, we vacate the trial court’s order denying the county’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismiss those claims,” wrote Justice Zimmerer. The judges also affirmed the lower court’s denial of the county’s plea to the jurisdiction and motion for summary judgment concerning Quiroga’s whistleblower complaint as it relates to claims that a county judge put recording devices in confidential areas inside the county jail.


Texas Fourteenth District Court of Appeals Jerry Zimmerer | txcourts.gov

The county argued that as a government entity, its protected from Quiroga’s whistleblower claims. The only way the county’s immunity would be waived is if Quiroga properly showed that she was a public employee and that she reported some sort of violation from the county or another public employee in good faith. The notion that she was a government employee isn’t a topic of conversation. But the county alleged that in her complaint, Quiroga didn’t allege an actual violation of the Whistleblower Act. The judges sided with Quiroga and said she reported a violation when she alleged that a county judge put listening devices in confidential areas in the jail. Still, she failed to actual report the issue to a law enforcement authority, so she didn’t prove that the immunity was waived for the Whistleblower Act.

As for her claim for declaratory relief, Justice Zimmerer wrote, “Quiroga named only the county in her declaratory judgment claims for damages, not the county officials she alleged committed ultra vires acts. Because the legislature has not waived immunity from suit or damages claims against a governmental entity, the trial court lacks jurisdiction over Quiroga’s claims against the county for damages.” The judges agreed with the county on this issue.

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