Friday, September 7, 2007

Texas A&M Univ. System v. Koseoglu decided - Supreme Court takes further step to curtail state employees' rights in the name of sovereign immunity

Texas A&M University System vs. Sefa Koseoglu, No. 05‑0321 (Tex. September 7, 2007)(Justice Green)

Sep. 7, 2007 - Texas Supreme Court endorses dismissal of public university employee's breach of contract claim against employer with prejudice even though court did not reach the merits for lack of jursidiction and employee could seek legislative permission to sue. Court also holds that public official sued in his official capacity is entitled to interlocutory appeal when trial court denies jurisdictional plea, reverses lower court on that issue, and renders judgment for both governmental defendants. In resolving conflicting holdings by the lower courts of appeals, today's decision establishes new state-wide precedent on an important issue in the area of sovereign immunity.

Justice Green delivered the opinion of the Court:

In this case we consider whether a plaintiff who, on appeal, loses a plea to the jurisdiction based on sovereign immunity is entitled to a remand for an opportunity to cure the jurisdictional pleading defect. We conclude that when a pleading cannot be cured of its jurisdictional defect, a plaintiff is not entitled to amend. Additionally, we must interpret section 51.014(a) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code to determine whether appellate courts have jurisdiction to consider a government official’s appeal of a trial court’s denial of a plea to the jurisdiction based on sovereign immunity. We conclude that Section 51.014(a)(8) vests appellate courts with such jurisdiction.

* * *
Conclusion. With respect to the trial court’s denial of Texas A&M’s plea to the jurisdiction, we affirm the portion of the court of appeals’ judgment holding that Koseoglu’s breach of contract claims against Texas A&M were barred by sovereign immunity. But because Koseoglu’s pleadings are incurably defective, remanding the cause to the trial court will serve no legitimate purpose. Therefore, we reverse the court of appeals’ remand order and dismiss Koseoglu’s claims against Texas A&M with prejudice. See Harris County v. Sykes, 136 S.W.3d 635, 636 (Tex. 2004) (holding that dismissal pursuant to a plea to the jurisdiction based on sovereign immunity is with prejudice).

With respect to McLellan’s appeal, having examined the plain language of Section 51.014(a)(8), its logical application, and the legislative history, we hold a state official may seek interlocutory appellate review from the denial of a jurisdictional plea. Accordingly, we reverse that portion of the court of appeals’ judgment that it was without jurisdiction to decide McLellan’s appeal of the trial court’s denial of his jurisdictional plea and, under Rule 60.2(c) of the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure, we render the judgment the court of appeals should have rendered.

Like Koseoglu’s pleadings against Texas A&M, his pleadings against McLellan were deficient in the sense that he never had an actionable Section 1983 claim. In both instances, Koseoglu deserves the opportunity to amend his pleadings if they can be cured, but in both instances, because Koseoglu’s underlying claim is one for breach of contract, the defects cannot be cured. Accordingly, just as we dismissed Koseoglu’s claim against Texas A&M with prejudice, we likewise dismiss with prejudice the claim against McLellan in his official capacity.

Texas A&M Univ. Sys. v. Koseoglu, No. 05‑0321 (Tex. Sep. 7, 2007)
The Court affirms in part and reverses in part the court of appeals' judgment and dismisses the case. Justice Paul W. Green delivered the opinion of the Court.

Opinion below: Texas A&M Univ. Sys. v. Koseoglu, 167 S.W.3d 374 (Tex.App.--Waco 2005, pet. granted May 26, 2006)(oral argument heard on November 14, 2006 by the Texas Supreme Court); Texas Supreme Court Cause No. 05-0321 (also see --> e-briefs)

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