Ryan Henry, Sandy Hellums-Gomez, and Victor A. Flores 2016-12-20 18:01:38
Attorneys advising state, county, or municipal entities, including school districts and other special districts created by law, monitor a broad range of evolving caselaw and statutory regulations. This review of Texas government law briefly summarizes two significant legal issues many attorneys in this area followed in 2016: (1) claims resulting from flooding events and (2) issues related to the public school finance system. Claims following flooding events Caselaw related to taking flood-event claims has fluctuated over the past year. The Texas Supreme Court flip-flopped after rehearing Harris County Flood Control District v. Kerr, et al.,1 eventually holding negligence cannot create takings liability and an entity must take action and be substantially certain it will result in flooding before liability attaches. Now integrate that with two courts of appeals opinions decided after Kerr. In City of Socorro v. Campos, et al.,2 the 8th Court of Appeals in El Paso held that while negligence cannot attribute liability, when the plaintiff alleged the city intentionally diverted water during a rainstorm with sandbags away from one subdivision, combined with its redesign of a channel, they were allegedly substantially certain it would flood another subdivision. This pleading is sufficient to waive immunity and get past a plea to the jurisdiction. But in City of Magnolia, et al. v. Smedley,3 the 9th Court of Appeals in Beaumont held that the pleadings did not allege and the evidence in response to the plea did not establish that the city knew the harm was substantially certain to result when it developed a walkway adjacent to the plaintiff’s property, which allegedly caused increased drainage and flooding. After reviewing the facts of each case, the standard for “substantially certain” seems to shift between cases, with one leaning more toward a negligence standard and the other to an actual knowledge standard. Public school finance system Following decades of legal and legislative challenges, the Texas Supreme Court again considered the constitutionality of the public school finance system. In Morath v. Texas Taxpayer & Student Fairness Coalition,4 the court unanimously upheld the current school finance scheme, in a departure from previous decisions regarding the issue. The court considered whether the current system meets the requirements of Article 7 of the Texas Constitution, which requires that the state provide adequate and efficient public schools. In its opinion, the court adopted a standard “very deferential” to the Legislature in evaluating the challenge and found the finance system to be adequate based on overall student performance, rejecting the trial court’s conclusion to the contrary as being too reliant on a finding that money improves performance. The court similarly rejected claims based on lowincome and English language learner student performance because it doubted that money spent on those students would have a greater impact than money spent on other students and ruled that the system satisfied the efficiency requirement of Article 7 because the relative difference in funding available to wealthy versus poor districts is within an acceptable range. Further, it rejected claims by business groups and parent advocates that state regulation and lack of competition—in the form of vouchers—rendered the system inefficient. The court held that such policy choices were within the discretion of the Legislature and that it has the authority to fund charter schools differently. We expect many of the issues included in the cases mentioned previously will be further addressed in 2017. Notes 1) __ S.W.3d__No. 13-0303, 2016 WL 3418246 (Tex. 2016). 2) No. 08-14-00295-CV, 2016 WL 4801600 (Tex. App—El Paso September 14, 2016). 3) No. 09-15-00334-CV (Tex. App—Beaumont July 28, 2016). 4) 490 S.W.3d 826 (Tex. 2016). RYAN HENRY, with the Law Offices of Ryan Henry, represents local governmental entities, including municipalities, counties, and special districts. SANDY HELLUMS-GOMEZ, a partner in Thompson & Horton, serves a variety of public entities in addition to schools, including cities, counties, transportation districts, and port authorities. VICTOR A. FLORES, an assistant city attorney for McAllen, provides general counsel on all legal matters and assists with the city attorney’s litigation defense team.
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/Government+Law/2669051/370428/article.html.