AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline) – The Texas Supreme Court has upheld an appeal from the 13th District of Texas and negated a judgment on grounds that the law has changed regarding the entity’s sovereign immunity.
In 1992, the Engelman Irrigation District was sued by Shields Bros. Inc. Shields alleged Engelman had broken a contract for water delivery to them.
According to court documents, "Engelman argued the trial court lacked 'subject-matter
jurisdiction' because Engelman had governmental immunity. Shields relied on Missouri Pacific Railroad Co. v.
Brownsville Navigation District, where it was held that statutes providing a
governmental entity may 'sue and be sued' effected a waiver of sovereign
Engelman’s immunity defense was denied and the case
went to trial. The trial court found in favor of Shields in 1995 in the amount of $271,138.80.
Engelman appealed the judgment and in 1997 the court
of appeals affirmed.
The court did not hold that, “sovereign immunity
equates to a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction for all purposes or that sovereign
immunity so implicates subject-matter jurisdiction that it allows collateral
attack on a final judgment.”
“Holding that sovereign immunity so implicates
subject-matter jurisdiction that the final judgment against Engelman can be
challenged by collateral attack in a later proceeding would run counter to the
trend of Texas law and of American jurisprudence generally," court documents stated.
The court found that Engelman had breached its contract with Shields and, although it was a government entity, they must be held to the same standards as a private party.
According to the court, “We do not question the
general need for the doctrine of sovereign immunity. We have recognized it as a
doctrine of constitutional dimension and one based on the need to allow
governments to perform their necessary functions. But the doctrine has always submitted
to exceptions and waivers. Sovereign immunity implicates a court’s
subject-matter jurisdiction, but their contours are not coextensive. This
long-final judgment cannot be upended via collateral attack."