Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ultra Vires Claim Explained (Tex. 2011) (Ex parte Young type suit against governmental official for prospective relief under state law)


A suit against a state official for acting outside his authority is not barred by sovereign immunity. See City of El Paso v. Heinrich, 284 S.W.3d 370-74 (Tex. 2009). While suits to try the State’s title are barred by immunity, in some instances a party may maintain a trespass to try title action against  governmental officials acting in their official capacities. See Lain, 349 S.W.2d at 581.

In Heinrich, the [Texas Supreme] Court affirmed the rule that suits for declaratory or injunctive relief against a state official to compel compliance with statutory or constitutional provisions are not suits against the State. See Heinrich, 284 S.W.3d at 370-74. If a government official acting in his official capacity possesses property without authority, then possession is not legally that of the sovereign. Under such circumstances, a defendant official’s claim that title or possession is on behalf of the State will not bar the suit. See Lain, 349 S.W.2d at 581-83. A suit to recover possession of property unlawfully claimed by a state official is essentially a suit to compel a state official to act within the officer’s statutory or constitutional authority, and the remedy of compelling return of land illegally held is prospective in nature.

SOURCE: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department v. The Sawyer Trust, No. 07-0945 (Tex. Aug. 26, 2011)(Opinion by Justice Phil Johnson)

The State’s immunity is referred to as sovereign immunity, while that of political subdivisions of the State is referred to as governmental immunity. Reata Constr. Corp. v. City of Dallas, 197 S.W.3d 371, 374 (Tex. 2006).

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