Bland ISD v. Blue, 99-0231

CourtSupreme Court of Texas
Citation34 S.W.3d 547,44 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 125
Docket NumberNo. 99-0231,99-0231
Parties(Tex. 2000) The Bland Independent School District, et al., Petitioners v. Douglas Blue and Carolyn Blue, Respondents
Decision Date07 December 2000

Page 547

34 S.W.3d 547 (Tex. 2000)
The Bland Independent School District, et al., Petitioners
Douglas Blue and Carolyn Blue, Respondents
No. 99-0231
Argued January 5, 2000
Decided December 7, 2000

On Petition for Review from the Court of Appeals for the Fifth District of Texas

Page 548

Copyrighted Material Omitted

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Justice Hecht delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Justice Owen, Justice Baker, Justice Abbott, Justice O'Neill, and Justice Gonzales joined.

Two taxpayers sued their school district to prohibit it from paying future installments due on a lease-purchase financing agreement they claim is illegal. The district filed a plea to the jurisdiction, challenging the taxpayers' standing to sue. The trial court heard evidence on the plea and sustained it in part but overruled it in part. On the district's interlocutory appeal, the court of appeals held that a ruling on a plea to the jurisdiction must be based solely on allegations in the plaintiff's pleadings unless the defendant asserts that those allegations have been fabricated in an attempt to confer jurisdiction where none exists.1 Based on the pleadings, the court held that the taxpayers have standing to sue.2 We disagree with both holdings, reverse the court of appeals' judgment, and render judgment that the plaintiffs take nothing against the district.


In August 1996, the Bland Independent School District contracted for the construction of a new high school using what it describes as a pre-engineered metal building. BISD financed $1,050,000 of the project's total cost of $1,390,000 through a lease-purchase agreement with Citicorp, Inc. that covered the building, finish-out work, and furnishings. The agreement obligated BISD to make semiannual payments of $53,917 to Citicorp from 1997 through 2011. The new school building opened for classes in August 1997, and by the following November BISD had paid the contractor in full using the Citicorp proceeds, state funds, and local tax revenues. To date, BISD has paid Citicorp the installments that have become due under their agreement.

In March 1998, Douglas and Carolyn Blue brought suit as BISD taxpayers to enjoin BISD from making future payments to Citicorp. The Blues allege that the lease-purchase agreement is illegal because BISD entered into it without complying with two provisions of the Public Property Finance Act.3 Specifically, the Blues allege that BISD failed to give 60

Page 550

days' public notice of its intention to enter into an agreement with Citicorp4 and did not submit the agreement to the attorney general to review its validity.5 BISD does not dispute that it did not comply with the Act but contends that it was not required to do so because the lease-purchase agreement is not one "for the use or purchase or other acquisition of real property or an improvement to real property" to which the Act applies.6 Rather, BISD argues, its agreement with Citicorp covers only personal property (furnishings and the like) and a transportable building. The Act excludes transportable buildings from its definition of "improvement".7

BISD filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asserting that the Blues had no standing to sue and therefore the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the action. BISD argued that the Blues had not suffered any injury separate and apart from the general public that would give them standing to sue. The Blues conceded that they could not show any particularized injury to themselves, but they contended that such injury was unnecessary in a suit to enjoin a governmental entity from making future payments under an illegal contract. BISD acknowledged that such suits are an exception to the particularized-injury rule, but it argued that the Blues' action does not fall within the exception because the transaction they challenge has been completed and all that remains is repayment of Citicorp's loan. BISD also argued that it used only state funds to repay Citicorp, and that the Blues had no standing as district taxpayers to challenge the expenditure of state funds. (The record does not reflect why the Blues did not attempt to assert standing as state taxpayers.)

At BISD's request, the district court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the plea to the jurisdiction, at which BISD's superintendent described the nature of the project and testified that BISD has used only state funds to repay Citicorp. The Blues did not cross-examine BISD's witness or offer evidence of their own, contending instead that the court could not consider BISD's evidence in ruling on the plea to the jurisdiction but was required to rule on the plea based solely on the Blues' pleadings. The district court appears to have agreed with the Blues on this issue. It sustained BISD's plea in part and overruled it in part, holding that the Blues had standing to challenge the Citicorp agreement but only insofar as it provided financing for the building itself and work done on it, which might arguably be improvements to real property within the meaning of the statute, and not as to financing for furnishings in the building that were clearly personal property. Thus, the court based its ruling on the agreement itself as described in the pleadings, rather than on BISD's evidence showing the status of the project and the source of funds used to repay Citicorp.

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Only BISD appealed.8 The court of appeals held that the trial court was not permitted to look past the Blues' pleadings in ruling on BISD's plea to the jurisdiction.9 The court observed that the Blues had alleged that they were district taxpayers, that the Citicorp lease-purchase agreement was illegal, and that BISD had not made all the payments due under that agreement.10 The court held that these assertions, if true, were sufficient to give the Blues standing to sue.11 Since BISD did not contend that the Blues fabricated these allegations to create standing, the court concluded that the trial court had properly overruled BISD's plea to the jurisdiction.12

We granted BISD's petition for review.13


Our jurisdiction does not extend to an interlocutory appeal like this unless there was a dissent in the court of appeals -- and here there was not -- or unless the court of appeals' holding conflicts with that of another court of appeals or this Court.14 We must therefore determine at the outset whether such a conflict exists. We have previously established that "[f]or this Court to have jurisdiction on the ground of conflict it must appear that the rulings in the two cases are 'so far upon the same facts that the decision of one case is necessarily conclusive of the decision in the other.'"15 "The conflict must be on the very questions of law actually involved and determined, in respect of an issue in both cases, the test being whether one would operate to overrule the other in case they were both rendered by the same court."16 It is also "essential that such conflict appear on the face of the opinions themselves".17

As we have just explained, the court of appeals held that a plea to the jurisdiction must be decided solely on the basis of the plaintiffs' pleadings and not on evidence, absent an assertion that an allegation in the pleadings is false and made only to confer jurisdiction that would otherwise not exist.18 In reaching this conclusion, the court of appeals noted its disagreement with contrary statements by other courts of appeals as follows:

We acknowledge some of our sister courts of appeals have indicated, without specifically holding, that evidence may be considered when deciding a plea to the jurisdiction. However, to the extent these cases stand for this proposition, we decline to follow them.19

The court of appeals cited four cases, none of which, we agree, actually holds that evidence may be considered in deciding a plea to the jurisdiction. In one, Dolenz v. Texas State Board of Medical Examiners,

Page 552

the court observed that "[a] plea to the jurisdiction can . . . challenge the accuracy or truth of jurisdictional facts pleaded by the plaintiff, in which case evidence of such facts must be presented."20 The court added, however, that no such challenge had been made in the case.21 In the second case, Rodriguez v. American General Fire & Casualty Co., the court concluded that the pleadings as well as the extrinsic evidence offered in support of a plea to the jurisdiction showed that jurisdiction was lacking.22 In the third, Harkness v. Harkness, lack of jurisdiction was demonstrated by the plaintiff's responses to requests for admissions and answers to interrogatories, but it is not clear whether the plaintiff's pleadings would have required the same result.23 In the fourth case, Lauri to v. McVey, the court merely noted that the plea to the jurisdiction had referred to extrinsic evidence that was not in the record and concluded that jurisdiction was shown by the pleadings.24 None of these cases so conflicts with the court of appeals' opinion in the present case as to invoke this Court's jurisdiction.

BISD has cited another case in conflict with the decision in the present case: Law Offices of Yarborough & Pope, Inc. v. National Automobile & Casualty Insurance Co.25 There, the court of civil appeals assumed that evidence offered by the defendant showed a lack of jurisdiction because no record of the hearing was presented on appeal; the court did not consider whether the pleadings also showed a lack of jurisdiction.26 We are also aware of two other intermediate court decisions that suggest that a plea to the jurisdiction need not be based solely on the pleadings. In one, St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Co. v. Meador, the court concluded that extrinsic evidence was properly considered but did not show a lack of jurisdiction.27 In the other, Hernandez v. Texas Department of Insurance, the court held that a request for findings following an evidentiary hearing on a...

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