LeLeaux v. Hamshire-Fannett Independent School Dist., HAMSHIRE-FANNETT

CourtSupreme Court of Texas
Writing for the CourtHECHT; Monica's accident occurred on a school band trip, the events of which we summarize here based solely upon Monica's deposition testimony. She and the other band members had traveled in school buses to another school to compete in a marching con
Citation835 S.W.2d 49
Parties77 Ed. Law Rep. 565 Joyce LeLEAUX, Individually and as Next Friend of Monica LeLeaux, a Minor, and Monica LeLeaux, By and Through Next of Friend, Joyce LeLeaux, Petitioners, v.INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT and Darrell Bill, Respondents.
Decision Date29 April 1992
Docket NumberHAMSHIRE-FANNETT,No. D-0503

Page 49

835 S.W.2d 49
77 Ed. Law Rep. 565
Joyce LeLEAUX, Individually and as Next Friend of Monica
LeLeaux, a Minor, and Monica LeLeaux, By and
Through Next of Friend, Joyce LeLeaux, Petitioners,
v.
HAMSHIRE-FANNETT INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT and Darrell
Bill, Respondents.
No. D-0503.
Supeme Court of Texas.
April 29, 1992.
Rehearing Overruled Sept. 23, 1992.

Page 50

Dale K. Hanks, Beaumont, for petitioners.

John E. Haught, Louis M. Scofield, Jr., Beaumont, for respondents.

OPINION

HECHT, Justice.

Monica LeLeaux, a sixteen-year-old high school junior, hit her head while trying to close the back door of a school bus. She and her mother sued the owner of the bus, the Hamshire-Fannett Independent School District, and the bus driver for damages. The trial court granted summary judgment for defendants, and the court of appeals affirmed. 798 S.W.2d 20. We affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.

Monica's accident occurred on a school band trip, the events of which we summarize here based solely upon Monica's deposition testimony. She and the other band members had traveled in school buses to another school to compete in a marching contest. Once they finished, Monica and some of her schoolmates, along with the band director, stayed to watch other bands perform. At some point Monica returned to the bus she had ridden to the contest. The bus was parked and empty, and the rear emergency door was open. Monica did not open it, and she does not know who did. She and a friend, J.R. Thompson, sat together on pillows in the rear doorway of the bus, dangling their feet out the back, talking. No one else was in the bus while they were there.

When Monica and J.R. heard students coming toward the bus, they both jumped down to the ground. J.R. went around to the front of the bus to meet the kids coming back from the contest. Monica picked up her pillow, which had fallen to the ground when she jumped down, and threw it back into the bus. She then grabbed the seats or something else at the rear of the bus and jumped back up into the emergency doorway so that she could close the door. Although the door can be closed from the outside, Monica could not reach it from the ground well enough to shut it. She does not know why J.R. did not close the door, nor does she recall exactly why she decided to close the door, unless it was to protect the students' personal articles on

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the bus from being taken. Neither the driver nor anyone else was on the bus, and the engine was not running. Whatever her reason for shutting the door, Monica did not jump back into the bus to take her seat.

Monica had gotten in and out of the bus through the rear door on prior occasions and knew how tall it was. She had never hit her head before. This time, however, as she jumped up into the rear doorway, she stood up, mistakenly thinking she was inside the door, and hit her head on the top of the door frame. She bent over in one of the seats, laughing, as she sometimes did in response to pain. J.R. heard her, entered the front of the bus and ran back to where she was. About that time, the bus driver came up, got on the bus, and started the engine. When he did, a buzzer signaled that the back door was open. The driver told Monica to close the door, but as she reached out to do it, she passed out. J.R. told her later that she had fallen to the ground, and that he had picked her up and carried her to the front of the bus, where she tried to stand up but passed out again. The next thing she remembered was the band director standing over her.

The school district, a governmental unit, is immune from liability for Monica's injury unless that immunity has been waived by the Texas Tort Claims Act. See TEX.CIV.PRAC. & REM.CODE §§ 101.001(2)(B), 101.025, 101.051. As it pertains to this case, that Act provides:

A governmental unit in the state is liable for:

(1) property damage, personal injury, and death proximately caused by the wrongful act or omission or the negligence of an employee acting within his scope of employment if:

(A) the property damage, personal injury, or death arises from the operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle or motor-driven equipment; and

(B) the employee would be personally liable to the claimant according to Texas law....

TEX.CIV.PRAC. & REM.CODE § 101.021. This waiver of immunity is a limited one. A school district is not liable for a personal injury proximately caused by a negligent employee unless the injury "arises from the operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle or motor-driven equipment." Id. The phrase, "arises from", requires a nexus between the injury negligently caused by a governmental employee and the operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle or piece of equipment. While the statute does not specify whose operation or use is necessary--the employee's, the person who suffers injury, or some third party--we think the more plausible reading is that the required operation or use is that of the employee. This requirement is consistent with the clear intent of the Act that the waiver of sovereign immunity be limited. 1

We have recently held that " '[o]peration' refers to 'a doing or performing of a practical work,' ... and 'use' means 'to put or bring into action or service; to employ for or apply to a given purpose'...." Mount Pleasant Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Estate of Lindburg, 766 S.W.2d 208, 211 (Tex.1989) (citations omitted). The bus in this case was not in operation; it was parked, empty, with the motor off. The driver was not aboard; there were no students aboard. The bus was not "doing or performing a practical work"; it was not being "put or [brought] into action or service"; it was not being "employ[ed] or appl[ied] to a given purpose". The bus was nothing more than the place where Monica happened to injure herself.

Monica argues that the school district was negligent in its operation and use of

Page 52

school buses because of its "practice of regularly loading and unloading the band students and their instruments through the emergency rear doors of school buses." She further asserts that on the day of the accident the bus driver was negligent in his operation and use of the bus by "specifically telling the students it was all right for them to use the emergency rear door for getting on and off the bus." Assuming as we must in the context of summary judgment that the district and driver were negligent as Monica argues, her injury did not, as a matter of law, arise from such use. Although we agree with Monica's contention that "[t]here is no sound reason why the acts of loading and unloading students on and off school buses should not be considered a part of the transportation process", the manner in which school district employees loaded and unloaded students had nothing to do with Monica's injury. When Monica bumped her head she was not being loaded onto the bus or unloaded from it; she was not returning to her seat, or putting something on the bus, or retrieving an article from the bus, or preparing to leave. According to her own testimony, she was simply jumping up into the bus to try to close a door that she has no idea who opened. This conduct did not arise from permission to load and unload through the door.

When an injury occurs on a school bus but does not arise out of the use or operation of the bus, and the bus is only the setting for the injury, immunity for liability is not waived. See Hopkins v. Spring Indep. Sch. Dist., 736 S.W.2d 617, 619 (Tex.1987) (school district was not liable for failing to provide adequate medical care to a student with cerebral palsy who suffered convulsions on board a school bus); Luna v. Harlingen Consol. Indep. Sch. Dist., 821 S.W.2d 442, 445 (Tex.App.--Corpus Christi 1991, writ denied) (school district was not liable for injuries two children sustained when they were struck by a vehicle while waiting at a bus stop for a school bus); Naranjo v. Southwest Indep. Sch. Dist., 777 S.W.2d 190, 192-193 (Tex.App.--San Antonio 1989, writ denied) (school district was not liable for injuries students sustained while working on a privately owned vehicle in an auto mechanics class); Heyer v. North East Indep. Sch. Dist., 730 S.W.2d 130, 132 (Tex.App.--San Antonio 1987, writ ref'd n.r.e.) (school district was not liable when a student waiting on a bus was injured by a vehicle, owned and operated by another student, which the district permitted on the premises); Pierson v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 698 S.W.2d 377, 380 (Tex.App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 1985, writ ref'd n.r.e.) (school district was not liable for students injured by an explosion resulting from an attempt to light a smoke-producing device on board a homecoming parade float); Estate of Garza v. McAllen Indep. Sch. Dist., 613 S.W.2d 526, 528 (Tex.Civ.App.--Beaumont 1981, writ ref'd n.r.e.) (school district was not liable when one student stabbed another with a knife while riding on a school bus). Because the record establishes that Monica's injury did not arise out of the school district's or its driver's operation or use of the school bus, we hold that the school district is immune from liability in this case.

We must also consider whether the bus driver, Darrell Bill, may be liable for Monica's injury. Section 21.912 of the Education Code provides in pertinent part:

(b) No professional employee of any school district within this state shall be personally liable for any act incident to or within the scope of the duties of his position of employment, and which act involves the exercise of judgment or discretion on the part of the employee, except in circumstances where professional employees use excessive force in the discipline of students or negligence resulting in bodily injury to students.

(c) This section is not applicable to the operation, use, or maintenance...

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200 practice notes
  • Elbaor v. Smith, No. D-1163
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • December 2, 1992
    ...thereby renewing its commitment to limit the role of the jury in the truth-seeking process. See LeLeaux v. Hamshire-Fannett Sch. Dist., 835 S.W.2d 49, 56 (Tex.1992) (Doggett, J., dissenting). Simply because jurors may initially expect the plaintiff to have interests adverse to all defendant......
  • Nitsch v. City of El Paso, No. EP-06-CA-0042 KC.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
    • February 26, 2007
    ...for ... injury unless that immunity has been waived by the Texas Tort Claims Act." LeLeaux v. Hamshire-Fannett Indep. Sch. Dist., 835 S.W.2d 49, 51 (Tex.1992). Next, "the clear intent of the Act [is] that the waiver of sovereign immunity be limited." The remarks in Young "disapproving" of t......
  • Texas Ass'n of Business v. Texas Air Control Bd., No. C-9556
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • March 3, 1993
    ...J., dissenting); Boyles v. Kerr, 1992 WL 353277 (Tex.1992) (Doggett, J., dissenting); Leleaux v. Hamshire-Fannett Indep. Sch. Dist., 835 S.W.2d 49, 55-56 (Tex.1992) (Doggett, J., dissenting); Reagan v. Vaughn, 804 S.W.2d 463, 491 (Tex.1991) (Doggett, J., concurring and dissenting); Greater ......
  • Mid-Century Ins. Co. TX v. Lindsey, MID-CENTURY
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • September 9, 1999
    ...900 S.W.2d 910, 913 (Tex. App.-Amarillo 1995, no writ)). 9. Id. 10. 900 S.W.2d at 913. 11. LeLeaux v. Hamshire-Fannett Indep. Sch. Dist., 835 S.W.2d 49, 51 (Tex. 1992) (holding that "arises from" in the Tort Claims Act, TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE 101.021(1)(A), "requires a nexus between th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
200 cases
  • Elbaor v. Smith, No. D-1163
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • December 2, 1992
    ...thereby renewing its commitment to limit the role of the jury in the truth-seeking process. See LeLeaux v. Hamshire-Fannett Sch. Dist., 835 S.W.2d 49, 56 (Tex.1992) (Doggett, J., dissenting). Simply because jurors may initially expect the plaintiff to have interests adverse to all defendant......
  • Nitsch v. City of El Paso, No. EP-06-CA-0042 KC.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
    • February 26, 2007
    ...for ... injury unless that immunity has been waived by the Texas Tort Claims Act." LeLeaux v. Hamshire-Fannett Indep. Sch. Dist., 835 S.W.2d 49, 51 (Tex.1992). Next, "the clear intent of the Act [is] that the waiver of sovereign immunity be limited." The remarks in Young "disapproving" of t......
  • Texas Ass'n of Business v. Texas Air Control Bd., No. C-9556
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • March 3, 1993
    ...J., dissenting); Boyles v. Kerr, 1992 WL 353277 (Tex.1992) (Doggett, J., dissenting); Leleaux v. Hamshire-Fannett Indep. Sch. Dist., 835 S.W.2d 49, 55-56 (Tex.1992) (Doggett, J., dissenting); Reagan v. Vaughn, 804 S.W.2d 463, 491 (Tex.1991) (Doggett, J., concurring and dissenting); Greater ......
  • Mid-Century Ins. Co. TX v. Lindsey, MID-CENTURY
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Texas
    • September 9, 1999
    ...900 S.W.2d 910, 913 (Tex. App.-Amarillo 1995, no writ)). 9. Id. 10. 900 S.W.2d at 913. 11. LeLeaux v. Hamshire-Fannett Indep. Sch. Dist., 835 S.W.2d 49, 51 (Tex. 1992) (holding that "arises from" in the Tort Claims Act, TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE 101.021(1)(A), "requires a nexus between th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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