Northwest Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Carroll Indep. Sch. Dist., NO. 02-10-00105-CV

CourtCourt of Appeals of Texas
Writing for the CourtLEE ANN DAUPHINOT
Decision Date16 February 2012
Docket NumberNO. 02-10-00105-CV


NO. 02-10-00105-CV


DELIVERED: February 16, 2012



This appeal arises from a dispute between Appellant Northwest Independent School District (NWISD) and Carroll Independent School District (CISD) over their common boundary line. NWISD filed this interlocutory appeal arguing that the trial court did not have jurisdiction over CISD's claims. Because

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we agree that the trial court did not have jurisdiction over CISD's claims, we reverse the trial court's denial of NWISD's plea to the jurisdiction and dismiss CISD's claims.


In 1948, voters in the Haslet Common School District No. 97 (situated partly in Tarrant County and partly in Denton County), Rhome Independent School District (in Wise County), Roanoke Independent School District (situated partly in Tarrant County and partly in Denton County), and Justin Rural High School District (in Denton County) petitioned for an election to consolidate those districts into one independent school district—NWISD. A majority of qualified voters in those districts voted in favor of consolidation. The minutes of the Tarrant County commissioners court reflect an order by the county judge in accordance with the election, declaring the results of the election and declaring that the districts be consolidated as NWISD.

The minutes of the commissioners court for Denton County likewise reflect a petition by qualified voters of Roanoke Independent School District and of Justin Rural School District to hold an election for the consolidation. In accordance with that petition, the commissioners court gave notice of elections to be held in December 1948 within those districts. The notice stated that Roanoke ISD was partially in Tarrant County and partially in Denton County. After the election, the commissioners court entered an order declaring the results of the election and declaring the districts to be consolidated.

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The order of consolidation, which provides the metes and bounds for the new district, described part of the boundary as "East to the Northeast corner of the said R. A. Smith survey; THENCE South to the County Line between Denton and Tarrant Counties; THENCE West along said County line to a point in said line due North of the Northwest corner of the M. Hunt survey in Tarrant County." [Emphasis added.] The description concluded by referring to the new district as

containing a total of 126,062 acres of land more or less, calculated to be 197 square miles, being a consolidation of all the lands comprising the school districts known prior to this consolidation as the Justin Rural High School District in Denton County, [t]he Roanoke Independent School District in Denton and Tarrant Counties, the Haslet Common School District in Denton and Tarrant Counties, and the Rhome Independent School District in Wise County. [Emphasis added.]

Then, in 1949, qualified voters from the newly-consolidated NWISD "of Denton, Wise[,] and Tarrant Counties" petitioned for an election to consolidate the district with Fairview Common School District No. 39 of Wise County. In accordance with the election results, the commissioners court for Denton County entered an order declaring the districts to be consolidated. This order described the new boundaries of the district by metes and bounds. The description included the same reference to the Denton-Tarrant county line set out above. As with the description given when the district was first created by consolidation, the order stated after the metes and bounds description that the consolidated NWISD is "a consolidation of all the lands comprising the school districts" that were being consolidated. [Emphasis added.]

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The Wise County commissioners court likewise entered an order of consolidation in accordance with the consolidation election held in the Fairview district.

In 1959, qualified voters of Carroll Common School District No. 99 voted to become CISD. In accordance with the election, the county judge ordered the district incorporated as CISD and entered the order in the minutes of the commissioners court for Tarrant County. The district boundaries were described by metes and bounds, "[b]eginning in the North line of Tarrant County at a point directly north of the most northerly, northwest corner of the John L. Whitman Survey," and closing "[n]orth to a point in the North line of Tarrant County, Texas; THENCE east in the said Tarrant County North line to the place of Beginning." [Emphasis added.]

In 2002, this court decided Tarrant County v. Denton County, in which we stated that the boundary between those two counties was not definite and well-defined, and we noted that the counties had entered into an agreement providing that they had a bona fide dispute over the location of their boundaries.2 This court then held that the agreement between the counties to survey the county line and set the boundary in accordance with that survey was enforceable.3 As a result of this decision, the boundary line between Tarrant County and Denton

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County was set at a location north of where the two school districts had previously considered their common boundary to be (the agreed county line).

On March 1, 2005, CISD filed suit against NWISD for trespass to try title, seeking to have the common boundary line established at the agreed county line, which would shift to CISD some property and students that have until now been in NWISD. CISD also sought a declaratory judgment regarding its rights and duties in the disputed area.

NWISD filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which the trial court granted.4 This court reversed the trial court's ruling and remanded the cause back to the trial court.5 On remand, CISD amended its pleadings, seeking a declaratory judgment that the districts' common boundary line is located on the agreed county line and asserting alternatively a claim for trespass to try title under section 22.001 of the property code.

NWISD filed another plea to the jurisdiction, and both parties filed for summary judgment and attached evidence in support. NWISD reasserted some of the same grounds it had asserted in its previous plea to the jurisdiction and additionally argued that CISD's claims were an impermissible attack on the 1948 and 1949 elections creating NWISD. CISD responded in part that it was not

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challenging the elections or the commissioners court orders resulting from those elections and was in fact relying on them.

The trial court entered an order denying NWISD's plea to the jurisdiction, granting summary judgment for NWISD on CISD's claim for trespass to try title, denying the remainder of NWISD's summary judgment motion, and denying CISD's summary judgment motion. NWISD then filed this appeal.

Standard of Review

We review a trial court's ruling on a plea to the jurisdiction de novo.6 A plaintiff has the burden of alleging facts that affirmatively demonstrate that the trial court has subject-matter jurisdiction.7 A plaintiff asserting a claim against a governmental unit must allege facts that affirmatively demonstrate that the Legislature has waived immunity for the claims brought.8

In determining a plea to the jurisdiction that challenges the pleadings, a court looks at the allegations in the plaintiff's pleadings and accepts them as true.9 If the pleadings affirmatively negate the existence of jurisdiction, then a

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plea to the jurisdiction may be granted without allowing the plaintiffs an opportunity to amend.10

If the plea to the jurisdiction challenges the existence of jurisdictional facts, a court must consider the relevant evidence necessary to resolve the jurisdictional issues raised.11 When a jurisdictional challenge also implicates the merits of the plaintiff's claim, then the trial court considers the evidence submitted by the parties to determine if a fact question exists.12

Declaratory Judgments and Governmental Immunity

The Declaratory Judgments Act (DJA) generally permits a person "whose rights, status, or other legal relations are affected by a statute [or] municipal ordinance" to have determined any question of construction or validity arising under the statute or ordinance "and obtain a declaration of rights, status, or other legal relations thereunder."13 But there is no general right to sue a governmental entity, such as a school district,14 for a declaration of rights.15 The DJA is not a

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general waiver of immunity; the DJA is "merely a procedural device for deciding cases already within a court's jurisdiction."16 Thus, governmental immunity will bar a declaratory judgment action if the action has the "effect of establishing a right to relief against the State for which the Legislature has not waived . . . immunity."17


We begin by addressing CISD's assertion that some of NWISD's arguments are governed by the law of the case doctrine. The application of that doctrine by a court of appeals lies within the discretion of that court, depending on the particular circumstances of the case, and "[o]ur duty to administer justice under the law, as we conceive it, outweighs our duty to be consistent.18...

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