Texas Ass'n of Business v. Texas Air Control Bd.

Decision Date03 March 1993
Docket NumberNo. C-9556,C-9556
Citation36 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 607,852 S.W.2d 440
PartiesTEXAS ASSOCIATION OF BUSINESS, Appellant, v. TEXAS AIR CONTROL BOARD and Texas Water Commission, Appellees.
CourtTexas Supreme Court

CORNYN, Justice.

The Texas Association of Business (TAB), on behalf of its members, brought this declaratory judgment action seeking a ruling that statutes empowering two state administrative agencies to levy civil penalties for violations of their regulations conflict with the open courts and jury trial provisions of the Texas Constitution. The administrative agencies denied TAB's claims, and along with two Intervenors, 1 filed counterclaims seeking a declaration that the same statutes and regulations comport with those constitutional provisions.

Following a bench trial, the trial court denied the relief sought by TAB, and as requested by the State and Intervenors, declared that section 4.041 of the Texas Clean Air Act, sections 26.136 and 27.1015 of the Texas Water Code, and section 8b of the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act, as well as the rules and regulations promulgated under those statutes, are constitutional with regard to the open courts and jury trial provisions. We affirm the trial court's judgment as it relates to TAB's jury trial challenge and reverse its judgment as to TAB's open courts challenge.

An overview of the regulatory scheme enacted by the legislature and these agencies is essential to an understanding of this case. In 1967, the Texas Legislature enacted the Clean Air Act of Texas. Clean Air Act of Texas, 60th Leg., R.S., ch. 727, 1967 Tex.Gen.Laws 1941. The Clean Air Act was designed to safeguard the state's air resources without compromising the economic development of the state. Id. at § 1. The Act created the Texas Air Control Board and granted it the authority to promulgate regulations to accomplish the Act's goals. Id. at § 4(A)(2)(a). In the event the Air Control Board determined that a violation of its regulations had occurred, it was authorized to enforce those regulations in district court. Upon a judicial determination that a violation of the Air Control Board's regulations had occurred, two cumulative remedies were available, injunctive relief to prohibit further violations and assessment of a fine ranging from $50 to $1,000 for each day the violations persisted. Id. at § 12(B).

In 1969, the Texas Legislature enacted the Solid Waste Disposal Act. Solid Waste Disposal Act, 61st Leg., R.S., ch. 405, 1969 Tex.Gen.Laws 1320. The express purpose for this legislation was to protect public health and welfare by regulating the "collection, handling, storage, and disposal of solid waste." Id. at § 1. The Texas Water Quality Board was designated the primary agency to effectuate the Disposal Act's purpose. Id. at § 4(f). Like the Air Control Board, the Water Quality Board was authorized to enforce its rules and regulations in state district court. The Solid Waste Disposal Act provided the same remedies as the Clean Air Act. See id. at § 8(c).

In the last of the relevant statutory enactments, in 1969, the Texas Legislature promulgated a revised version of the Water Quality Act. Water Quality Act--Revision, 61st Leg., R.S., ch. 760, 1969 Tex.Gen.Laws 2229. By that Act, the Water Quality Board was given the power to develop a statewide water quality plan, to perform research and investigations, and to adopt rules and issue orders necessary to effectuate the Act's purposes. Id. at § 3.01-3.10. The Water Quality Act provided the same remedies as the Solid Waste Management Act and the Clean Air Act. See id. at § 4.02.

Originally, neither the Water Quality Board nor the Air Control Board had the power to levy civil penalties directly in the event it determined that its regulations or orders had been violated. Instead, each board was required first to file suit against the violator in district court. Only the district court had the power to assess civil penalties.

The legislature substantially changed this enforcement scheme in 1985. That year the Air Control Board and the Water Commission (formerly the Water Control Board) were granted the power to assess civil penalties directly of up to $10,000 per day per violation. 2 Both administrative bodies also retained the option to pursue civil penalties in district court. TEX.HEALTH & SAFETY CODE §§ 361.224, 382.081; TEX.WATER CODE § 26.123. This was the regulatory scheme in effect when the district court rendered judgment in this case. 3

After the Air Control Board or Water Commission assesses a penalty, the offender must either timely pay the penalty or file suit in district court. However, a supersedeas bond or cash deposit paid into an escrow account, in the full amount of the penalty, is a prerequisite to judicial review. TEX.HEALTH & SAFETY CODE §§ 382.089(a), (b), 361.252(k), (l ); TEX.WATER CODE § 26.136(j). A party who fails to make a cash deposit or file a bond forfeits all rights to judicial review. TEX.HEALTH & SAFETY CODE §§ 361.252(m), 382.089(c); TEX.WATER CODE § 26.136(k).

TAB alleges that it is a Texas not-for-profit corporation, that its members do business throughout Texas, and that it is authorized to represent its members on any matter that may have an impact on their businesses.

TAB filed this suit under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act, TEX.CIV.PRAC. & REM.CODE §§ 37.001-37.011, alleging that some of its members had been subjected to civil penalties assessed by either the Air Control Board or the Water Commission. TAB further alleged that all of its other members that operate their businesses pursuant to the pertinent provisions of the Texas Clean Air Act, the Texas Water Code, or the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act or any rules or orders issued pursuant to those provisions were put at "substantial risk (if not certainty)" of being assessed civil penalties by the Air Control Board or the Water Commission. Thus this suit does not challenge specific instances of the Air Control Board's or the Water Commission's exercise, or threatened exercise, of the civil penalty power. Instead, TAB's suit is a facial challenge to the constitutionality of this administrative enforcement scheme under the Texas Constitution.

The Defendants and Intervenors counterclaimed seeking a declaratory judgment that the statutes, rules, and regulations challenged by TAB do not, on their face, conflict with the open courts and jury trial provisions of our constitution. The trial court granted the Defendants' and Intervenors' requested declaratory judgment and denied TAB's request for a declaratory judgment. The court also denied TAB's request for injunctive relief.

TAB appealed directly to this court. See TEX.GOV'T CODE § 22.001(c); 4 TEX.R.APP.P. 140. In this court, TAB has limited its challenges to claims of unconstitutional denial of a jury trial and violation of our constitution's open courts provision.

I. Standing

Before we reach the merits of this case, we first consider the matter of the trial court's jurisdiction, as well as our own; specifically we determine whether TAB has standing to challenge the statutes and regulations in question. Because TAB's standing to bring this action is not readily apparent, and because our jurisdiction as well as that of the trial court depends on this issue, we requested supplemental briefing on standing at the oral argument of this case. In response, the parties insist that any question of standing has been waived in the trial court and cannot be raised by the court for the first time on appeal. We disagree.

Subject matter jurisdiction is essential to the authority of a court to decide a case. Standing is implicit in the concept of subject matter jurisdiction. The standing requirement stems from two limitations on subject matter jurisdiction: the separation of powers doctrine and, in Texas, the open courts provision. Subject matter jurisdiction is never presumed and cannot be waived. 5

One limit on courts' jurisdiction under both the state and federal constitutions is the separation of powers doctrine. See TEX.CONST. art. II, § 1; Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, 454 U.S. 464, 471-74, 102 S.Ct. 752, 757-60, 70 L.Ed.2d 700 (1982); Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 2204, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975); see also, Antonin Scalia, The Doctrine of Standing as an Essential Element of the Separation of Powers, 18 SUFFOLK U.L.Rev. 881, 889 n. 69 (1983) (noting that the dicta of Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 100, 88 S.Ct. 1942, 1952, 20 L.Ed.2d 947 (1968), suggesting that standing is unrelated to the separation of powers doctrine has since been disavowed). Under this doctrine, governmental authority vested in one department of government cannot be exercised by another department unless expressly permitted by the constitution. Thus we have construed our separation of powers article to prohibit courts from issuing advisory opinions because such is the function of the executive rather than the judicial department. 6 Firemen's Ins. Co. v. Burch, 442 S.W.2d 331, 333 (Tex.1969); Morrow v. Corbin, 122 Tex. 553, 62 S.W.2d 641, 644 (Tex.1933). Accordingly, we have interpreted the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act, TEX.CIV.PRAC. & REM.CODE §§ 37.001-.011, to be merely a procedural device for deciding cases already within a court's jurisdiction rather than a legislative enlargement of a court's power, permitting the rendition of advisory opinions. Firemen's Ins. Co., 442 S.W.2d at 333; United Serv. Life Ins. Co. v. Delaney, 396 S.W.2d 855, 863 (Tex.1965); California Prods., Inc. v. Puretex Lemon Juice, Inc., 160 Tex. 586, 334 S.W.2d 780 (1960).

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